Monster on the Campus (1958)
“Monster on the Campus” gets to its premise quickly. The film begins by panning across a series of face molds, showing man’s evolution through the ages, from ape-man to modern man, just in case the viewer didn’t understand that. Despite the title summoning images of sorority girls stalked by some sort of monster, “Monster on the Campus” is actually about a college professor. Dr. Donald Blake, an evolutionary biologist, comes into possession of a coelacanth specimen. Before the fish is even unveiled, a student’s dog drinks some of the water it was preserved in. Seconds later, the friendly German Shepherd has transformed into a vicious, ancient wolf. When Dr. Blake cuts his hand on the coelacanth tooth, he too transforms. Campus police are baffled by a series of murders apparently committed by a deformed man while Dr. Blake slowly begins to unravel the truth.
“Monster on the Campus” is essentially a werewolf story. After being bitten by the dead fish, Blake transforms unwillingly, another mind taking over his body. The professor does not remember the transformations. It’s not until half-way through the film that Blake even realizes he is the were-ape. Like the werewolf, the Ape-Man kills seemingly because it’s in his nature. The movie even seems to acknowledge the connection during Blake’s only on-screen transformation, when the make-up fades over his body the same way it did to Lon Chaney back in 1941. There are differences, of course. The condition isn’t commutable and a bullet of the non-silver variety is enough to put the monster down. However, the ape monster is as much a symbol of man’s inner animal as the werewolf is.
It’s a good thing the monster is kept off-screen for most of the run time. The Were-Ape is not Bud Westmore’s best work. Stuntman Eddie Parker, stepping in for leading man Arthur Franz, wears a not exactly convincing mask. His eyes peer out of awkward holes while the lips extend outward, mostly unmoving. If you thought Lon Chaney Jr. looked goofy as a Wolfman in a work shirt and pants, wait until you see this. The Neanderthal Man’s muscles bulge out of a flannel shirt, his oversized Popeye forearms looking especially ridiculous. There’s a reason the poster art just has the monster going shirtless. The performance is a bit awkward as well, the monster waving his limbs back and forth or stumbling to the ground. Even then, the climatic scene of the monster tearing up a cabin half-way works. The giant dragonfly isn’t the most convincing special effect either. It’s a cool model but the wires operating it are frequently visible.
It would have been nice if “Monster on the Campus” focused on that love story more, especially the bit about the monster loving the woman too. Ultimately, the script is somewhat thin and the central monster unimpressive. However, a talented director and leading man makes this short 77-minute film a fun, exciting bit of late night monster programming. [7/10]
Aw man, Patricia Arquette is hot in this. I always try to prevent personal feelings from affecting my critical judgment, but she’s absolutely delicious in this. The short-blonde hair, dirty white tank top, torn but very tight jeans, and cutey-pie hillbilly accent is a combination that really does something for me. Her character also seems to have an aversion to wearing bras. I’m not the only one to oogle Patricia in this, as the camera lavishes attention on her, especially when she’s down on her hands and knees in the chicken coop. Arquette manages to make this probably the sexiest episode of the series, despite it not featuring any nudity. A sense of intense and frustrated erotic longing fills “Four-Sided Triangle.”
It’s another “Tales” episode about infidelity. This time, a redneck farmer is developing lusty feelings for the teenage runaway they’re blackmailing into staying, much to the consternation of his haggish, crippled wife. The horror elements are light, provided by a conk-on-the-head aided hallucination of a walking scarecrow and some climatic pitchfork stabbings. There are only three characters in the episode and each actor gives a great performance. Chelcie Ross’ George should have been unsympathetic. He is, after all, nearly a rapist. However, his wife is so shrewish, and Arquette so intoxicating, he becomes sympathetic after all. Arquette allows for a bit of ambiguity in her character. Is Mary Jo the light-headed, spacey young girl she appears to be or, as the ending suggests, has the whole situation been plotted out to help her escape? Either way, Arquette is vulnerable, enchanting, and not just because of how she looks. Susan Blommaert’s Luisa is the wicked witch to Patricia’s imprisoned princess. She’s cartoonishly mean, the actress really hamming it up. Unexpectantly, Luisa shows a softer side at the end, once it’s too late.
Grant Wood’s “American Gothic,” with bright blue skies, oppressively flat landscapes, and prominent placement of pitchforks. George’s erotic fantasies are created brilliantly and, once the scarecrow finally steps down from his perch to kiss Arquette, the camera spins around the two, symbolizing their passion for one another. As you can probably tell, “Four-Sided Triangle” is one of my favorite “Tales,” a funny and sexy parody of Southern American sexual woes. [8/10]