While the majority of ‘50s sci-fi offerings slanted themselves toward heroism, Monster on the Campus is the rare pessimist. That’s the sole reason this radioactive Wolf Man redo stands out.
With the Nazis defeated, Monster on the Campus considers human behavior. Lead Arthur Franz spouts consistently daring dialog about possibly reverting back to instinctual behavior, something primal and violent – Nazis, basically.
In a way, the story deals in an anti-war agenda, liberal and openly so. One of the earliest shots pans over a collection of evolutionary sculpts, defying a religious majority during the period. From the frequently regarded perspective of a liberal college, Monster on the Campus challenges combat for reverting men to their rawest form.
For a film little more than a chunky exploitation knock-off (with the pulpy title to boot) Monster on the Campus holds a rare, sorrowful idealism. The ending is tragic but necessary. Scientific research goes wrong (as it always did in Universal’s horror films) and victims mount in a stale mystery. What matters is the final choice given to Franz. He chooses sacrifice over personal gain, unwilling to relent to the primitive, reactive selves inside all of us.
That’s Monster on the Campus at its best; the rest runs aground from a staid pacing and rudimentary storytelling. It’s a mystery with a given answer, played as if the twist were shocking. Dorky, low-budget props fill the action until the finale when Franz’s other half breaks free. While unconvincing, the wolf/monster/creature thing carries a mix of feminine and male features, a clever design that blends gender in a way to represent everyone in the beast’s design.
Of course, the science to reach that point is hokum even by ‘50s sci-fi standards. A coelacanth specimen is preserved by way of radiation, mutating ancient bacteria, and causing transformation in anyone/anything who ingests or injects the microscopic danger. That ends up being a dog and a dragonfly, something to give Monster on Campus action while waiting for the beastie to show. Neither engages as intended.
Writer David Duncan handled a number of successful sci-fi cheapies in his day, including Monster That Challenged the World and The Black Scorpion. Pedestrian material, mostly, but in some way elevated by theme or character. The same goes for Monster on the Campus’ hyper-cynical take on the fragility of civilization.
Scream Factory considers Monster on the Campus worthy of a stand-alone release, although not due to this transfer. While grain remains, filtering gives the images the unfortunate plastic treatment, sapping texture and sharpness. Skin never looks like skin. Everyone looks like a glossy action figure.
The source scan shows signs of moderate resolution. Take out the noise reduction, and Monster on the Campus potentially shows signs of life. Sadly, that’s not the case here with a messy grain that induces mosquito noise and other faults. Ringing doesn’t help.
Key moments of shadow work with pure black. Gray scale displays well, balanced and rich. On the print itself: Minor damage at various times at the worst.
High points in the stock score sound thin and restrained, normal for something of this age. Lows wobble a bit. Overall fidelity is fine though, handled and preserved by this DTS-HD offering.
Dialog renders equally well.
Two commentaries. The first is from director Jack Arnold historian Dana M. Reemes. Author Mark Jancovich jumps in for the second track.
Scream Factory also includes the film’s open matte version as a bonus, going along with a stills gallery and trailer.
Monster on the Campus
While stock and derivative in its story, Monster on the Campus is unique in taking an cynical, anti-war stance to its horror.
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