Horror-Wood Blog-a-Thon: Monster on the Campus
During the 1950s run of B-movies at Universal Pictures, Jack Arnold was a very big name back then in science fiction. Well known for titles like The Incredible Shrinking Man, Tarantula, It Came from Outer Space and the famous Creature from the Black Lagoon, Jack could take any outlandish premise and just turn it into gold. Unlike today’s directors of pure crappy schlock, hew the concepts to his movies were not meant to be taken serious. And yet somehow he approached them like big budgeted A-list movies treating them with such care in story and believably. So its very fitting this film he directed would make the last time Universal would ever work on a science fiction monster film, at least till 1966. But I’m getting ahead of myself.
Monster on the Campus is truly a step up from The Land Unknown because there is a lot of promise and imagination for such a simple story. Again, Jack Arnold could take any idea and make it pure entertainment. Not to mention the script was written by David Duncan who would be best remembered for his screenplay work on The Time Machine and Fantastic Voyage. These two talents are a true match made in heaven who know what kind of material they are deal with. And it was very coincidental for their sci-fi talents to cross here and bring something fun and entertaining to the table.
Arthur Franz is a college professor that acquires a frozen prehistoric fish for pure study. But as it turns out, the blood was infected with radiation as anything it comes into contact becomes de-evolved. This includes a dog that gets ridiculous saber tooth jaws, a giant dragonfly and our lead who turns into a Neanderthal monster with tons of hair. And very much the whole movie deals with him trying to understand the workings of the fish as the police try to investigate some small murders that might have a link with the campus teacher.
Right off the bat, we have no idea what to expect on first watch. The idea already feels like something taken from an EC Comic but obviously executed in less gory fashion. I do like the premise and how they play around with what happens when things like bugs or other animals get in contact with the fish’s blood. It leaves the door open for many possibilities even if we don’t see every creature get infected. Unfortunately, there are ground rules here as any creature that gets infected with the irradiated blood has the prehistoric effects for only a short time. But still, when we see a dragonfly become big as a falcon, we still believe. In fact, the special effects for the scene when the de-evolved dragonfly runs about the classroom are not half bad. Again, Jack Arnold always paid attention to detail even when the special effects get cheesy.
If there is one problem (nitpick) I do have with the movie, its a certain plot element. Apparently, the effects of the fish’s blood work for a short time. And after the effects wear off, the being returns to its civilized self. Yet the professor keeps claiming the monster within him won’t go away even when he’s already back to normal with the blood possibly out of his system. If he keeps whining about how he doesn’t want to be a killer creature, then why does he keep injecting himself with the irradiated blood? I know for one point its for study but there really isn’t too much of a inner struggle. If he just stopped altogether and starting having temptations, it would make sense. Then again, this movie is already a revamp of the Jekyll and Hyde story but even in that story, Jekyll wasn’t constantly taking the potion. If I remember correctly, the potion was so deeply embedded that Jekyll could transform without the use of the serum. I could be wrong but if the potion is the case, then why keep having it around when its poisonous to your moral ethnics.
Aside from that, the rest of the movie holds up fine. I can’t remember a performance that was terrible or a special effect that was too goofy to take seriously. The make-up job on the monster when the professor transforms is actually not bad. Sort of a primate version of the Wolf Man in a sense. Then again, some might be put off by the Jekyll and Hide parallels of the story while others might look at this with an open mind. I still say its harmless fun either way. While its not a grand outing (in fact, the ending very much just ends without a big finale), it was still nice to see some effort placed in. I can only imagine what it would have been like if Monster on the Campus was placed in different hands. It would have been cheaper and done in a very schlocky manner. But thanks to a good writer and a director that knows his footing, we get a movie that is not half bad and at least brings some entertainment that knows not to take itself too seriously. Overall, its a decent flick that’s worth checking out.
Posted on October 6, 2015, in Horror-Wood 2015 and tagged Arthur Franz, B-Movie, David Duncan, Horror, Horror-Wood, Horror-Wood Blog-a-Thon, Jack Arnold, Jekyll and Hide, Monster on the Campus, Science Fiction, The Time Machine, Universal Pictures, Universal Studios Monsters. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.