Professor Donald Blake (Arthur Franz) is studying evolution, and for his display of the ascent of man he is taking a cast of his girlfriend's face to show what a modern woman looks like, She is Madeline (Joanna Moore), and only too happy to help, but soon his attention is distracted from her charms to his latest delivery: a genuine coelacanth, a fish that dates from prehistoric times but still exists today. However, the crate containing it is leaking and the pet dog of one of his students (Troy Donahue) laps at the fluid, triggering a curious transformation...
Monster on the Campus may have a campy title, but rest assured we're supposed to take it very seriously indeed, although for many viewers nowadays, and even back when it was first released, there are some plot developments that are too close to the farcical. This is particularly in evidence in the manner in which the monster of the title is revealed, as if to sustain some suspense about its true nature, although it would take an obtuse audience not to cotton on to what is really going in within the opening ten minutes.
The monster is not Samson the dog, but the pooch does grow long fangs and takes on a fierce demeanour, leading it to be wrestled to the ground and stuffed into a cage for tests. While the Prof is wondering if rabies is involved, we are thinking the answer is obvious: it's that drink the dog partook of. So while we know there is something fishy going on, nobody else in the cast does until Blake catches his hand on the living fossil's teeth and the gets some of the preservative, gamma-ray treated water into the wound. Cue him feeling woozy and passing out.
Next day, the police are involved because one of his colleagues has been found dead and he has been discovered unconscious nearby. The cops are immediately suspicious of the Prof, but the handprints they find at the scene are too big to be his - too big to be anybody's really. At this point you will be waiting for them to make the obvious leap of logic, but even for a film featuring supposed scientists and detectives they're all very slow on the uptake and though this is film runs barely an hour and twenty minutes, it seems longer when you are impatient with the characters' obliviousness to the solution under their noses.
I may as well spell it out: whenever Blake gets some of the fish on him, or rather in him, he transforms into a neanderthal, although we don't actually see him do this until the last quarter of an hour. All the signs are there, of course, and with such ludicrous bits as him getting the blood of a giant dragonfly (made giant by the fish juice) into his pipe, which he then smokes looking puzzled at the taste, this was patently a step down in the world for director Jack Arnold, an acknowledged master of the sci-fi genre in the fifties. It's not quite the embarrassment he thought it was, because there is some cheesy amusement to be gained, but Monster on the Campus is unavoidably silly stuff and for your basic Jekyll and Hyde tale there were better renderings around.