Friday Night At The Home Drive-In: Monster on the Campus (1958)

Quite some time ago, I wrote about a TV show that I discovered when I was young. It aired late on Saturday nights and was called Not Quite Classic Theatre. As I said back then, “perhaps ‘show’ isn’t the right word for it. It was a time slot during which the TV station would air old B-movies.” I wrote that “watching those old monster movies inspired and excited me in a way that no other movies had. I loved them, and I loved that they gave me ideas and made me want to write.” Basically, watching movies on Not Quite Classic Theatre helped to make me into the person that I am today (for better or for worse).

I had already grown up watching back and white classics like Frankenstein (1931) and Dracula (1931) – and I loved them. But the movies on Not Quite Classic Theatre were different. They were black and white, and they were (mostly) monster movies, but they tended to be less famous and respected. Many of them were from the late fifties and early sixties (so a whole other era of horror and sci-fi movies). These included the giant bug movies – some of which I’d heard of, but never seen (like Tarantula (1955)) – as well as some lesser known sequels involving classic monsters like the Wolfman (don’t ask me which ones, because it’s all a bit of a blur now).

Promotional Still from Monster on the Campus (1958)The very first movie that I ever watched on Not Quite Classic Theatre was Monster on the Campus (1958). I had never heard of it, but I loved it. Over the years I would remember it fondly, but I never knew what it was called. I mean, I’m sure I saw the title that first time I watched it on Not Quite Classic Theatre, but I had quickly forgotten it. And somehow I never saw it again, or read about it, or saw any mention of it in articles talking about old monster movies. It was like I was the only one on the planet who remembered this thing. Somehow, that made it seem even more special to me. Many years later, I finally saw it again – and it was pretty much as I remembered. When Universal released The Classic Sci-Fi Ultimate Collection I was thrilled to see that it included Monster on the Campus and nine other awesome movies (if you buy Volumes 1 & 2) from the same era. I knew I had to have it.

The Classic Sci-Fi Ultimate Collection on DVDThinking about it later, I realized that these 10 movies were likely part of the package that Not Quite Classic Theatre had licensed for broadcast all those years ago. So, in a way, it’s like I just bought season one of Not Quite Classic Theatre. How cool is that?

What can I say about Monster on the Campus that hasn’t been implied by everything I’ve already written? It’s still a lot of fun, and I still love it (nostalgia may play a role in that, what can I do?). It’s not a giant bug movie, but it feels pretty much at home among those movies. It involves a prehistoric fish, so that’s almost as good. 

That fish is probably the clearest image that I remember from watching the movie back in the 1980s. I thought it was pretty cool and creepy (and maybe just a little bit campy – although I had no idea what that word meant back then). It’s still a highlight of the movie in my opinion.

It’s safe to say that Monster on the Campus (1958) was a seminal viewing experience for me. As far as I am concerned, it is a #NotQuiteClassicCinema classic. I can never truly repeat the experience of watching it for the first time (either with this movie or any other). But that doesn’t mean I won’t continue to try on many a future #FridayNightAtTheHomeDriveIn.

Friday Night At The Home Drive-In: Escape from the Bronx (1983)

I rented 1990: The Bronx Warriors (1982) on Beta in the early 1980s. It was one of the many post apocalyptic action films that sprang up after the success of The Road Warrior AKA Mad Max 2 (1981) and Escape from New York (1981). My friends and I were always keen to see the latest ripoff – I mean entry in the genre. As far as I recall, we enjoyed 1990: The Bronx Warriors as much as any of them – and I believe that I watched it again on late night TV some years later. But as weird as it now seems to me, I don’t think that I ever rented, borrowed, snuck into or otherwise saw Escape from the Bronx (1983) – which was the official sequel.

Clearly, Escape from the Bronx is trying hard to make us think of Escape from New York, but the two films are really nothing alike. What’s weirder, is that I don’t think that Escape from the Bronx is much like 1990: The Bronx Warriors either – but it does feature one of the same stars, Mark Gregory. I should admit that I haven’t seen 1990: The Bronx Warriors for quite some time, so perhaps I am forgetting some of the finer points of the plot. Maybe there is more of a direct connection between it and Escape from the Bronx than I am remembering. Regardless, watching Escape from the Bronx last Friday, it felt quite different to me – and I think that’s alright.

The plot of Escape from the Bronx is almost like that of an old Western; a big bad corporation (instead of a cattle baron, say) wants to take over the wasteland known as The Bronx and turn it into a profitable city of the future. In order to that, they need to get rid of all the down and out misfits who are currently living there (instead of Indigenous people, or small time settlers and farmers in a Western, say). In Escape from the Bronx, the hapless bums, mutants and old people are easy targets for the squad of goons called Disinfestors (who carry flame throwers!) that The General Construction Corporation has sent to do the job. But much like in an old Western such as Shane (1953), there is a professional gunfighter (or post-apocalyptic ass-kicker) who stands up to defend the neighborhood – and that’s Trash, played by Mark Gregory.

VHS box for 1990: The Bronx Warriors. Escape from the Bronx is the sequel.In the first film, Trash was the leader of a gang called The Riders. Escape from the Bronx takes place ten years later, and Trash is now simply a loner who drifts around The Bronx surviving however he can. He might have been inclined to mind his own business – as silent, brooding loners often do – but the Disinfestors burn his parents alive, and that doesn’t sit right with him. Trash becomes the leader of the resistance, and a major thorn in The General Construction Corporation’s side. 

Most of the Disinfestors seems like cannon fodder when Trash and his allies turn the tables on them, but their leader is played by Henry Silva, and he’s about as bad a badass as any evil corporation could hope to unleash on unsuspecting Warriors of the Wasteland (hey, that almost sounds like it could be the title of another, suspiciously similar movie by the same director, Enzo G Castellari – oh, wait, it is). Watching Silva do his thing, you just know that before the end of the movie there’s going to be some sort of epic showdown between his character and Trash…

I didn’t know what to expect when I decided to finally watch Escape from the Bronx, after all these years. Sequels can often be pale imitations of the original; a disappointing display of diminishing returns (Teen Wolf Too (1987) anyone?). I’m happy to say that Escape from the Bronx entertained me as much as the original – perhaps even more so (keep in mind I haven’t seen 1990: The Bronx Warriors for many years, and may be forgetting how truly awesome it is). There’s no Fred Williamson this time, which is always a letdown, but there’s Henry Silva and his army of Disinfestors so I’m willing to call it even.

Apparently there’s a popular episode of Mystery Science Theater 3000 featuring Escape from the Bronx – although under the alternate title Escape 2000. I haven’t watched it, because I prefer to experience this kind of movie magic in its purest, most unadulterated form. But perhaps it’s more proof that Escape from the Bronx (1983) is high quality #NotQuiteClassicCinema that must be seen by all fans of 1980s post apocalyptic mayhem. It’s worth the price of admission and then some on any #FridayNightAtTheHomeDriveIn.