- Title: Tammy and the T-Rex
- Release Date: December 21, 1994
- Director: Stewart Raffill
I don’t even know where to begin with this one, since describing pretty much any aspect of the plot to Tammy and the T-Rex will quite possibly earn you a one-way trip to a mental institution. “So Bernie from Weekend at Bernie’s, along with his assistants, Isaac from Children of the Corn and Napoleon Dynamite’s prom date’s mom, cut open Paul Walker’s head and put his brain into a robotic dinosaur…” sums up roughly half of the movie, but this is a B-movie that is worth more than the sum of its parts, and deserves far more recognition among fans of the truly bizarre.
Tammy (or “Tanny,” as she’s referred to no fewer than three times in the credits) and the T-Rex is a 1994 movie that, uh, “helped” launch the film careers of Denise Richards and Paul Walker. Watching this movie with the knowledge that one lead would become a Bond girl and the other would star in one of the most lucrative film series of all time adds to the overall surreal vibe, along with the film’s writing (or lack thereof). There are other recognizable actors in the movie as well, and it’s a lot of fun to play the “Where have I seen them??” game while watching.
The idea for the movie was conceived when the director, Stewart Raffill, was informed of an opportunity to use an animatronic Tyrannosaurus Rex for several weeks before it was to be shipped to a park in Texas. Unable to let such an opportunity slip through his fingers, Raffill wrote a screenplay within the week and immediately began production. You would think having to make a quick film that revolves around an animatronic dinosaur would lead to a barebones horror flick, but Raffill’s focus on humor and improvisation results in a fairly unique blend of horror, absurd comedy, and romance. The end result is less Carnosaur and more like Ghost meets Frankenhooker.
I guess I should attempt to explain the plot, but I’ll keep it simple. Michael (Paul Walker, channeling some serious Zack Morris energy) and Tammy (Denise Richards) are two high school (I guess..?) students who are harassed by Tammy’s ex-boyfriend Billy. When Billy finds out that Michael and Tammy are dating, he and his gang kidnap Michael and abandon him in the middle of a wild animal park. After being immediately mauled by a lion, Michael ends up in a coma and taken to the hospital, where he is kidnapped (again) by the mad scientist/neurosurgeon, Dr. Wachenstein, and his scantily-clad assistant Helga. Dr. Wachenstein removes Michael’s brain and deposits it into a robotic, life-sized T-Rex, but things don’t go as planned when the T-Rex gains sentience as Michael and seeks revenge on Billy and his gang.
You might be wondering what exactly Dr. Wachenstein’s plan was in the first place, and… who knows? He goes on and on about how his robotic dinosaur will be immortal, but you find out later in the movie that it’s weak to gunfire, like any other living creature. If he admired his creation so much, why didn’t he transplant his own brain into it? And why not alter the creature so that it has longer arms and opposable thumbs? I guess that last point is moot, since there are many shots of the T-Rex using its hilarious-looking sock-gloved hands to do things like make a collect call at a payphone, lovingly stroke Tammy’s face, or even play charades to let other characters know it’s actually Michael.
I’d be remiss to not make note of the violence in the film. While a toned-down PG-13 cut was originally released and sold to premium movie channels in the ‘90s, the recently restored R-rated cut has a lot of practical gore effects – everything from exploding heads to intestines spilling out of torso wounds. It’s all played up for humor, but those with sensitive stomachs might find it to be a little too over-the-top. The brain surgery sequence feels like something straight out of an old Peter Jackson or Sam Raimi movie. As for the actual dinosaur effects, they are inconsistent to put it mildly. The animatronics are actually pretty good, as one would expect from a film that is essentially reverse-engineered around them. Any shots of the T-Rex squashing people or stomping around while being ridden by Denise Richards look pretty atrocious, however. Cheap rubber dinosaur feet are shown for close-ups and what I can only imagine is blurry stop-motion is used for wide shots of the T-Rex running around. While the lesser effects do not look good at all, they lend to the B-movie charm.
If you couldn’t guess already from my article about The Wizard, I have a lot of fondness for the ‘90s, and this movie delivers that nostalgia quite effectively. You have all the flannel-wearing partygoers you would expect from a movie made in 1994 and the soundtrack is a riot, with the opening song’s singer yelling, “Dinosaur music… in my braaaain!” The movie’s score, which some sources claim Tyler Bates contributed to (which, if true, would make him the third person involved with this to go on to much bigger things) is appropriately cheesy, and you’ll often see the caption “quirky music plays” if you have them turned on. Tammy and the T-Rex has about everything you should want in a forgotten ‘90s B-movie. It takes less than five minutes to get to simultaneous testicle-twisting, has enough gore to fill a swimming pool, an extended sequence of cadaver-shopping, and ends with Denise Richards strip-teasing for a brain in a jar. Like Miami Connection or Samurai Cop, it’s one of those movies that feels like a modern movie making fun of a bygone era than an actual product of its time. It’s a movie that shouldn’t exist, but I sure am glad it does!