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Monster on the Campus

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Monster on the Campus
Theatrical release poster
by Reynold Brown
Directed byJack Arnold
Produced byJoseph Gershenson
Written byDavid Duncan
StarringArthur Franz
Joanna Cook Moore
Nancy Walters
Troy Donohue
Whit Bissell
CinematographyRussell Metty
Edited byTed J. Kent
Distributed byUniversal-International
Release date
  • December 17, 1958 (1958-12-17) (United States)

  • May 1, 1959 (1959-05-01) (Finland)
Running time
77 min

Monster on the Campus (a.k.a. Monster in the Night[1] and Stranger on the Campus) is a 1958 American black-and-white science fiction/horror film from Universal-International, produced by Joseph Gershenson, directed by Jack Arnold, from a script by David Duncan,[2][3] that stars Arthur Franz, Joanna Cook Moore, Nancy Walters, Troy Donohue, and Whit Bissell. The film was theatrically released as a double feature with the British horror film Blood of the Vampire.

The film's storyline tells of a university science professor who accidentally comes into contact with the irradiated blood of a coelacanth, which causes him to "regress" to being a primitive caveman.


Dr. Donald Blake (Arthur Franz), a science professor at Dunsford University, receives delivery of a coelacanth. A student, Jimmy (Troy Donahue), asks Blake if the fish is really a million years old. Blake replies, "It's the species that's old. No change in millions of years. See, the coelacanth is a living fossil, immune to the forces of evolution". Blake lectures his students about evolution and devolution, telling them that man is the only creature that can decide whether to move forwards or backwards, and that "unless we learn to control the instincts we've inherited from our ape-like ancestors, the race is doomed".

Inside the lab, Blake scratches himself on its teeth of the Partially-thawed coelacanth, accidentally sticking his bloody hand into the water-filled container which held the fish. Molly Riordan (Helen Westcott), assistant to Dr. Cole Oliver (Whit Bissell), is with Blake and offers him a ride home. When they get to Molly's car, Blake says he doesn't feel well and passes out.

At Blake's home, Molly is attacked by person or persons unknown. Madeline Howard (Joanna Moore), Blake's fiancee and daughter of Dr. Gilbert Howard (Alexander Lockwood), president of the university, arrives and finds the home in shambles and Blake moaning on the ground. Madeline calls the police after seeing Molly hanging by her hair in a tree, her eyes wide, dead.

Detective Lt. Mike Stevens (Judson Pratt) and Detective Sgt. Eddie Daniels (Ross Elliott) find a huge "deformed" hand print on a window and Blake's tie clasp in Molly's dead hand. They take Blake downtown when he admits that he can't remember anything after getting into Molly's car.

Stevens releases Blake after concluding that someone is holding a grudge and trying to implicate Blake in Molly's murder. He assigns Daniels as Blake's bodyguard and tells Blake that Molly's autopsy showed she died of fright.

In his lab, Blake shoos away a dragonfly that lands on the coelacanth. The dragonfly later returns, now grown to two feet. Blake and Jimmy try to catch the giant insect with a net when, again, it lands on the coelacanth. Blake stabs the dragonfly. When he examines its body, he doesn't notice that its blood has dripped into his pipe. Lighting up and taking a few puffs, he immediately feels ill. As the dragonfly shrinks back to its normal size, a large, hairy hand reaches out and squashes the insect. Then Blake's lab is trashed and Jimmy's visiting girlfriend is killed. The police find huge footprints near her body and conclude that the footprints and the hand prints are from the same source.

Blake learns that the coelacanth has blood plasma preserved by gamma rays. If it gets into the bloodstream of an animal or person, it causes them to temporarily revert to a more primitive state. He realizes that he might have received a dose of the irradiated plasma. If so, then Blake has been reverting to a throwback caveman with large hands, feet, dark skin, heavy body hair, and prominent brow ridges.

He decides to take a few days off at Dr. Howard's remote cabin. Blake isn't there for rest and relaxation: He plans to learn whether he is the beast. Blake rigs the cabin with cameras on trip wires to record whatever happens and injects himself with coelacanth plasma. His caveman self wrecks the room, trips the camera's wires, and is photographed. He grabs an axe and leaves.

Madeline, driving to the cabin, runs off the road and crashes when the caveman appears in her headlights. Local forest ranger (Richard H. Cutting) arrives and calls the Dunsford police for help. The caveman carries the unconscious Madeline into the forest, with the ranger in pursuit.

Madeline comes to and struggles with the beast. When she breaks free, the forest ranger shoots the caveman, but he throws his axe, killing the ranger. Madeline runs to the cabin. The caveman collapses. Blake, once again himself, returns to the cabin and develops a photo, showing it to Madeline, who does not understand and asks why the beast is wearing Blake's clothes.

Lt. Stevens, Detective Sgt. Powell (Phil Harvey), and Dr. Howard arrive at the cabin. Blake tells them that he not only knows who the murderer is, but where to find him. Out in the woods, he explains to Howard what his experiment proved and injects himself with coelacanth plasma. Again transformed into the caveman, he chases Howard, forcing the two detectives to shoot him. As the beast lies dying, he slowly transforms back into Blake.



Production took place between April and May 1958.[1] The on-campus scenes of Dunsford University were filmed at Occidental College in Eagle Rock, a suburb of Los Angeles, California.[4]

The working title of the film was Monster in the Night. Although Universal music director Joseph Gershenson had received executive producer credit on some films of the 1940s, Monster on the Campus marked the first film for which he received sole credit as producer.[5] This was the film debut of Nancy Walters. Arthur Franz only played Prof. Donald Blake. Once the makeup transformation scenes were over, stuntman Eddie Parker did every scene as the monster.[6]

Science fiction film critic Bill Warren writes that director Jack Arnold said in an interview with Cinefastastique magazine (Vol.4 No.2, 1975) that the film was shot in 12 days, and that Arnold told Photon magazine (No.26, 1975), "I didn't really hate it, but I didn't think it was up to the standards of the other films that I have done".[7]


Monster on the Campus had a wide international release. Its U.S. premiere was in Bismarck, North Dakota on 17 December 1958, followed by Finland on 1 May 1959, West Germany on 22 January 1960, France on 27 January 1960, and Mexico on 3 March 1960. The film was also released in the UK, Belgium, Greece, Italy, the Soviet Union, Argentina, and Brazil.[8] In the UK, it was given an "X" certificate by the British Board of Film Censors (BBFC), which meant at the time that the film could not be exhibited to people under age 16.[9][10] In 2016, BBFC reclassified the DVD of Monster on the Campus. It now has a PG rating.[11]

According to Warren, there were few reviews of Monster on the Campus when it first came out because it was the "bottom half of a double-bill with the more colorful Blood of the Vampire". He quotes a few contemporary reviews. It was called "'a pretty fair shocker'" in Daily Variety. Jack Moffitt, in The Hollywood Reporter, said the film emphasized the "'human rather than the monstrous side of this modern 'Dr. Jekyll' story". The Monthly Film Reporter, however, called it "'depressing,'" even though it had been "'tailored for the horror market.'"[7]

BoxOffice magazine in its issue of 19 January 1959 showed positive reviews from most of the publications listed in its "Review Digest". BoxOffice, Film Daily, and The Hollywood Reporter all rated it as "very good"; Harrison's Report and Variety rated it "good"; Parents' Magazine gave it a "fair" rating; and the New York Daily News had not reviewed the film.[12]

The reviewing division of the Catholic News Service evaluated Monster on the Campus in 1958 for its "artistic merit and moral suitability". This resulted in The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) giving the film a rating of "A-III," which meant it was suitable for adults, although USCCB cautioned that it contained "stylized violence with some intense menace".[13]

Many of the more recent reviews have centered on the monster/caveman/ape-man makeup. Warren writes, "The mask is unconvincing, with tiny shell-like teeth and a built-in scowl; it resembles similar Universal-International over-the-head masks of the period, as seen in Abbott and Costello Meet Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, Tarantula and other outings".[7] Bryan Senn notes that keeping the monster off-camera until near the end of the film is a good idea, as it adds a "bit of build-up and mystery", but doing so "only makes the rubbery mask and hirsute padded shoulders (making him look like a simian linebacker) that much more disappointing when finally revealed".[14]

But reviews have noted more than just makeup. Phil Hardy writes that "cinematographer [Russel] Metty and special effects man [Clifford] Stine make the most of the ape-man's path of destruction through the campus but the script lacks any sparkle".[15] Senn calls the film "visually flat, with the 'action' taking place in labs, offices and cabins, and with exteriors consisting of one back-lot hillside".[14] And Warren says that the film is "hampered by trivial locations and drab sets. The film has no arresting images. The best [Arnold] can come up with is a swift glance the ape-man gives a mirror before smashing it and one shot of a woman dangling by her hair from a tree". In summary, he calls the film "routine, unimaginative and foolish ... Jack Arnold's worst science fiction film".[7]

But not every reviewer disliked Monster on the Campus. Critic Ken Hanke wrote that "part of the charm of this little movie is that the monster is so hokey. No, it's not classic horror, but it's a good bit of fun". He gave the film a score of 4.5 out of 5 stars.[16]

Popularity with the public is harder to judge. The film holds a 5.8/10 from 1,111 votes on the Internet Movie Database[17] and a low 22% from 270 viewers at the film review aggregator website Rotten Tomatoes.[18]

Academic interest

Monster on the Campus has attracted a fair amount of academic interest. Prof. Cyndy Hendershot in 2001 wrote that the film examines "issues of conformity and individuality" through a "metaphor of monstrous transformation". Hendershot says that while Blake the professor represents conformity, Blake the caveman is a representation of individuality. But he can't be conformist and individualistic at the same time. His employer, Dunsfield University, "conspires to stamp out individuality that does not follow the direction of the organization as a whole". That is, "while Monster on the Campus adopts the typical sf/horror plot of the mad scientist versus the blind authorities", the film "frames the issue specifically within the world of the organization man". According to Hendershot, a man such as Blake - driven from within toward individualism and not at all a good organization man who willingly submits to conformity imposed on him from the outside - can't win. His personal goal of knowledge for the sake of knowledge is not that of the university, which seems more interested in the publicity that owning a rare coelacanth will bring. "But, if the film condemns the other-directed society as stifling scientific knowledge, it equally condemns Blake's rampant inner-directed man. It reveals, in fact, that the individual within is a beast".[19]

Also in 2001, Hendershot looked at Monster on the Campus as an exploration of a "wide variety of issues related to the emergence of teen culture in Fifties America". Specifically, her focus is on juvenile deliquency, which she says "provoked feelings of intense horror" in adults at the time. The Dunsfield Police, for example, "suspect the teenagers on campus of being guilty" of the murders of Molly and Daniels, yet the "true criminal is located at the heart of adult authority on campus". But unlike many films in which young people are the villains, Monster on the Campus inverts things, so that "only the students emerge as having any clear moral sense about the horrors that are occurring on campus". In other words, "the kids in Monster on the Campus are fine; it's the adults that have to be watched, as they may transform into monsters at any moment".[20]

Prof. Patrick Gonder looks at the film in racial terms. He writes that Monster on the Campus was released just a few years after the 1954 US Supreme Court decision in Brown v. Board of Education. In that light, he says, "the monster on the campus is the demonized black male student, threatening to contaminate the purity of white women and cause the reversal of white evolutionary potential. The Caveman is imaged as a racist caricature of the African American: bestial, violent and corrosive to the tenets of white society". However, Gonder goes on to point out that the "creature and the professor are one and the same: several times, Blake comments on how the beast is 'within' him". And at the end of the film Blake solves his problem: he "does not turn himself in but instead organizes his own lynch mob by purposefully (for the first time) transforming himself into the Caveman, thus forcing the police officers to shoot him".[21]

Home media

Monster on the Campus had its U.S. VHS release in 1994.[22] Universal Pictures released Monster on the Campus as part of a DVD boxed set called The Classic Sci-Fi Ultimate Collection, which features four other Universal films: The Incredible Shrinking Man, The Mole People, The Monolith Monsters, and Tarantula. Shout Factory released the film on Blu-ray in a package including the trailer and subtitles on 25 June 2019.[23].

Popular culture

Monster on the Campus has been referenced in a number of other films and television programs. Among other examples, it was shown on Svengoolie in 1981 and 2013; scenes from it were used in the films Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004) and American Grindhouse (2010); and it was mentioned in the Canadian comedy Ding et Dong le film (1990).[24]

In music, The Modern Airline, a neo-New Wave band from Brooklyn, New York, released a song titled "Monster on the Campus" in 2017.[25][26]


  1. ^ a b AFI staff (2013). "Monster on the Campus". AFI Catalog of Feature Films. Los Angeles, California, USA: American Film Institute. OCLC 772904208. Retrieved September 17, 2013.
  2. ^ Doherty, Thomas (June 4, 2010). Teenagers and Teenpics: Juvenilization of American Movies (revised ed.). Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA: Temple University Press. p. 245. ISBN 9781592137879. OCLC 780726393. Retrieved September 25, 2013.
  3. ^ 'Vampire' in Attack Today Los Angeles Times (1923-Current File) [Los Angeles, Calif] 22 Oct 1958: B8.
  4. ^ "Filming locations". Internet Movie Data Base.
  5. ^ Monster on the Campus TCM Notes
  6. ^ Internet Movie Database Trivia
  7. ^ a b c d Warren, Bill (2010). Keep Watching the Skies! American Science Fiction Movies of the Fifties: The 21st Century Edition. Jefferson NC: McFarland & Co. Inc. pp. 598–599. ISBN 9781476666181.
  8. ^ "Release Information". Internet Movie Data Base.
  9. ^ "BFFC rating". Original Movie Posters.[dead link]
  10. ^ "History of Film Ratings". The BBC.[permanent dead link]
  11. ^ "DVD rating". The British Board of Film Censors.[dead link]
  12. ^ "Review Digest". BoxOffice Magazine. 19 January 1959.
  13. ^ "Film Ratings". The US Conference of Catholic Bishops. Archived from the original on 2015-04-10.
  14. ^ a b Senn, Bryan (2007). A Year of Fear: A Day-to-Day Guide to 366 Horror Films. Jefferson NC: McFarland & Co. Inc. p. 220. ISBN 9780786431960.
  15. ^ Hardy, ed., Phil (1995). The Overlook Film Encyclopedia Science Fiction. Woodstock NY: The Overlook Press. p. 182. ISBN 0879516267.CS1 maint: extra text: authors list (link)
  16. ^ Hanke, Ken (4 September 2012). "Movie Review". The MountainXpress. Asheville NC.[permanent dead link]
  17. ^ "Viewer Ratings". Internet Movie Data Base.
  18. ^ Rotten Tomatoes
  19. ^ Hendershot, Cyndy (2001). I Was a Cold War Monster: Horror Films, Eroticism, and the Cold War Imagination. Bowling Green OH: Bowling Green State University Popular Press. pp. 83–85. ISBN 0879728507.
  20. ^ Hendershot, Cyndy. "Monster at the Soda Shop: Teenagers and Fifties Horror Movies". Images: A Journal of Film and Polular Culture. 10: 4–5. Archived from the original on 2016-10-25. Retrieved 2017-05-26.
  21. ^ Gonder, Patrick. "Race, Gender and Terror: The Primitive in 1950s Horror Films". The University of Colorado. Special Issue #40: Scared of the Dark: Race, Gender and the "Horror Film". Boulder CO.[dead link]
  22. ^ "Miscellaneous Notes". Turner Classic Movies Data Base.[dead link]
  23. ^ Retrieved 30 July 2019
  24. ^ "Movie Connections". Internet Movie Data Base.
  25. ^ "The Modern Airline home page". The Modern Airline.
  26. ^ "Live on the Evan Funk Davies Show". Free Music Archive.


External links

This page was last edited on 26 September 2019, at 17:39
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