Curious paradox, isn’t it, gentlemen? After a million-year climb up the evolutionary ladder, man’s great discovery is the way to undo his accomplishments and turn himself into a beast again. The great temptation of our time, to let the beast triumph over the seeker for truth.”
Dr. Donald Blake (Arthur Franz) is a paleontology professor at Dunsfield University, receiving his latest specimen for research, a deceased Madagascan coelacanth fish. As Blake explains to student Jimmy Flanders (Troy Donahue), the species is over one million years old, and in that time has had a unique ability to completely resist evolution.
Soon after the fish arrives, Jimmy’s dog begins acting strangely, attacking Blake’s fiancé Madeline (Joanna Moore), though he’s usually an exceptionally friendly dog. Blake notices that the dog has somehow quickly grown long fangs, and decides to keep him in the lab for study.
Things only get more strange that night, as Blake finds himself the suspect in a murder investigation — after passing out on his own lawn and waking up to find his house in shambles, with the dead body of a student (Helen Westcott) stuck in his tree! Could all of these odd happenings be connected to the arrival of the coelacanth?
Monster on the Campus was directed by Jack Arnold (who also directed recent TMP favorite discovery, The Incredible Shrinking Man). The film was written by David Duncan.
The font on the opening title alone had me loving this movie from the start. Then there was the overdramatic music, and a dog in the opening scene! It’s like this movie was made for me.
Monster on the Campus becomes surprisingly tense and suspenseful, much more than one would expect based on the opening and cheesy monster-movie title. Where the title may suggest images of monsters crashing frat parties, the film is focused on professors and type-A students instead, lending an academic feel to their quest to discover what’s causing the monstrous transformations.
That’s not to say the film doesn’t pack any of the usual midcentury sci-fi fun. It’s a multiple-creature feature, with a huge, murderous dragonfly and a low-budget, Planet of the Apes-esque monster transformation.
That costume is kind of hilarious (with the monster busting out of his plaid shirt, looking like some kind of prehistoric lumberjack in one scene — see above), but the film on the whole is still quite well-executed and at times genuinely frightful.
I had a lot of fun with Monster on the Campus and would readily recommend it to fellow fans of the creature feature. While it has its moments of borderline corn, it’s a well-made and somewhat thinky flick, offering up an engaging tale of a scientist who truly dedicates his life (and his body) to his work.
Note to self: Importing a “living fossil” that’s “immune to the forces of evolution” is never a good idea.
Also: Believe your professor pals when they tell you that their work has given them the ability to shapeshift!