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As we close in on the end of the 50s and my introspective look back at Universal Pictures shift away from the horror genre in contrast to the rise of Britain’s Hammer Film Production, I cast my gaze upon the 1958 feature, Monster On The Campus. The focus of the American film distribution was to scrutinize the subject of evolution and devolution from the perspective of University Professor, Dr. Donald Blake (Athur Franz). Written by novelist David Duncan, MOTC would be directed by alumni Jack Arnold (Creature From The Black Lagoon, The Incredible Shrinking Man) who would go on record to state that this wasn’t his finest work; an opinion which I’m inclined to agree with.

The story would find Blake becoming infected with a partially-thawed coelacanth. This produces a transformation in his cells into an ape-like creature that causes havoc through the campus, drawing inspiration from Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. It takes the player involved some time to work out the cause of this mayhem however, allowing for anarchy to reign until the inevitable dramatic conclusion and the reveal of the cause to the effect. The tragedy however is a little bereft of any real impact and the viewer never really grips or raises the tension out of the scenes as it unfolds.

The film itself would be somewhat dwarfed by the more colourful British feature, Blood of the Vampire, which it shared billing with on the cinema circuit. It does boast solid supporting roles in the mix, with Joanna Moore cast as the women in peril figure Madeline; Judson Pratt as Lt. Mike Stevens; and Troy Donahue in one of his earlier performances, here playing local boy Jimmy Flanders.
From a modern perspective it is hard to shift away from the make up effects that are a little less than desired, especially compared with today’s standards, but stuntman Eddie Parker does a convincing job of portraying the ape creature when in its fits of rage. Some scholars have also used this feature as a subject on conformity, and the need to fit into society when one feels constantly on the periphery. For this, it is a bold story and deserves your attention. It does fall foul to the more impressive and grand features that were rising up at the time in contrast and suffers as a result across the ages.

  • Saul Muerte