January 16th, 2008

CARNOSAUR (1993) *

Roger Corman has always had a knack for making money by ripping off big budget movies and making no budget retreads.  This one is a clear riff on Jurassic Park and despite having it’s moments, is a complete waste of time.


The plot has a disreputable bio-engineer played by Diane Ladd (who had worked with Corman numerous times in the 60’s in such films as The Wild Racers) trying to “build a better chicken” by tampering with the nation’s chicken supply using dinosaur DNA.  This results in women giving birth to lime green omelets containing ravenous dinosaurs.  Raphael (The Hidden 2) Sbarge plays a drunken rent-a-cop who figures everything out and in the stunningly awful ending, faces off against the “Carnosaur” in a John Deere tractor.


The special effects are ludicrous and the gore is cheaply done too.  Some of the birthing scenes have a kick to them, but they belong in another movie entirely.  What’s worse is that the hilarious dinosaur looks more like a Land Before Time hand puppet I got from Hardee’s as a kid than a real dinosaur. 


Barney is scarier, folks.


Still, any movie in which Clint Howard gets his head bitten off by a dinosaur is worth a look I guess.  


All of the characters are named after birds (Raven, Crow, Mallard, etc.) but the perfect name for Corman is “Vulture” for pecking after Jurassic Park’s leftovers.


Writer/director Adam (Braindead) Simon is mostly hampered by too many (bad) ideas and not enough money, but he does come up with some memorable dialogue like:  “Your body is a revolutionary battlefield”, “I could give a chicken’s nuts for your excuses!”, “The last thing we need is a bio-tech panic about chickens!”, “What are we but a set of instructions for the reproduction of the species?” and “It’ll make a great theme park!”

CARNOSAUR 2 (1995) * ½

Two years after the original Carnosaur made millions off of unsuspecting video consumers, Roger Corman gave us this even cheaper sequel.  Basically Corman grabbed 17 bucks and made a remake of Aliens using leftovers from Carnosaur 1. 


If you’ve seen Aliens, then you are immediately dismissed from seeing Carnosaur 2.  If you HAVEN’T seen Aliens, then rent Aliens and skip Carnosaur 2. 


How badly does this movie rip off Aliens?  Let’s see:  There’s the scene where the peaceful mining community is overrun with monsters (as seen in the Aliens director’s cut).  There’s the scene where the soldiers lose communication with each other while the monsters pick them off one by one.  There’s the snot nosed kid who is the lone survivor of the massacre who has better survival skills than the soldiers.  There’s the helicopter pilot who gets killed so that the soldiers are stranded.  There’s the sniveling bureaucrat who jeopardizes the lives of his soldiers.  There’s the two soldiers that blow themselves up before being eaten.  There’s the mama monster that battles with a power loader (or in this case, your average run of the mill forklift) in the film’s finale. 


I’m no lawyer, but I think James Cameron could sue. 


The surprising thing is that this is actually BETTER than the original Carnosaur.  Granted most of the fun I had with this movie was just picking out how badly it ripped off of Aliens, but still. 


The cast is also pretty good.  Pretty good in the sense that they are usually pretty good in other movies, just not in this one.  At all times, the star, John Savage always has a look about him that says, “Hey wasn’t I in Deer Hunter, and what the heck am I doing in this crap!”  Other familiar faces that turn up are Cliff (The Substitute) DeYoung, Miguel A. (Return of the Living Dead) Nunez, and Don (Licence to Kill) Stroud sporting an eye patch.


There’s also Apocalypse Now references and some truly inept special effects.  The scene where the rubbery dinosaur hand puppet chows down on a Ken doll that’s supposed to represent a human being is hilarious, but the effects of the helicopter crashing are the funniest. 


The punk kid with a knack for survival gets the movie’s best line when he refers to dynamite as “Industrial strength Blam-O!”


Director Louis Morneau went on to direct another bad Direct to Video sequel, The Hitcher 2.


After Scott Valentine’s legendary run on Family Ties as Mallory’s annoying boyfriend Nick, it was unsure where such an acting giant would wind up.  Luckily, thanks to producer Roger Corman, he remained steadily employed throughout the 90’s, starring in the Cor-Man’s To Sleep with a Vampire, The Unborn 2, The Black Scorpion and this third pathetic entry in the Carnosaur series.    


The plot has a bunch of slimy “Eurotrash” terrorists hijacking a military convoy and stealing their mysterious payload.  They think they’ve stolen weapons-grade plutonium, but they’ve actually gotten a hold of some frozen Carnosaurs that quickly thaw, escape and eat all the terrorists.  The government sends a team of soldiers (led by Valentine) to the scene to find out what happened and they run smack dab into the nest of DNA engineered dinos.


Yep, it’s yet another soldiers vs. dinosaurs in an abandoned warehouse movie.


The special effects are easily the best out of the entire series (that’s not saying much), mostly because director Jonathan (The Black Scorpion) Winfrey keeps the monsters’ appearances to fleeting glances.  The carnage the Carnosaurs create is pretty gruesome too as there are a lot of heads, arms and other various body parts that get chewed up by the prehistoric beasties. 


Too bad the performances are terrible.  ALL of the characters are irritating, foul mouthed soldiers that are not only interchangeable, but indistinguishable as well.  The black and white Carnosaur-O-Vision will also grate on your nerves about the 70th time it’s used. 


Valentine left his charisma in the 80’s, so it’s up to Janet (Night of the Running Man) Gunn, the film’s bitchy scientist to deliver the movie’s best line:  “If you see anything bigger than a donkey, SHOOT IT!”


AKA:  Primal Species.

WAITRESS (2007) ***

Keri (Felicity) Russell stars in this bittersweet romantic comedy as a waitress who makes scrumptious homemade pies, works in a coffee shop and is married to a no good lout (Jeremy Sisto).  Her world turns upside down when she finds out that she’s pregnant and eventually falls head over heels for her doctor (Nathan Fillion from Firefly) who’s also married. 


The cast is pitch-perfect with Russell delivering a splendid performance in the lead role, but it’s Fillion as the twitchy, awkward love interest who steals the movie.  Andy Griffith also turns up as an advice dispensing customer and writer/director Adrienne Shelly puts in a funny turn as Russell’s nerdy co-worker. 


To Shelly’s credit, she never turns the movie into a syrupy chick flick and manages to keep the usual romantic comedy clichés to a bare minimum.  The film showcases some genuine heart and while it never fully draws the viewer in, it’s as sweet and amiable as one of Russell’s pies.


Unfortunately there’s a sadness that follows the film when you know that Shelly was brutally murdered shortly before the film’s release.  It’s a shame too, because she had real talent both behind and in front of the camera.  If you like her in this movie, you should definitely check her out in Hal Hartley’s 1990 indy flick, Trust. 

THE LOST WORLD (1925) ***


Every giant monster movie ever made owes some kind of debt to The Lost World.  While we pretty much take the sight of King Kong, Godzilla or the Beast from 20,000 Fathoms for granted, it was The Lost World that pioneered the giant monster running loose on the city genre.  Although somewhat creaky by today’s standards, The Lost World still remains one of the best movies about dinosaurs ever made. 


The brilliant Professor Challenger (Wallace Beery) is met with ridicule when he proclaims that there are still dinosaurs roaming the Earth.  To prove his claims, he gathers together some people (a skeptic, a big game hunter, a reporter, and a hot chick) for an expedition to the mysterious South American plateau where dinosaurs still thrive.  There they encounter pterodactyls, brontosauruses, an allosaurus, and a few triceratopses.  Not only do they see dinosaurs, but the expedition also runs afoul of a clan of scary looking ape-men too.  In the end, Professor Challenger brings a wounded brontosaurus back to London and it runs amok in the city.


The Lost World has been remade and rehashed several times, but that doesn’t necessarily dilute it’s impact or importance.  It was the first film to employ stop motion animation (a technique that would continuously be used for the next 50 odd years), and the film is worth checking out just for the special effects alone.  While they may be slightly uneven (the brontosaurus and the triceratops are the most realistic), the animation still holds up well today.  They were created by the great Willis O’Brien, who would later go on to do the effects for King Kong. 


The film also has the distinction of being the first film ever shown on an airplane.