Monster on the Campus (1958)

*. Monster on the Campus (I really wonder at that definite article) had barely begun when I was struck by a sense of déjà vu. As we scroll along the plaster reconstructions of the faces of earlier hominids in Professor Donald Blake’s lab we see one labeled Piltdown Man. This immediately made me think of the scene in The Neanderthal Man where Piltdown Man shows up on a chart of our ancestors. The thing is, Piltdown Man was a hoax that was only exposed in 1953, the year The Neanderthal Man was released, so I gave them a pass. Five years later it’s less excusable. Professor Blake should know better.
*. Or is that fleeting reference to Piltdown Man a conscious borrowing? That’s not an incredible suggestion. The thing is, this movie is so similar to The Neanderthal Man you have to think they had it in the back of their heads. Even the cheap mask the monster wears looks like it was borrowed from the earlier film.
*. As I said in my notes on The Neanderthal Man, what we’re dealing with here is the usual Jekyll and Hyde story, with the scientist who is transformed into a bestial, atavistic creature after being infected by the gamma-radiated blood of a coelacanth (honest!). It’s “evolution in reverse,” and there’s even a suggestion of sexual repression right from the opening lines of dialogue, with Dr. Blake standing over his girlfriend Madeline, whose face he is making a cast of: “There she is. Female in the perfect state: defenceless and silent.” She’ll be in that state again at the end.
*. But if Monster on the Campus is mostly stale and unexceptional, it does have a number of moments that make you raise an eyebrow. Like the first murder victim being hanged from a tree by her hair. Or like Madeline lying to the police about Blake’s whereabouts on the night of the murder and trying to get him to do the same, when in fact he is the murderer. Or the way Blake accidentally re-infects himself with the toxic blood by stabbing a giant dragonfly that had bitten the coelacanth and then having the blood from the dragonfly trip down into the bowl of his pipe, which he later smokes. Honest!

*. I love how the straw that breaks the administration’s back with Dr. Blake is when he makes an 88-minute long-distance call to Madagascar. That’s $400! He is told he has to go on leave after pulling a stunt like that.
*. I always enjoy campus movies that take us into the lecture hall. I can’t think of any that have struck me as being even remotely probable. It’s an interesting glimpse into what Hollywood thinks audiences believe university lectures are really like. This goes for both sciences and the humanities. Here’s how Dr. Blake wraps up his biology class: “Man is not only capable of change, but man alone, among all living creatures, can choose the direction in which that change will take place. In other words, man can use his knowledge to reduce all spiritual values and reduce the race to bestiality. Or he can use his knowledge to increase his understanding to a point far beyond anything now imaginable. Think it over. That’s all for today.”
*. Directed by Jack Arnold. Not one of his more celebrated credits, as he would admit. My own feeling is that Arnold could do good work with good material, but he was no magician. Apparently he shot this in twelve days, and from the looks of it that was plenty of time.
*. Well, it was cheap and shot quickly and didn’t have a script that makes much sense, even given its crazy premise. Nevertheless, it does have a weird-looking fish with radioactive blood and a giant dragonfly and a guy in an ape mask. It’s a joke, but at least it’s not dull.

12 thoughts on “Monster on the Campus (1958)

  1. Bookstooge

    Piltdown Man was NOT a hoax. I know this because
    ….. cue dramatic music …..
    I AM PILTDOWN MAN!!! *rawr*

    I’d say that comment makes as much sense as this movie does 🙂

      1. Bookstooge

        It’s a good reminder that scientists are only people too and as such are scum, slime and lying liars just like everybody else. They are not some special breed above the foibles common to mankind. No matter what their egos may say 😉

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