Monster on the Campus (1958) poster

Monster on the Campus (1958)


USA. 1958.


Director – Jack Arnold, Screenplay – David Duncan, Producer/Music – Joseph Gershenson, Photography (b&w) – Russell Metty, Special Effects – Clifford Stine, Makeup – Bud Westmore, Art Direction – Alexander Golitzen. Production Company – Universal-International.


Arthur Franz (Donald Blake), Joanna Moore (Madeline Howard), Judson Pratt (Mike Stevens), Whit Bissell (Mr Howard), Troy Donahue (Jimmy Flanders), Helen Westcott (Molly Riordan)


Biology professor Donald Blake receives a prehistoric coelacanth shipped from Madagascar. Water dripped from the coelacanth’s tank causes a dog to regress to its lupine ancestry and turn vicious. Blake cuts himself on one of the dog’s fangs. Soon afterwards, a prehistoric man is seen attacking people on the campus. Later Blake manages to accidentally smoke a pipeful of the dog’s blood and the prehistoric man reappears. Blake realises that he is the prehistoric man and that he is regressing to his primitive ancestry under the influence of the coelacanth’s blood.

Monster on the Campus is a very silly film. One might dismiss it as a routine 1950s B monster movie but the great surprise about it is the name of director Jack Arnold on the credits. Jack Arnold had made some of the finest science-fiction films of the 1950s, with classics such as It Came from Outer Space (1953), The Creature from the Black Lagoon (1954) and The Incredible Shrinking Man (1957) to his name up to that point.

In these other films, Jack Arnold infuses ordinary B-movie ideas (alien invasion, monster movies) with a haunting atmosphere and transforms the staples of the genre into looming metaphors and stark confrontations with the anxieties of the age. On the other hand, Monster on the Campus is a B movie that could have been made by any other hack director of the era – look at The Neanderthal Man (1953) for a near-identical treatment of the same plot – and one wonders where all of Jack Arnold’s skill went to.

A prehistorically transformed Arthur Franz abducts Joanna Moore in Monster on the Campus (1958)
A prehistorically transformed Arthur Franz abducts Joanna Moore

Monster on the Campus is a film that is not bad enough to be entertaining and yet lacks the tucked-away gems to make it essential Golden Turkey viewing. There is the usual philosophising nonsense about how man is only one step away from being an animal. What does seem particularly funny is the bizarre lengths the script has to go to to keep getting Arthur Franz’s scientist reinfected all over again while still unaware of what is happening – him cutting his hand on a dog’s tooth, while the scene smoking dragonfly blood dripped into a pipe bowl should have made Monster on the Campus into a cult classic for the ‘head’ set ten years later. A very similar story was later played surprisingly seriously in Altered States (1980).

Jack Arnold’s other genre films were:- It Came from Outer Space (1953), The Creature from the Black Lagoon (1954), Revenge of the Creature (1955), Tarantula (1955), The Incredible Shrinking Man (1957), The Space Children (1958), The Mouse That Roared (1959) and Hello Down There (1969), as well as the story for The Monolith Monsters (1957).

Monster on the Campus was written by David Duncan, who also wrote the English-language version of Rodan the Flying Monster (1956) and the original screenplays for The Black Scorpion (1957), The Monster That Challenged the World (1957), The Thing That Couldn’t Die (1958), The Leech Woman (1960), The Time Machine (1960) and Fantastic Voyage (1966).

Trailer here

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