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MONSTER ON THE CAMPUS may be dumb — and it is dumb, dumber than a continent of hammers — but at least it nips along at an agreeably peppy pace. When a prehistoric fish is delivered to the college’s top scientist, water leaks from the ice it’s packed in, and anything absorbing that water regresses back along its evolutionary pathway — a friendly Alsatian becomes a ravening sabre-tooth dog, and the chummy sexist scientist mutates into a Neanderthal brute — all within the first fifteen minutes. The movie’s over an hour later, and quite a lot more bad craziness has transpired.
Director Jack Arnold, who made lots of “classic” fifties sci-fi (TARANTULA, CREATURE FROM THE BLACK LAGOON) and one authentic masterpiece (THE INCREDIBLE SHRINKING MAN), doesn’t try to dignify this malarkey more than it deserves, and can’t make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear, but at least turns in a shapely sow’s ear with perfect hearing.
It turns out that the plasma of gamma-irradiated coelacanths only has temporary effects, so our hero mutates back from his simian rampage with nothing worse than a hangover. The college floozy who was pursuing him isn’t so lucky ~
She’s apparently died of fright — I think the filmmakers wanted to be clear that there hadn’t been any Neanderthal funny business, after so much talk about man’s lower instincts. But for some reason she’s been hung from a tree by her hair, which leaves her corpse floating uncannily, like a ghost. I think this is inspired the popular idea (originating God knows where) of cavemen dragging their brides about by the hair. Indeed, later the ape-man does a bit of hair-tugging.
The movie now has a problem. It can throw in random shit like a giant de-evolved dragonfly it’s just invented (hmm, the page in my biology schoolbook dealing with giant prehistoric dragonflies appears to have been GLUED IN) but to keep the action going it has to have the hero accidentally does himself again, which it achieves by letting the dragonfly bleed into his pipe. The hero SMOKES DRAGONFLY BLOOD and this causes him to regress once more. Now he starts to suspect he’s the one who’s been terrorizing the campus and killing people, so to make sure he doses himself again — and again!
I like his busts. You got a prehistoric John Randolph on the left, then a George Arliss, a cro-magnon James Coburn, and finally a very collectible George Kennedy. Probably the last two were built for Universal’s stone-age remake of CHARADE, a project cancelled when it was pointed out that postage stamps hadn’t been invented in the neolithic era, and that the original CHARADE hadn’t been made yet anyway.
What’s in a name? Our scientist is called Blake, the same as Christopher Lee’s fiendish alter ego in I, MONSTER, the film which pointlessly changes the names of the leads from Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde while retaining the plot and all the supporting characters’ names. When Dr. Blake calls Madagascar to learn more about his fish’s provenance, he speaks to a Dr. Moreau. Well, that explains everything.
There’s a pretty accomplished lap dissolve transformation when we finally see it, and Arnold comes up with a couple of other nice gimmicks to avoid expensive trick work (and repetition), but the ape-man is more of a rubber mask, hairy gloves and a ripped lumberjack shirt than a fully evolved makeup (and why do lycanthropic types always seem to wear checked shirts?).
This was a lot better than the similarly-plotted THE NEANDERTHAL MAN (1953), which I thought was awful. But since being impressed by the same director’s THE SCARF (1951), I’ve kind of wanted to see THE NEANDERTHAL MAN again. EA Dupont couldn’t have regressed that far in two years, could he? You bet he could — the hero of MONSTER ON THE CAMPUS regresses millions of years in seconds.