Hello friends and connoisseurs of camp! This week we’re setting our cinema time-machine for 1958 to uncover another fossil from the age of vintage B-movies: Monster on the Campus. I sincerely hope you’re ready to have your jeggings blown off because this picture is a veritable tour de force of everything that makes bad movies good, including…
— Transformation sequences!
— A second-grader’s understanding of basic biology!
One wonderful thing about this movie is that it’s not just entertaining. It’s also an education in biological science and how far it can be twisted, misunderstood, and just plain mangled in the name of filmmaking. By the same token, it’s an exercise in testing the limits of “suspension of disbelief”. When it comes to entertainment and storytelling, we are all willing to make a few concessions regarding what could “really happen” because as we all know: real life is lame. For example, when we go to a magic show we might see the magician slice a woman into thirds and rearrange her body parts. We enjoy the spectacle despite knowing that it’s not real and that a scarlet river of warm human blood isn’t going to start gushing onto the stage, no matter how much we might want it to.
I happen to be blessed with an exceptional ability to suspend my disbelief and accept fantasy, due to a healthy upbringing in the intergalactic church of Scientology. However, even I had a hard time going along for the ride with Monster on the Campus. It took all of 5 minutes for my suspension of disbelief to snap from the weight of all the bullshit in this movie. But that isn’t to say I didn’t enjoy it.
Monster on the Campus’s unlikely story revolves around a very special, prehistoric looking fish called a “coelacanth.” Unlike most other details in the movie, this animal is loosely based on reality; the coelacanth is a very real fish. And had you been paying attention in fifth grade science class instead of carving rock band logos into your desk you would recall that this particular animal is considered a “living fossil”. This is because the species has not evolved at all in 65 million years! Pretty impressive, huh? Let’s hear it for science.
If this article is starting to feel too much like a biology lesson, fear not. The appearance of the coelacanth in this movie marks the first and last part of the film that is even remotely scientific. From this point onward, Hollywood-style psuedoscience is in the driver’s seat. And that of course means anything goes! For example, the coelacanth that appears in Monster on the Campus has the ability to cause “reverse-evolution.” Essentially this means that any living thing coming in contact with it will transform into a savage pre-historic version of itself. E.g. a simple dragonfly becomes a giant paleozoic insect, while a man becomes a vicious Neanderthal.
As the movie opens, a young student is delivering a large coelacanth specimen to Dr. Donald Blake. Blake is Dunsfield University’s professor of Paleontology and, as far as I can tell, the only instructor in the school’s entire science department. So as you might imagine, Blake’s ensuing transformation into a prehistoric man-ape is a great loss to the university. Replacing him would certainly be a challenge. I’m guessing brilliant professors aren’t likely to be lining up for jobs at Dunsfield U, whose school of science probably ranks somewhere below Toni’s Online Academy of Beauty.
How does Doctor Blake become the Monster on the Campus? Well, mainly by means of clumsiness. It’s a documented fact that 75% of Professors teaching in the U.S. are clinically Absent-Minded. Roughly 3% are “Nutty” and the remaining 22% are “Assholes”. Blake belongs to the first category (at least until he transforms into the Monster at which time he promptly moves to the 22% group). So, when he lifts up the huge coelacanth to carry it into the lab, he naturally grips it firmly inside the fish’s toothy mouth with his ungloved hand. He cuts himself on one of it’s fangs, effectively injecting himself with coelacanth saliva. Just for good measure, he also puts his injured finger into his own mouth to clean the wound. Ten minutes and one rubber mask later he is a ferocious, bulging prehistoric man. He takes his first victim shortly thereafter.
He transforms into the beast twice more after this. Once by accidentally spilling coelacanth blood into his standard-issue professor’s pipe and smoking it, and finally by deliberately injecting himself with the blood just for yuks. He murders some more people, and the police decide to hunt him down. You can probably guess how the story proceeds from here, but if you really need to know every last pre-hysterical plot-point then by all means see the movie for yourself. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.
That brings us to the part where I show you a brief clip from this weeks feature: