Three Monster Tales of Sci-Fi Terror: Man-Made Monster/The Monolith Monsters/Monster on the Campus [Blu-ray]
Blu-ray B - United Kingdom - Eureka
Review written by and copyright: Eric Cotenas (3rd April 2022).
The Film

Man-Made Monster: When midway carnival performer Dan McCormick (Son of Dracula's Lon Chaney Jr.) – also known as "Dynamo Dan, the Electrical Man" – is the sole survivor of a bus crash into a power line that electrocuted and killed five other passengers, electrobiologist Dr. John Lawrence (The Raven's Samuel S. Hinds) invites McCormick to stay with him so he can try to figure out the cause of his immunity to electric shock. While Lawrence is off to a medical convention, however, his partner Dr. Paul Rigas (Mystery of the Wax Museum's Lionel Atwill) uses McCormick to realize his own theories of electrobiology in which electrical impulses can subsume human will and create a new race of worker whose only need is electricity. Lawrence's niece June (Black Friday's Anne Nagel) suspects that something is wrong when McCormick starts to become physically weaker but is not quite ready to accuse Rigas of anything based on the wisecracks of reporter suitor Mark Adams (Psycho's Frank Albertson) about Rigas' stereotypically sinister demeanor. When Lawrence discovers the truth however, Rigas orders a fully-charged McCormick to kill him and then confess to the crime. Although Rigas assures June that he will do everything to help McCormick at an examination to determine his sanity, he does the opposite and McCormick finds himself with a date with the electric chair… but how can you electrocute a being who lives on electricity?

Unmistakably a Universal B picture from its casting – although, to be fair, Chaney Jr. looks healthier and livelier here than in his later Universal outings – to its concept which seems at least a partial retread of the Karloff outing The Invisible Ray while also anticipating the considerably more impoverished fifties Chaney effort Indestructible Man, not to mention the late Universal effort The Mad Ghoul in which Atwill used an ancient formula to remove the willpower of an unsuspecting subject to do his bidding. The concept is a bit more inflammatory here with Atwill's scientist describing his "shell of a man" creation as the "worker of the future controlled by superior intelligence." Man-Made Monster moves along rather predictably and maybe a bit too leisurely with the expected rampage contained to the last ten minutes of the film, with Chaney and Nagel eking a modicum of sympathy but being overshadowed by Corky the dog who is not only well-trained but pulls the heartstrings in the final scene with his fallen friend.

The Monolith Monsters: A meteor crashes to Earth in the desert surrounding salt-mining town San Angelo, California unnoticed. The shards of obsidian-like fragments attract the intention local Department of the Interior geologist Dr. Ben Gilbert (The Deadly Mantis' Phil Harvey) who does not recognize it as anything he has seen before but quickly scuttles local newspaper man Martin Cochrane's (War of the Worlds' Les Tremayne) idea that it is anything groundbreaking. The next day, however, Ben's colleague Dr. Dave Miller (The Incredible Shrinking Man's Grant Williams) returns from a trip to discover the lab destroyed and Ben's corpse somehow turned into stone. Local Dr. Reynolds is unable to determine a cause of death but Cochrane points out that there is considerably more of the rock littering the lab than Ben had collected. Dave suspects that the rock is somehow responsible and becomes concerned when his schoolteacher girlfriend Cathy Barrett (Lord Love a Duck's Lola Albright) reveals that student Ginny Simpson (Linda Scheley) took a piece home with her as a souvenir earlier that day when she took her class out to the desert for a field trip. He has a hard time proving it to local police chief Dan Corey (Man of a Thousand Faces' William Flaherty) until they find the Simpson family farm crushed by considerably larger fragments of the rock and Ginny the only survivor. When Ginny's hand starts turning to stone, Ben and Cathy rush her to specialist Dr. Hendricks in the city and consult Dave's mentor Professor Flanders (Thunder Road's Trevor Bardette) who believes the rock to be a meteor. While Cathy remains with Ginny, Dave and Flanders search the desert for the meteor crash site and a clue as to what causes it to grow, multiply, and kill before the entire town is destroyed.

One of Universal-International's lesser-known fifties science fiction efforts mounted to compete with similar output by Columbia Pictures and Warner Bros., The Monolith Monsters eschews large insects or mutated prehistoric creatures for an oddly impersonal threat in shards of rock activated by water that grow upwards until their bases cannot sustain their weight and then they fall and crush whatever is beneath them and then repeat the process while the grislier act of draining things with which they come into contact of silica and silicon (including humans) is rather downplayed, possibly for censorship concerns since make-up artist Bud Westmore was surely capable of more than what made it in front of the cameras. The optical composites and miniatures are fairly impressive for the budget, with the shortcomings seemingly more on the conceptual side with the survivors celebrating as the titular menace's advance is retarded with the solution to how to obliterate them once and for all left hanging in the air. The supporting cast includes uncredited early appearances by The Patty Duke Show's William Schallert as a meteorologist, The Donna Reed Show's Paul Peterson as the ringleader of the town's paperboys, and A Summer Place's Troy Donahue as a demolition expert, while voice artist Paul Frees provides the opening narration.

Monster on the Campus: Dunsfield University paleontology professor Donald Blake (Sisters of Death's Arthur Franz) has just acquired at great expense to the university – as his department head future father-in-law Professor Gilbert Howard (Close Encounters of the Third Kind's Alexander Lockwood) repeatedly stresses – a coelacanth, fascinating to him because it has managed to resist evolutionary change for over a million years and may be the link to our most base animal behaviors. Student assistant Jimmy's (A Summer Place's Troy Donahue) dog Samson takes an instant dislike to the thawing fish and suddenly goes berserk, attacking Jimmy and having to be caged in Blake's lab until colleague Dr. Oliver Cole (Soylent Green's Whit Bissell) can determine if he is rabid or not. Blake notices that the dog has canines that are a throwback to its primitive wolf ancestors. When he cuts his wrist on the fish's teeth while putting it away for the night, he blacks out and wakes at his home to discover the dead body of Cole's nurse Molly (The Gunfighter's Helen Westcott) hanging by her hair from a tree. Police lieutenant Mike Stevens (Kid Galahad's Judson Pratt) first suspects Blake, however, a fingerprint and a distorted hand print found at the scene are not a match. Operating on the suspicion that the killer was after Blake, Stevens appoints police sergeant Daniels (Tarantula's Ross Elliot) to guard him. When he too is killed and equally-distorted footprints are discovered at the scene, Blake suspects that the killer himself is some sort of evolutionary throwback while Stevens believes someone is trying to frame the professor. After a dragonfly that has landed on the thawing fish reverts to its (significantly larger) evolutionary ancestor, Blake begins to believe that something in the chemical makeup of the fish is capable of reverting animals, insects, and humans to their earlier forms. When his fiancee Madeline (Touch of Evil's Joanna Moore), her father, and Cole insist that Blake take a leave of absence, he decides to use himself as a test subject.

Although the title sounds like it would be comfortable in a double bill with one of American International's teen-oriented horrors of the same period – or even Werewolf in a Girls' Dormitory – Jack Arnold's Monster on the Campus sidelines its college-age lovers and potential victims in favor of a middle-aged protagonist and his older colleagues; indeed, the slight age difference is interesting in terms of power dynamics as the older set attempt to stifle Blake's fantastic theories for the sake of his and the college's reputation, and generally treat him more so than his fiancιe like a horror movie hysterical female prone to hallucinations. The more overt subtext, however, is that of "the beast within" and how much of it is inherited from our "ape-like ancestors" and how much is carried over psychologically, with an opening scene in which Blake models his facial cast of "modern woman" with Madeline and remarks while she is lying with the plaster cast over her face: "There she is, female in the perfect state: defenseless and silent." Even after evidence that should be credible enough for him, Blake must nevertheless know for certain – as such, the film withholds the sight of the Jack Kevan-designed monster and transformation effects to the last fifteen minutes – and the truly needless resulting third death perhaps labels him as not really a villain but less-than-heroic yet not as much a victim as the young, manipulated, hypnosis- or drug-induced monsters of I Was a Teenage Werewolf, How to Make a Monster, Blood of Dracula, or Frankenstein's Daughter. In addition to Donahue, The Monolith Monsters' Richard Cutting also turns up in a smaller role during the climax.


First released in 1941 by Universal and then reissued in 1953 by Reelart as "The Atomic Monster", Man-Made Monster was first released to DVD as part of the Universal Horror Classic Movie Archive in 2009 and then to Blu-ray in the U.S. as part of Scream Factory's Universal Horror Collection: Volume 3. The latter was derived from the older HD used for the DVD – with tell-tale "title safe" windowboxing of credits and text inserts. Eureka's 1080p24 MPEG-4 AVC 1.37:1 pillarboxed fullscreen transfer appears to come from the same master but it does appear a touch brighter. The Monolith Monsters had its first home video release during the mid-nineties when Universal started paying attention to anything that did not have a variation of Dracula, Frankenstein, or The Mummy in the title followed its inclusion by the three disc DVD The Classic Sci-Fi Ultimate Collection 1 in 2008 and a solo Universal Vault Series burn-on-demand DVD-R edition in 2014. Aspect ratio has been a subject of debate with this film with the 2008 DVD presented in open-matte 1.33:1, the 2014 edition featuring a 1.85:1 anamorphic transfer. The aspect ratio confusion has continued into the high definition era with Germany's i-catcher utilizing a transfer matted to the Superscope 2.00:1 aspect ratio – applied to films shot flat at 1.37:1 and then vertically-cropped and anamorphically-squeezed not unlike the later Super 35mm process – while Scream Factory chose a 1.85:1 ratio for their edition. Australia's Umbrella Entertainment also used the Superscope ratio and so has Eureka for their 1080p24 MPEG-4 AVC 2.00:1 which does not appear to impede the growth of the monoliths towards the top of the frame in wide shots, and some group compositions look a bit more focused while other compositions probably could use some breathing room just in terms of aesthetics. The bump up to HD from the DVD transfers goes without saying, with the monoliths gaining an obsidian-like sheen and close-ups of the actors revealing more texture while some of Westmore's stone transformations do not hold up so well (which may be why the camera cuts away quickly).

Monster on the Campus first hit VHS in the late nineties from Universal before turning up in the aforementioned The Classic Sci-Fi Ultimate Collection 1 in 2008 and then a Universal Vault Series DVD-R in 2016. The aspect ratio is also in contention with this title with both Scream Factory and Germany's Koch Media providing a choice of 1.33:1 and 1.85:1 versions. Eureka, on the other hand, has offered a choice of 1080p24 MPEG-4 AVC encodes in 1.33:1 and 2.00:1 Superscope (it appears to be the only release that has done so apart from the Koch Media's German 2009 DVD). The fullscreen options generally look the most comfortably-framed while 1.85:1 is a close second. The 2.00:1 framing is generally not ruinous, but the film at that ratio never looks like it was "composed" to take advantage of the wider framing while some insert shots look a bit tight (the "careless" seeming framing may distract the aesthetically-minded viewer from noticing the "throwback" canines in the first cutaway shot to the dog in the cage). While widescreen films do not necessarily have to avoid clipping the hairlines of actors in close-up, the 1.85:1 version does detract from the impact of the first close-up of the beast late in the film, and the 2.00:1 framing is even worse. It is just as well that all discs offer the open-matte option.


Man-Made Monster's LPCM 2.0 mono track is clean but sounds rather flat when it comes to dialogue, effects, and Universal recycled and stock library music while The Monolith Monsters' LPCM 2.0 mono track sounds a bit bolder but nothing like one would hope from a film with more opportunities to exploit effects with meteor crashes, quaking earth, crashing monoliths, explosions, and floods. Monster on the Campus's LPCM 2.0 track is more of the same: professionally mixed but not particularly creative. Optional English HoH subtitles are provided.


Scream Factory's Blu-ray of Man-Made Monster featured an audio commentary by film historians Tom Weaver and Constanine Nasr while Eureka's transfer is accompanied by an audio commentary by author Stephen Jones and author/critic Kim Newman who reveal that the screenplay – from a story by Harry Essex who later scripted The Creature from the Black Lagoon – was making the rounds in the thirties as a potential Karloff/Lugosi vehicle but that it was shelved because it was too similar to The Invisible Ray before being brushed off by producer/director George Waggner (who did rewrites under a pseudonym). In addition to speculating on who Lugosi and Karloff would have played in the film, they also note the tendency of Universal to treat Chaney like a contract player by shoving him into various supporting and bit roles even as they were trying to build him up into a star – with many of his roles either as lumbering monsters or variations on his Lenny from Of Mice and Men – as well as the shift in emphasis by the marketing department from Atwill to Chaney possibly having to do with Atwill's sex scandal (not to mention how all of the human performers are overshadowed by Corky the Dog). Also included are a production stills gallery and an artwork and ephemera gallery.

Scream Factory's Blu-ray of The Monolith Monsters featured a pair of audio commentaries by film historian Tom Weaver and film music historian David Schecter and by film historian Mark Jancovich while Eureka's transfer is accompanied by an audio commentary by film historians Kevin Lyons and Jonathan Rigby who question Jack Arnold's story credit while also noting the film's heavy debt to the template of Tarantula as well as wax on the "crystaline monochrome beauty" of fifties American science fiction films including their conformism propoganda – here illustrated as much by the rocky menace as a stand-in for communist threat and little Ginny lecturing her teacher on the virtues of marriage when asking about her friendship with Miller – while also critiquing the film's pacing during the middle, its downplaying the human victims, and the workmanlike direction of John Sherwood (The Creature Walks Among Us) who had been working as an assistant director since 1939 but only helmed five films of which this was the last. They also point out the Universal contract player cast of "faces" including many who appeared around the time in television westerns as well as the use of Universal's Courthouse Square backlot set which appeared in a number of their science fiction efforts from the period and later in films like Psycho and Back to the Future. Also included are a production stills gallery, an artwork and ephemera gallery, and the film's theatrical trailer (2:05).

Scream Factory's Blu-ray of Monster on the Campus featured a pair of audio commentaries by author Dana M. Reeme and Professor of Film Studies/author Mark Jancovich while Eureka's transfer is accompanied by an audio commentary by author Stephen Jones and author/critic Kim Newman who also note the film's focus on middle-aged characters despite a title and ad copy that suggests screaming coeds, the strong similarities to The Neanderthal Man – as well as how the film anticipates Altered States whiles also perhaps drawing inspiration from Frederic March's ape-like turn as the latter half of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde – the film coming at the tale end of Universal's third wave of horror films and speculation that it was a direct response to the American International "teenage" monster films. They also note Bissell's presence in Arnold's earlier films It Came from Outer Space and Creature from the Black Lagoon but also note that the film seems to set him up as Blake's professional rival but does not follow through with making him more villainous or having the arrogant skeptic killed off by the monster (especially given Bissell's mad doctor turns in I Was a Teenage Werewolf and I Was a Teenage Frankenstein). Also included are a production stills gallery, an artwork and ephemera gallery, and the film's theatrical trailer (1:47).


Housed with the first pressing of 2,000 copies in a limited edition o-card slipcase with the discs is an equally-limited 39-page collector's booklet featuring cast and credits for each film, viewing notes, and the essay "Unknown Horrors: Revisiting Three Monster Tales from Universal" by Craig Ian Mann who discusses the three films in the context of the studio's various waves of horror production, speculating on what might have been had Man-Made Monster gone into production as a Karloff vehicle – noting that his doctors were usually more noble-intentioned than those essayed by Atwill – while also noting the "Hitlerian dogma" of Atwill's mad doctor during a time when the United States was still maintaining neutrality. Of The Monolith Monsters, he notes viewers losing interest in gothic monsters in the atomic age – during which Man-Made Monster was reissued as "The Atomic Monster" – Arnold's involvement as the film's original director, and the film's titular menace at a time when audiences were even tiring of alien invaders. He discusses Monster on the Campus as Universal's last ditch attempt to compete with American International in targeting the youth demographic with a monster movie, and the studio's low expectations for the film (it was released as the bottom half of a double-bill with the sub-Hammer British horror Blood of the Vampire). Mann also observes that American International's teen monster films risked vilifying their target demographic while also pointing out that Monster on the Campus's Blake in spite of his professed interest in scientific progress is actually representative of the older generation "terrified of change" and devolving due to his exposure to the coelacanth blood.


Where Eureka's Three Monster Tales of Sci-Fi Terror is actually a sincere attempt to highlight Universal's forgotten horrors or a means of exploiting titles that have not already been snatched up by other labels – less of an issue at the moment in the UK than the US – the set is a nice diversion with Universal attempting to divert from their own formulas with varying degrees of success.


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