Monday, June 1, 2015

B-MOVIE REVIEW: "Carnosaur" (1993)

It’s that other dinosaur movie from 1993 … and yeah, it ain’t exactly on par with its Spielbergian competition.

When the name “Roger Corman” pops up, most people tend to think exclusively of his films from the late 1950s and early 1960s -- specifically, his no-budget exploitation mini-classics “A Bucket of Blood,” “The Little Shop of Horrors” and “The Wasp Woman.” While Corman hung up his directorial gloves shortly thereafter, he went on to have a career spanning decades as a low-budget genre film producer, churning out some absolute masterpieces in the 1970s -- “Rock N Roll High School,” “Death Race 2000” and “Piranha,” among them -- along with some real turds in the 1980s (if you never saw “Munchies” or “Lords of the Deep,” consider yourself very fortunate.)

Even in the 1990s -- long-past the heyday of the drive-in theater -- Corman had his hand in producing quite a number of straight-to-video and extremely-limited run sci-fi, horror and exploitation films. Hell, he even hopped back in the director’s seat for 1990’s “Frankenstein Unbound,” which is really only noteworthy because it had that dude from INXS in it and there’s a part where a character fiddles around with an in-car application that looks astonishingly similar to Wikipedia.

Which brings us to the curious case of 1993’s Corman-produced “Carnosaur.” Obviously, the film was meant to cash-in on the success of that summer’s uber-blockbuster “Jurassic Park,” but beyond the fact that both films feature dinosaurs, there’s really not many similarities between the two. While “Jurassic Park” is a hyper-big-budget, family-friendly popcorn flick designed to arouse that typical Spielbergian awe and anxiety, “Carnosaur” is a super-cheap, blood-soaked straight-up horror flick that really owes more to “Friday the 13th” than it does the work of Michael Crichton. And believe it or not, the source material for “Carnosaur” -- a biopunk novel of the same name penned by British scribe Harry Adam Knight -- actually predates the source material for  Spielberg's “Jurassic Park” by six years.

One of these men is the primary protagonist of the film. Take a wild guess which one.

Granted, “Carnosaur” -- made on a $1 million budget and filmed over the course of just two and a half weeks -- isn’t exactly fine art by any stretch of the imagination, but it does have some fairly interesting ideas and even a few entertaining sequences that you wouldn’t have seen in “JP” in a million, billion years (like a scene in which a velicoraptor thrashes a Jeep filled with hippies to death.) Plus, this movie has Clint Howard in it, which is automatically five hundred times cooler than having Jeff Goldblum in a lead acting role.

The film begins with black and white scenes from a chicken processing plant. As the opening credits roll, we see genetic code sequences flash on the screen for a litany of animals, including turkeys and iguanas. From there, we jump to Diane Ladd in a lab, watching closed circuit television. She watches two handlers find an “egg” ripped right out of H.R. Giger’s sketchbook, which predictably concludes with one of them getting their faces slashed by something we don’t get a very good look at.

After that, we watch a truck driver for “Purex Poultry” stop his ride to check up on some “cluckers.” He pays for his concerns by having his throat chewed off by a chicken-dinosaur monster we see for literally one second. From there, we meet the protagonist of the film, a drunk, shotgun toting mobile home owner named “Doc Smith,” who is introduced to us by threatening to blow the heads off some hippies hanging out over by his backhoe. One of the loiterers is a blonde runaway named Thrush; ever the noble humanist alcoholic, Smith allows her to run free instead of Trayvoning her.

...and this, I am afraid, is probably one of the better shots of the dinosaur in the film. 

The next day, the police find the body of the truck driver. As would anyone, they just assume a bobcat did it and go about their merry business. From there, it’s subplot city, as we meet the town coroner (he is plum perplexed by those mysterious, dinosaur-looking claw marks on all the dead folks being wheeled into the office) and the daughter of a biotech employee who is sneaking out of her house to party hard with some mullet heads. Meanwhile, Smith and the po-po visit the local hippie commune; although Thrush is right there in plain sight, he refuses to identify her as the nefarious trespasser from the night before. They then talk for a bit about Nevada residing in the “Dinosaur Highway,” which is not at all heavy-handed.

So, the daughter from earlier -- remember her? Well, don’t get too attached, since she and her amigos get torn asunder by a raptor in the next sequence. Bonus points a plenty for a lingering shot of fresh blood dripping off a “Peace on Earth” bumper sticker, as well.

Smith and Thursh then encounter a half-dead Mexican, who apparently got attacked by a dinosaur offscreen. Conveniently enough, he dies before he can give us any profound exposition; two security guards become dinosaur chew toys immediately after.

I guess now is a good time to mention it: this movie is extremely dark. Now, when I say dark, I don’t mean somber or depressing, I mean it’s literally hard to fucking see anything because the lighting is so poor. Since this is a Roger Corman production, I suppose lackluster cinematography is to be expected, but the lighting is so bad throughout the film that it simply had to be a conscious choice by the filmmakers -- not so much for atmosphere, I believe, as it was a meager attempt to mask just how shitty looking the dinosaur effects actually are.

Yep. Doesn't feel like an obvious green screen job at all!

After a senator pukes up a blueberry pie coated in goat embryos, the father of the girl who got killed by a dinosaur earlier DEMANDS to meet with Diane Ladd’s evil scientist character, and she tricks him into entering a subterranean chamber filled with, uh, disco lights. And also death-lasers. And a dinosaur. Needless to say … he doesn’t have much screen time after this scene.

Next up, Clint Howard walks into a diner and grosses out an expecting couple. Then, the dinosaur attacks a whole bunch of hippies, complete with a couple of gnarly dismemberment shots. Strangely enough, there is a scene where a set of severed hands are “discovered” by one of the protagonists, which is an almost exact copy of the scene in “Jurassic Park” where what’s her name finds the pieces of Samuel L. Jackson.

At this point, Smith has had enough, god damn it, so he decides to sneak into Diane Ladd’s super-security compound and forces her to tell him what the hell she’s up to at gunpoint. To make a long story short, she’s created a synthetic dinosaur out of various bird and reptile genes, and her plan is to eradicate humanity by infecting every single woman on the planet with dino babies, which presumably will run wild and eat all of the remaining men afterward.

So, uh, what is this supposed to symbolize, exactly?

Next scene, a cop finds a baby dinosaur in a carton of store-bought eggs and Clint has his head bitten off while eating a bucket of KFC. While a bunch of pregnant women moan and wail inside a local physician’s waiting room, Diane Ladd shows Smith a woman who gives on-screen birth to a dinosaur baby, and even though it kills her, he still makes jokes about it, including the most-groan-inducing-line of the entire movie: “that would make a great theme park.”

From there, FEMA decides to quarantine the entire desert town, while Ladd and Smith have a really melodramatic, pseudo-philosophical discussion about God and man’s impact on nature. Thankfully, we’re treated to a great sequence immediately afterward, where the cop from earlier challenges the dinosaur to a gunfight after it eats an entire pet store. Yeah, it may be a Pyrrhic victory for the cop, who has his stomach sliced open, but at least he goes out in the most glorious way possible: blowing the motherfucking head off of a dinosaur with a shotgun.

Of course, since we now have all of those dino eggs on the market and half the women in Nevada are shitting out reptile fetuses, we don’t have to worry about just one cold-blooded threat anymore. Strangely enough, the dinosaurs seem to be hyper-evolutionary beings, with the creatures progressing from raptor-sized to T-Rex-sized in just a few hours. After Ladd exits the film via an homage/rip-off of the chestburster sequence from “Alien,” Smith rushes home to his trailer, so he can give Thrush the antidote for dinosaur baby madness. After that, FEMA officials in containment suits shoot up the office of pregnant women and Doc decides to battle a T-Rex to the death while commandeering a Bobcat. And just when you think this thing is going to close on a happy note, here come the federal crisis response units, who promptly shoot both Smith and Thrush dead with machine guns before flamethrower-ing their corpses. And the final shot of the entire film? A flaming portrait of Alfred E. Neuman, of “Mad Magazine” fame … for some reason.

Not that you really need me to tell you this, but as an overall film, “Carnosaur” is more of a failure than a success. While the dim and dreary ambiance is a nice foil to the almost exuberant glowiness of “Jurassic Park,” the film itself is just too visually drab and opaque. Much like the first “Alien vs. Predator” film, you really have to struggle to see what’s going on half the time, and what few glances of the special effects you see are pretty underwhelming. The dinosaurs -- from what I determined -- are a mish-mash of stop-motion animation and puppets, and they all look pretty crappy, especially when moving. Seriously, the dinosaur from the 6000 SUX commercial in the original “Robocop” looked better than any of the prehistoric beasts on display in this film.

Of course, it’s pretty dumb to compare the effects of “Carnosaur” to “Jurassic Park,” since there is such a wide discrepancy in their budgets. While I liked the grimmer take Corman and pals went with (you have to love the concluding nod to “Night of the Living Dead”) the movie never really embraced its exploitation roots. I mean, yeah, the film does have a fair amount of gore, but since it IS a low-budget exploitation flick, why didn’t they just go all out and make it a hyper-gory, shoestring adaptation of the old “Dinosaurs Attack!” trading cards? That would have made for a far more interesting film than what they ultimately ended up producing, and methinks it would have shifted far more video rental units as well.

As for the cast, there isn’t much to discuss here. The film was helmed by Adam Simon, who is probably best known for stuff like “Brain Dead” and “Body Chemistry 2.” Doc Smith was portrayed by Raphael Sbarge (Jiminy Cricket on “Once Upon a Time) and Thrush was played by Jennifer Runyon -- whose big claim to fame was playing Gwendolyn on “Charles in Charge.” I suppose the biggest question about the entire film is how Diane Ladd wound up starring in it -- I am guessing she either owed somebody working on the movie  big time or she really, really needed to pay off some mad back taxes for the ‘92 fiscal year.

Alas, the movie wound up nearly doubling its budget at the box office, leading to two more sequels throughout the 1990s, with recycled scenes from the trilogy making their way into two more films, 2001’s “Raptor” and 2006’s “The Eden Formula.” While the official series has laid dormant for almost two decades, you have to wonder if the franchise is due for a rebirth on the heels of “Jurassic World” -- I for one, would be way more excited about the prospects of “Carnosaur Planet” than any 30-year-old man ever should be.

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