Thursday, May 7, 2015

Dragonflies in the Movies: Sci-Fi

Science fiction movies from the 1950s are fun to watch.  They can be so serious in their treatment of a topic, but silly and unintentionally funny, too.

A good case in point is Monster On The Campus from 1958.  It stars Arthur Franz and Joanna Moore, and marks an early appearance by Troy Donahue.  Most interesting from my point of view, however, is that it includes a scene prominently featuring a dragonfly.  But more on that in a moment.  First, here are a couple movie posters for this campy flick:




Hard to resist a movie after seeing posters like that!

Here's the basic premise of the film.  A professor at a small university obtains a coelacanth specimen for his research.  Coelacanths are often referred to as a "living fossils" because they were thought to have gone extinct in the Cretaceous period, until one was found alive and kicking by a fisherman off the coast of South Africa in 1938.  The professor's specimen was preserved by using gamma rays, then sent to his university.  Now we have all the basic ingredients we need for some 50s-style sci-fi – a "living fossil" and radiation.

When the coelacanth is delivered to the professor there is blood is leaking out of its crate, and a dog drinks some of it.  Now, what happens when a dog drinks radiation-treated, living-fossil blood?  Well – naturally – his evolution reverses, devolving him into a "fossil" wolf-like dog.  The effect of the blood wears off after awhile, and the dog reverts to normal.  Only the professor saw the dog's transformation, and without proof no one believes him.

Here's the coelacanth in its crate:


A little later, the professor examines the coelacanth in his lab for a class of students.


Now, here's the key scene:  A dragonfly comes in through the open window and lands on the coelacanth.  The dragonfly now begins to feed on the coelacanth's flesh and blood – interesting behavior for a dragonfly.  The dragonfly is shooed out through the window where, in a matter of minutes, it reverses its evolution until it's a hawk-sized prehistoric dragonfly.  Here it is wanting to get back into the lab for some more coelacanth.


The professor wants to study this "fossil dragonfly", so he lets it back in the lab, where it flies around for a some time.  No CG effects here – just models and wires, as you can probably see in the following photos.



Finally, the professor nets the dragonfly and takes it as a specimen for study.


He doesn't learn that much from the dragonfly, however.  A little later he accidentally gets coelacanth blood on his pipe and smokes it, whereupon he becomes a prehistoric man.  He's no longer a big man on campus – now he's a big monster on campus.

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