September 17, 2012
Ugly tyrannosaurs are a cinema tradition. With the exception of the burly stop-motion version in the 1933 King Kong and the hot-blooded monsters of the Jurassic Park franchise, the majority of tyrant dinosaurs to stomp their way across the screen have been ugly, tottering brutes that only bear the most superficial resemblance to the actual animal. The Land Unknown‘s man-in-suit version looked incapable of threatening a rotting carcass, much less live prey, and I lost all respect for the titular villain of The Last Dinosaur when a boulder caved in the puppet’s noggin, only to roll away and leave the theropod unscathed. (And let’s not talk about Tammy and the T-Rex or Theodore Rex.) But, atrocious as they are, these dinosaurs don’t even come close to the worst cinematic Tyrannosaurus of all time.
Oddly enough, the film that assaults viewers with the awful tyrannosaur has nothing at all to do with lost worlds or time travel. Nor does it have the word “dinosaur” in the title. Instead, 1990′s Metamorphosis is bottom-of-the-barrel schlock about mad scientist Dr. Peter Houseman who is trying to understand our prehistoric genetic legacy through weird, uncomfortable-looking eye injections. Because, you know, SCIENCE, I guess. The most outlandish part of this is that the college where the doctor works has not supervised his work or asked for any results in about two years–they left the guy to putter away, doing who knows what with piles of grant money. Science fiction, indeed.
But when the authorities threaten to cease the crazed scientist’s experiments, he–of course–injects himself to prove all those tweed-coated bureaucrats wrong. The experiment doesn’t go as planned, unintended side effects, ripping off The Fly ensues, etc. Ultimately, thanks to a woeful misunderstanding of development and evolution, the doctor reverts into a stiff, ugly Tyrannosaurus apparently made out of rain tarps and duct tape. (As wonderful as it would be to have dinosaurs in our ancestry, our mammalian forebears were on a very different side of the evolutionary tree. Most spent the Mesozoic under the feet of dinosaurs.) Worst of all, the scientist-turned-dinosaur is gunned down immediately upon making his big entrance. Much like the movie itself, the assailants had no respect for the king of the tyrant dinosaurs.
October 12, 2011
I have to give Tammy and the T-Rex some credit—I can’t say I have ever seen a dinosaur flick with the same premise. Time-travel, genetic experiments and lost worlds are the traditional routes for bringing humans into contact with dinosaurs, but sticking the brain of a lion-savaged teen inside a robotic Tyrannosaurus? That was a new one for me. But as you might guess, just because the setup is novel doesn’t mean that this is anything more than another bit of bargain-bin dinosaur schlock.
Let me back up a little. At it’s heart, 1994′s Tammy and the T-Rex is a teenage romance that makes the relationship shared by the protagonists of the Twilight series look healthy and perfectly mundane. Michael (Paul Walker) and Tammy (Denise Richards) feel all twitterpated around each other, but they are all angsty because the local meathead Billy feels that Tammy should be his alone. The film quickly turns into something of a boy likes girl, girl likes boy, boy is beaten up and thrown to the lions by girl’s bully boyfriend story. (Because, when there’s an exotic animal enclosure nearby, pummeling someone just isn’t enough.) Spoilers ahead.
Unfortunately for him, Michael’s comatose body shows up at the hospital just as the nefarious Dr. Wachenstein—played by Terry Kiser, who seems unable to choose what sort of accent he is supposed to have—is looking for a brain to implant in his animatronic dinosaur. The beast doesn’t look like it can stand up on its own two feet, but that doesn’t stop the confused Michael from stomping around the place so that he can take his brutal dinosaurian revenge on the gang that harmed him. After one attack at a house party, little more than shredded Keds and tattered acid-wash jeans are left of his victims.
Eventually Tammy realizes that her admirer is in the body of the robot. She seems to take it pretty well. No screaming, no denial, no running away in shock, and apparently no recognition that Michael just killed a bunch of his classmates—she has about as much reaction to the realization as if someone said, “It’s sunny out today.” Nevertheless, dating a robotic dinosaur doesn’t sound all that appealing and so Tammy tries to recover Michael’s body at the funeral. The trouble is that the funeral home apparently just shoved his body in the casket and called it a day when his body arrived, so Michael’s corporeal form just ain’t what it used to be. (“Suddenly, I’m half the man I used to be…“) Further grave-robbing shenanigans ensue without a suitable candidate to be found, and the search is cut short when Wachenstein shows up to reclaim his creation. In a final showdown, Michael kills the mad doctor, but bites the bullet himself under a spray of police gunfire. Or at least his mechanical body does. His brain, still intact, is dusted off by Tammy and hooked up to a computer/camcorder combo in her room. I find it’s best not to ask about how they figured out the human-to-computer interface in their relationship.
September 21, 2011
You know a movie is going to be bad when the first scene is lifted directly from another b-movie.
When I flipped on Raptor (2001), I thought I had somehow made a mistake and rented the gory dinosaur flick Carnosaur (1993). The opening scene—in which a trio of airhead teens is ripped to shreds by the cutest little raptor puppet you have ever seen—was straight out of schlock legend Roger Corman’s earlier film. As I soon found out, this wasn’t the only thing the wannabe dinosaur horror lifted from other movies. In it’s own weird way, Raptor is the matryoshka doll of awful dinosaur cinema—there are at least three crummy films nested within the larger one.
There isn’t really much to say about the plot of Raptor. The movie relies almost entirely on recycled footage from Carnosaur, Carnosaur 2 and Carnosaur 3 for its dinosaur special effects shots. Raptor condenses those three movies into one pile of cinema mush so that all the dinosaur shots will have the right set up. (For sharp-eyed audiences, this explains why there are life preservers on the walls of the landlocked facility, because scenes reused from Carnosaur 3 originally took place on a boat. Whoops.) A grumpy small town sheriff (Eric Roberts) and a plastic-surgery-enhanced animal control officer (Melissa Brasselle) take their sweet time scratching their heads at the dinosaur-bitten remains of multiple citizens, while the local mad scientist (Corbin Bernsen) pushes forward with his project to resurrect dinosaurs and adds a bit of humor by looking ridiculous in his nerd-glasses/beret combo.
Raptor really doesn’t need any of the principal characters, though. The same movie could have been created by simply re-editing all three Carnosaur films, especially since Roberts, Brasselle, Bernsen and the other actors don’t even seem to be in the same movie half the time. In the poorly-matched duel between a Tyrannosaurus and the sheriff in a skid loader—come on, how could the tyrannosaur possibly lose?—Roberts is shown bouncing around in a Bobcat while shots of the dinosaur from Carnosaur and Carnosaur 2 are edited in. The two may as well be in entirely different dimensions, the match up between the new footage and the old stock is so bad. But it gets even worse. The film’s director, Jay Andrews, brought in two supporting characters from the original Carnosaur to film some new shots that would set up the recycled clips of their deaths. (For a full list of all the silly mash-up moments between the new shots and the old death scenes, see the page for Raptor on WikiSciFi.) Not that Roger Corman minded. After all, he produced this bit of cinema trash. Never underestimate the eagerness of schlock horror filmmakers to go for the easy direct-to-video cash grab.
December 3, 2010
The most telling moment in SyFy’s latest installment of Saturday night schlock – Triassic Attack – comes fairly early on in the film. Dismayed and angered by the expansion of a nearby college, a Native American protester named Dakota (played by Raoul Trujillo) breaks into the local museum and trashes the gift shop filled with kitschy representations of his people’s culture. The museum had made a mockery of Native Americans just to make a few bucks.
But smashing the store only upsets Dakota further. Enraged, he goes about performing a ritual in the museum’s fossil hall that brings the skeletons of a Tyrannosaurus, a Pteranodon and a “raptor” to life so that they can take revenge on the university president who ordered the expansion. The ritual is so stereotypical and poorly executed that it is offensive, turning Dakota into a representation of everything he just destroyed.
This lack of self-awareness is the most prominent feature of Triassic Attack. Our heroes – police officer Jake (Steven Brand) and archaeologist Emma (Kirsty Mitchell) – don’t realize that they are two-dimensional characters; the token comic relief character isn’t aware that he isn’t funny; and the film’s prehistoric monsters forgot to put on their muscles and skin before leaving the museum. True, a B-movie about rampaging dinosaur skeletons could be fun, but it does seem a bit inconsistent when the skeletons can sniff, roar and otherwise do just about anything a real dinosaur could. The only thing they can’t do is swallow properly – it takes a little while for the film’s Tyrannosaurus to realize that frat boys just fall to the ground when it tries to eat them (“I swear, these things go right through me”).
Granted, I was not expecting very much from a movie that seems like it was concocted entirely for the reason of having archosaur skeletons stomp around a college campus. (“Hey, where’s the rec center?”) As described by the film’s director, Colin Ferguson, the premise of Triassic Attack could be summed up as “What happens when a flying Tyrannosaurus rex attacks Oregon?” He wasn’t referring to the film’s Pteranodon. Fairly late in the film the college’s R.O.T.C. squad jumps into action with rocket launchers they just happened to have lying around (?!) and blow the attacking Tyrannosaurus and Pteranodon into bits. Being that these were magic dinosaur bones, they obviously had to recombine into a flying monstrosity that looked about as aerodynamic as a brick. As I sat there watching the scattered bones begin to roll towards each other I said aloud “Are they really… ? They are, aren’t they? *facepalm*”
I would say a bit more about the plot, but there isn’t much of one to speak of. Triassic Attack mostly coalesced from residues of other action films. Monsters run amok, the daughter of our heroes just happens to pick the one place where she will be in the most danger (but survives while nearly everyone around her is killed), our leads are torn between stopping the monsters and saving their daughter, and ultimately the monsters must be destroyed in the manner in which they were created. This last bit places the film more in the realm of supernatural fantasy then reality. Through a cheap backstory meant to convey depth, Triassic Attack makes it a point to say that stereotypical spirituality is superior to logic, science and modern medicine.
And among the worst parts of it all? There was nary a Triassic creature to be seen in the entire film! All three monster skeletons were from the Cretaceous. Yes, yes, I know it is a SyFy movie and if I want anything approximating accuracy I should look elsewhere, but I still feel like this was a missed opportunity. Imagine what fun could be had with some real Triassic predators like Prestosuchus on land or the immense ichthyosaur Shonisaurus in the sea. I guess we may never know, but, given the quality of your average SyFy original movie, that may be for the best.
October 19, 2010
Regular readers know that I can’t resist cheesy dinosaur movies, and a new SyFy feature set to debut late next month will be the latest stinker to be heaped on the pile of bad dino cinema.
Called Triassic Attack, this direct-to-video schlock features the reanimated skeletons of a pterosaur and a Tyrannosaurus that set about chomping up the boneheaded attendees of a local college. It just figures, doesn’t it? The film is called Triassic Attack, but both of its monstrous stars were Cretaceous creatures. With a title like that, I was hoping that one of the crocodile-like rauisuchians—such as the toothy predator Prestosuchus—or the early predatory dinosaur Herrerasaurus might make an appearance. No such luck, apparently.