From the video case: Fear stalks the seemingly tranquil halls of Dunsfield University with the arrival of a prehistoric fish, the coelacanth.
The terror begins when a student’s (Troy Donahue) lovable pet dog laps up water bloodied by the fish and becomes a savage wolf, attacking Madeline Howard (Joanna Moore). Next, paleontology professor Donald Blake (Arthur Franz) is accidentally “bitten” by the coelacanth and blacks out, only to find that a hulking beast has killed one of his friends.
When Blake and two students watch an insect undergo a startling transformation after biting the coelacanth, the picture becomes clearer: Somehow, contact with the fish’s prehistoric blood causes a total collapse of evolution, turning animals – and humans – into mindless, murderous monsters. (1958, b&w)
Mark says: This is a slightly updated version of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. The substandard acting is only matched by the substandard special effects, which include Arthur Franz in a monkey mask and a large, and an obviously plastic, dragonfly.
But don’t let that stop you from enjoying this movie. You’ll find more laughs here than an Abbott and Costello film. Arthur Franz, playing the wise professor, Donald Blake, does some dumb things for being such an intellectual giant. For example, when picking up the prehistoric fish (see image above), he shoves his hand into the coelacanth’s gaping and toothy mouth. After cutting himself on the beast’s teeth, he sticks his hand into the disgusting coelacanth water and then sucks the blood from the wound. Not only is this stupid, but it’s positively repulsive.
Helen Westcott, who plays Molly Riordan, gets extra credit for playing the part of a corpse so well. She doesn’t blink even after having a flashlight beam flashed in her eyes, or when being manhandled as she is pulled down from a tree. This is perhaps the most stunning performance in the picture.
This film is directed by Jack Arnold, who has done much better (Creature from the Black Lagoon, It Came from Outer Space, The Incredible Shrinking Man). It may not be bad enough to achieve classic stinker status, but it is bad enough (and fun enough) to deserve your viewing.
Scene to watch for: Park Ranger gets axed to the forehead. Ouch.
Line to listen for: “Watch doctor. Watch closely, and you’ll see evolution in reverse!”
Bonus: Read more about the film, see images, and hear audio clips by clicking here.
Mark’s Rating: ! ! ! out of 5.