director Jack Arnold
Of all of Jack Arnold’s wonderful 1950’s horror-scifi, Monster on the Campus is probably the silliest. This is the man who delivered It Came from Outer Space (1953), Creature from the Black Lagoon (1954), Revenge of the Creature (1955), Tarantula (1955), The Incredible Shrinking Man (1957), and The Space Children (1958), a ranging list that includes a few true classics. But even if you throw in 1957’s The Monolith Monsters, which he provided story but didn’t direct, Monster on the Campus is still a winner for silliness.
This might be one of the only coelacanth-oriented horror films out there.
A professor at a small state college lands himself a coelacanth specimen upon which to experiment, only to discover that the fish has been irradiated in shipping. This modern form of sterilization might not sound too bad initially, but it results anything that ingests, injects, or even smokes the blood of the coelacanth suddenly reverts to their own prehistoric form.
For a German shepherd, wolf-life fangs and a nasty personality. A dragonfly turns gigantic. For the professor, he reverts to a gruesome, murderous troglodyte. Though we are eventually given a transformation scene, showing make-up fades into progressive hairiness, it’s a rubber mask monster in its full form, a pretty ugly one at that.
What tends to the hilarious is just how the professor manages to take in this coelacanth blood. The first time, he cuts his hand on the dead fish’s teeth. The second time, blood dripping from the knife with which he skewered the giant dragonfly, drops into his pipe, and he winds up smoking it. Though that is probably the most hilarious of events, he does later twice inject himself with coelacanth blood, finally to prove to the authorities that he is the “monster on the campus” who needs to be gunned down.
Like The Monolith Monsters, and like a lot of Arnold’s movies, I grew up with this one on TV, and even though it’s a lot more silly than a good horror film of the period should be, it still found a soft spot in me.