In the nineties America was obsessed with dinosaurs. For reasons we could never put our fingers on, Dinosaurs were in just about every facet of pop culture you could imagine. Video games, movies, animated series, they were mascots for snack foods, they were the basis for a family sitcom, and yes, they were fit in to movies amounting to cinematic oddities still making movie buffs scratch their heads. We had a family film about miniature dinosaurs, a buddy cop comedy about a female cop and a dinosaur, and yes, we even had “Tammy and the T-Rex.”
The late Paul Walker plays Michael, a seemingly normal athlete who is in love with cheerleader Tammy, as played by young Denise Richards. Tammy is being stalked by her violent, abusive ex-boyfriend Billy who insists on keeping Tammy close by, but Michael refuses to let himself be intimidated by him and his cackling group of friends. One night after Michael sneaks out to see Tammy at her house, Billy runs Michael down and beats him near death. After Michael slips in to a coma, he’s kidnapped at the hospital by the demented Dr. Wachenstein and his assistant Helga. They plan to take his brain and implant it in a giant robotic T-Rex. Through this they hope to use Michael as weapon, or something. It’s never fully clarified.
Stewart Raffill’s deliriously awful horror comedy imagines a Frankenstein tale in where a young man’s brain is implanted in to a stiff barely functional robotic dinosaur. No seriously. Someone actually thought this would be a good idea. It’s not at all taken seriously, but even with the tongue firmly planted in cheek from beginning to end, “Tammy and the T-Rex” is still incredibly moronic, and packed with plot holes. A film like “Tammy and the T-Rex” though is critic proof. It’s bad because it’s supposed to be, and trying to fault it for being downright awful is kind of a practice in futility when all is said and done. That said, it’s still kind of fun to pick at how terrible it is.
It’s so nineties, even though it feels like a script yanked right out of 1987. There’s even Terry Kiser as the mad Dr. Wachenstein. I seriously think Kiser was on the rolodex of every agent in America during the eighties, in case they needed someone to play a heel, or villain. “Tammy and the T-Rex” was given a limited release upon its completion with a PG-13 rating. For many years it circulated as a hilariously obscure, dumb comedy with very young actors Denise Richards and Paul Walker before they became stars. Years later, we learned that the film was originally Rated R and filled with a ton of gore and splatter.
Not to mention there were some incredibly vulgar moments also excluded, one of which involves character Michael’s corpse being tinkered with allowing him to become erect with the flick of a nerve in his head. The movie was cut down drastically to fit the PG-13 rating and was put out in its somewhat TV friendly form. From then on, the “Unrated” version could only be seen on foreign television markets and in certain stations around America. That’s surprising what we considered PG-13 back in 1994, we the movie ends literally on Denise Richards giving her boyfriend Michael’s brain a strip tease, as his brain electrifies indicating an orgasm. Considering also that Richards’ character Tammy is supposed to be a junior in high school, it’s a somewhat uncomfortable note.
Nothing about “Tammy and the T-Rex” makes a lick of sense, but that’s okay because the gonzo tone and camp is part of what makes it such an appealing experience. Raffill and writer Gary Brockette cover all the bases, from a violent revenge film, a tragic romance, a science fiction monster tale, a coming of age story, and yes, it fulfills the dinosaur quota that many studios of the decade felt the need to fulfill. Dinosaurs just had a big time popularity that’s still somewhat inexplicable, and despite the fact Michael as the T-Rex is barely mobile, and almost incapable of walking over one MPH, Stewart Raffill delivers on the tale of a girl and her giant T-Rex.
Raffill delivers also on a ton of elements that’s both cringe inducing and kind of admirable in its inability to catch itself on how stupid it can tend to be. Theo Forsett is hard to watch as Byron, the film’s token minority, who is also flamboyantly gay. He spends most of his time mugging for comic effect, while also warning he might faint. He also threatens to scratch a bully’s eyes out during a confrontation with Billy’s thugs. Another moment that’s almost hard to believe is when Tammy and Byron begin looking for a new body for Michael. As he stands outside giving claws up and down, they break in to the morgue and begin looking for a new body for him.
They do so by bringing the bodies up to the window to show him, and them dropping them to the side. I’d be stunned if no one stopped for a moment during this production and just noted how utterly stupid it all is. But that’s just a part of the fun. And when the gore is unleashed, there’s some decent splatter. There are crushed heads, decapitations, mutilations, and two of Billy’s goons are crushed by Michael under a car. Later, the police spend an obscene amount of time examining the gruesome aftermath, even picking at the severed heads. “Tammy and the T-Rex” is definitely one of a kind. It’s not the last Frankenstein tale there’s ever been, but it certainly is one of the only films of its kind where the director had a mechanical dinosaur at hand and, out of dozens of possible ideas, ended up with this.
A part of Cinepocalypse 2019, with the original R-Rated ‘Gore-Cut’ 35mm Premiering, courtesy of the Academy Film Archive.
Cinepocalypse 2019 runs from June 13th until June 20th.