Jack Arnold’s Monster on the Campus focuses on strange happenings at Dunsfield University that occur when Dr. Donald Blake brings a coelacanth (an ancient but still-surviving species of fish) to the campus for study. Blake’s student Jimmy Flanders inadvertently allows his dog, Samson, to drink the fish’s blood, and thereupon the dog transforms into a wolf. After Blake accidentally cuts his finger on the fish’s mouth, he soon transforms into a murderous caveman. He kills a nurse, his bodyguard, and a forest ranger, and he attempts to kill his fiancée, Madeline Howard.
He does these things without knowing what he is doing. When Blake realizes that he is the killer, he begins experimenting on himself. He makes himself undergo a final transformation, and then allows the police to kill him.

Dr. Blake uses an ice pick to kill a giant dragonfly in Monster On the Campus.
Monster on the Campus suggests that the troublesome situation in which Fifties teenagers found themselves did not necessarily improve when they went to college. As in I Was a Teenage Werewolf, the site of the most severe psychosis is adult authority; however, the teens in the movie are suspected of being involved in the grisly murders. The police go on campus, and we are told they are "fingerprinting the football squad." One of the policemen informs a school administrator, Gilbert Howard, that "you’ll be glad to know we don’t have to arrest any of your students." Although the police know that the murderer has a deformed hand and incredible strength, they still suspect the teenagers on campus of being guilty of the horrible crimes. Yet, the true criminal is located at the heart of adult authority on campus.

Donald Blake is a mad-scientist figure typical of sf/horror. While not as overtly insane as Brandon in I Was a Teenage Werewolf, Blake displays the same obsessive fascination with savagery as does Brandon. In the first scene with Blake, he makes a plaster cast of his fiancée’s face to add to his collection of casts that illustrate the history of human evolution. Blake tells Madeline that "the race is doomed" if we cannot learn to control our instincts. When Blake lectures to his science class, he maintains that man can evolve or devolve. Blake, thus, appears to be a prophet of doom typical of a post-WWII period in which audiences were shocked into a fear of reversion based on post atomic-war scenarios. In a 1946 pamphlet entitled The Atomic Age: Suicide . . . Slavery or Social Planning?, Aaron Levenstein characterized the possibilities for evolution or devolution: "For the first time in man’s long journey out of the dark cave in which he started, the bright sun awaits him. It will not take much now to send him scurrying back to the cave" (29). In a book entitled Must Destruction be Our Destiny? (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1946), Harrison Brown feared a future characterized by devolution: "we want to live, but we do not want to live in fear, nor do we want to regress to the status of primordial man" (16). When Dr. Blake learns that the gamma rays used to preserve the fish have turned its blood into a dangerous potion, he comments that "man’s greatest discovery is the way to undo his accomplishments." On the surface, Blake’s obsession with devolution has social value.

The monster chooses a victim in Monster On the Campus.
Yet, the film reveals Blake's concern with devolution to be selfish, based on the science-for-science’s-sake belief that he hides under his surface pose of concerned citizen. Blake thrilled at Samson’s brief transformation into a wolf. He implores Jimmy and his girlfriend, Sylvia Lockwood, to keep quiet about their sighting of a giant dragonfly that has ingested the fish’s blood because he first wants to finish his research. Blake’s statement that "Man’s only one generation from savagery" takes on less of a cautionary tone as the film progresses and becomes a celebration of that fact. He seems to revel in self-experimentation, which is ostensibly motivated by concern for the greater good of humans. After he transforms into a primitive human and kills a forest ranger, he worries only whether the camera he rigged to take his photo has captured his transformed self on film. Yet, Blake is not the only authority figure in the film whose motivations are questionable.

Gilbert Howard represents a callous authority who cares only about profits. He gladly endorses bringing the coelacanth to the campus because he believes it will bring the university publicity and money. He is more concerned about the university's financial gain than the murders occurring on and around the campus. However, when Blake calls "Dr. Moreau" in Madagascar to find out about the preservation method used for the fish, Howard fumes that Blake has spent "a month’s salary in phone calls."

Once transformed into a monster, Dr. Blake attacks his girlfriend in Monster On the Campus.
Only the students emerge as having any clear moral sense about the horrors occurring on campus. Jimmy and Sylvia are truly disappointed when Blake begins canceling his classes. Although Jimmy and Sylvia swear to Blake that they will not tell anyone about the giant dragonfly, they eventually approach Madeleine. As a result, she drives to the cabin where Blake is staying. Through her presence, Blake’s savage behavior is stopped. Like the teenagers of The Giant Gila Monster, the kids in Monster on the Campus are fine; it’s the adults who must be watched because they may transform into monsters at any moment.

Ultimately, The Giant Gila Monster, The Blob, I Was a Teenage Werewolf, and Monster on the Campus convey images of a world where authority is deeply flawed and frequently monstrous. Moreover, these films suggest that in order to negotiate the dangerous world they live in teens must either steer clear of authority figures or assume authority themselves. The teens cannot rely on teachers, principals, doctors, scientists, policemen, or parents. Fifties horror films project the post-WWII irony that the drive toward self-destruction embodied in the creation of nuclear weapons is frequently cloaked in the language of self-preservation. In order to better mankind, Tony must be made into a werewolf or Blake must make himself into a caveman. These films provide a glimpse into the insanity at the heart of many Fifties authority figures, an insanity that, at least as far as teen-focused horror films are concerned, was much more terrifying than juvenile delinquency could ever be.

page 5 of 5

Page One: Introduction  |  Page Two: The Giant Gila Monster  |  Page Three: The Blob
Page Four: I Was a Teenage Werewolf  |  Page Five: Monster On the Campus

Photo credit: © 1958 Universal Pictures. All rights reserved.