MONSTER ON THE CAMPUS , staggering down the aisles in 1958, was the last graduate from Universal Studios profitable five-year spate of cheapie fantasy flicks. Directed by their busy in-house monster wrangler Jack Arnold, this hairy fossil is generally demoted as kind of the water boy for the team: its goofiness has a charm best understood by those with a fondness for bad movies. Any script with the straight-faced line “Then I put the coelacanth back in the refrigerator” can’t be so casually dismissed. It bears added weight by dint of that statement following hard on the heels of “Miss Reardon came to the laboratory to pick up a salivary sample.”
The ill-fated Miss Reardon was the first casualty of some ‘Neanderthal throwback‘ who rampages around, tearing up offices and killing in a frenzy (one look in the mirror would do the trick, given the rubber mask makeup job employed for the unruly fiend).
Prof. Arthur Franz has a trophy coelacanth to experiment on, freshly arrived from Madagascar—and rather shoddily packed. The drippings from the packing crate turn a happy German shepherd into a snarler, a curious dragonfly into one the size of a watermelon, and some foolish science teacher (pipe included to signal his seriousness) into a furniture-smashing maniac. Loyal girlfriend Joanna Moore is understandably concerned, student body representative Troy Donahue can’t believe how frickin’ big that dragonfly is. Nosy cop Judson Pratt announces with confidence “ Oh, it’s impossible! Nobody’s got footprints like that…unless maybe it was someone with strange hands, too.” Keep bullets handy.
Franz does what he can, and the enticing Ms. Moore displays charm and a winning way with handling her role that rises above the dumb material. It’s given a decent look thanks to Russell Metty as cinematographer. Worthwhile, if only to see Franz pinion the dragonfly.
Written by David Duncan, who would do a fine job two years later on The Time Machine. With Eddie Parker, Whit Bissell and Ross Elliott. 77 minutes. Watch out for those nippers on a coelacanth, next time one shows up from Madagascar.