Double Crappy Feature: Monster on the Campus (1958) and Island of Terror (1966)
Instead of one, I have TWO god-awful movies for review this week, both of them Universal budget features meant for the drive-in. Monster on the Campus (1958) is not as good as Island of Terror (1966), but that’s only because Peter Cushing stars in the latter. Both of these movies were made on a shoe-string budget and it shows. Both stories are terrible, the effects are bad, and the cast is below average. Why watch them? I guess there’s no reason to, other than the comedy and the themes.
These two movies do have things in common, even though they were made a handful of years apart. The first thing they share is that the plot revolves around attacks from strange monsters. Monster on the Campus is about a mutation that spreads to different organisms, including infecting a man, who turns into a werewolf. Scientists in Island of Terror create a new monster slug blob thing and it rampages all over the place.
This leads me to the second thing they have in common, which is science. These two movies focus on science like it’s the most important thing in the movie and many of the characters work in the field. In the case of Monster on the Campus, the scientist is a college professor, and he’s the guy who becomes a werewolf. He becomes more and more erratic and absent-mind, but the descent is not a slow one, and none of the scenes where he’s acting all confused seem to work. Island of Terror works a little different, in that Peter Cushing shows up to use “correct” science to undo the abuse of science done to create the monsters.
In fact, both movies seem to rely on the mysterious and unknown element found in science. For these movies, this means they can do pretty much whatever they want without it having to make sense. This is especially true in the case of Monster on the Campus, as the movie depicts a mutated dragonfly at one point, born out of a dead fish. It buzzes around on a string until the professor stabs it with a steak knife. Pretty silly.
The funny part is worth waiting for. I’m not sure which movie is more unintentionally hilarious, because both of them have some really stupid, B-movie stuff. Monster on the Campus has the worst dialogue ever, but the giant dragonfly scene probably tops all that with comedy stupidness. The giant bug is the most fake thing I’ve ever seen on-screen. Speaking of fake, Island of Terror has these stupid blob monsters, which look ridiculous. The effects are bad all around, but what do you expect from a low-budget B-movie from ages ago?
In all, both of these movies are terrible, but they share a lot in common and have this fear of science going on that drives all of the horror. Science as a great unknown was a theme in many more movies than these two, and in society too. It is a bit of a crutch too, because these movies throw in anything stupid and call it “science”. Ancient dead fish, giant bugs, brain-sucking leeches—anything goes. Not only that, science is the great Deus Ex Machina, to swoop in and put an end to the movie monsters with anything science can dream up. That’s what happens in Island of Terror. Anyway, these two movies are a good glimpse into how the fear of science is used (and abused), to give us some terrible monster effects and funny moments.