Reviews of movies from my giant DVD tower, and more.
Released on December 17, 1958
Directed by Jack Arnold
Written by David Duncan
Cast: Arthur Franz, Joanna Moore, Judson Pratt, Nancy Walters, Troy Donahue, Phil Harvey, Helen Westcott, Alexander Lockwood, Ross Elliott, Whit Bissell, Louis Cavalier, Anne Anderson, Hank Patterson
Or if you prefer, Jekyll & Hyde Go to College. I hadn’t seen this man-into-monster cheapie since I watched it on a late-night horror show over thirty years ago, and I seem to remember not caring for it much at the time. But what caught my eye this time around was Jack Arnold’s name in the opening credits. Yes, the same Jack Arnold who’d earlier directed It Came from Outer Space, The Creature from the Black Lagoon, and The Incredible Shrinking Man, and for whatever reason was now directing a micro-budget B picture for Universal-International.
And my initial thought was, with Arnold at the helm, this might not be so bad after all. And at first it really wasn’t: a college science professor receives a shipment containing a dead coelacanth—a large prehistoric fish once thought to be extinct—that was sent to him by a scientist colleague in Madagascar. Unfortunately, the packing ice is thawing, and a student’s dog laps up the water dripping from the crate; the once-friendly German shepherd suddenly goes berserk and bites the student on the arm. In the lab, the professor accidentally scrapes his hand on the coelacanth’s sharp teeth, then inadvertently dunks the open wound into the water-filled crate. It’s not long before something strange is terrorizing the campus, leaving a trail of death and destruction wherever it goes.
So who—or what—is responsible? Is it the professor, who’s now feeling weak, dizzy, and (ahem) not quite himself? Or the dog’s owner, whose arm injury is never mentioned again, and for a while is mysteriously absent from the story? Or perhaps it’s the dog, snarling and snapping with giant maxillary teeth at anyone who comes too close. It’ll take nearly the entire movie for that question to be answered, and trust me, that’s a good thing; up to that point, the story had an intriguing little mystery going for it, with the local police and university officials trying to make sense out of a handful of puzzling clues…including the origins of a cat-sized dragonfly that suddenly soars through a classroom window, freaking the bejeezus out of everyone.
But then, sadly, the monster itself was revealed, and from there everything went straight to bad cinema purgatory. Instead of a creature worthy of the classic Universal lineup, we got a mangy, flannel-shirt-sporting man-ape who looked more like a wide receiver for the university’s football team than a Cenozoic primate hell-bent on destruction. Simply put, this thing looked ridiculous, and it’s laughable to think that its molting rubber-mask face was considered frightening enough to literally scare people to death. Add to that its hobbling gait, slobbery growls, and demented ax-wielding fury, and I couldn’t help but chuckle all the way to the film’s bitter, tear-jerking end.
Apart from all that, I thought Arnold did just fine behind the camera, and provided quite a few decent set-ups and reveals; I especially loved a shot in the professor’s back yard, a murder revelation that delivered quite a chilling jolt for such a low-end film. Arthur Franz played it straight and serious as the college professor, sticking with science and technology to uncover the truth, and his interactions with the lovely Joanna Moore were both believable and heartfelt (and seriously, the acting of Samson the dog wasn’t bad, either). Of course, these positives were nearly quashed by the presence of the so-called ‘prehistoric anthropoid’…it’s too bad there wasn’t a bigger budget to help iron out the creature’s makeup and costume kinks. Either way, you fans of the ‘corn horror’ genre should get a kick out of this one. (5/10)