What would you do if you had access to a full-sized, animatronic Tyrannosaurus Rex for a week? Well, the answer to that question is you’d make a movie about a mad scientist putting the brain of a teenage-boy into that of a robot T-Rex. It’s pretty obvious when you think about it, and that was the situation facing writer/director Stewart Raffill when he was asked if he could make a movie with said dinosaur before it was shipped off to some dinosaur park, and with no more than a couple of weeks’ prep time to come up with both a script and a full cast, he cobbled together the makings of a film that was destined to become a cult classic.
The film starts like any average teen comedy would, with the introduction of your standard high school strife and a small group of teenagers battling with their hormones and personal identities, but where Tammy and the T-Rex stands in the lexicon of teen romcoms is decidedly a weirder subcategory. We are first introduced to the film’s two leads, the bubbly and beautiful cheerleader Tammy (Denise Richards) and her adorably hunky boyfriend Michael (Paul Walker), but the road to love has many obstacles and, in this case, it comes in the form of Tammy’s ex-boyfriend Billy (George Pilgrim), a possessive asshole who refuses to acknowledge his relationship with Tammy is over. It’s his insane jealousy that puts the film’s plot in motion as it leads to him and his gang – of course he’s got gang – beating up poor Michael and leaving him to be mauled to death by lions at the wild animal park. This would then lead to Michael getting his brain stuffed inside a robot dinosaur, because… why not?
Mad scientists have been a staple of science fiction from the very dawning of the genre, from Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein to the Dutch horror film The Human Centipede, and with Tammy and the T-Rex, we get a delightfully goofy entry in this subgenre in the form of Dr. Wachenstein (Terry Kiser) and his lanky and beautiful assistant Helga (Ellen Dubin). It seems that Dr. Wachenstein has created a fully-functional robot Tyrannosaurus Rex that he hopes will lead to the secrets of immortality. Now, does that make sense to anyone? Not being a mad scientist myself, and even after watching this movie multiple times, I’m still a little fuzzy on the correlation of a robot T-Rex and immortality, but later in the film, Wachenstein comments to Helga that eventually everyone will want their brains placed in immortal robot bodies, even their pets. This doesn’t really explain why his first step was putting a human brain in a robot Tyrannosaurus Rex, but it does lead to lots of dinosaur carnage.
Of course, looking for logic in a film called Tammy and the T-Rex is in itself fairly ridiculous, and Stewart Raffill knew exactly what kind of movie he was making: cheap, gory, and a lot of fun. The animatronic dinosaur was a fairly impressive creature, or at least as far as theme park attractions go, but it certainly wasn’t going to rival anything found in Steven Spielberg’s Jurassic Park. Though the robot could roar, blink, and wiggle its little arms, it was rather stationary when it came to actually moving it around – there are a few horrible optical shots of the T-Rex walking that are as brief as possible – but being this beast was never intended to be an actual living dinosaur, its weird clunkiness actually works for the movie. The plot of the movie may have been utterly nonsensical, but that’s part of its charm and one could almost imagine the script as something out of an improv sketch comedy with audience members shouting out things like “Robot, dinosaur, teen gangs, revenge, brain swapping!”
With a cool animatronic dinosaur, literal guts dropping left, right, and center, and the ever-delightful Terry Kiser hamming up the place, you have the key ingredients to “success,” but without the casting of Denise Richards and Paul Walker, this film may have vanished along with Blockbuster Video. It’s these two young actors that really sell the movie – amazing given this was both of their first starring roles in a feature film – and neither of them once wink at the camera as they play their parts straight down the line, if a little dramatic at times, with this being a comedy after all. It’s Denise Richards’ sincerity that does the most to sell the absurdity of the whole situation and the scene where the T-Rex resorts to charades so that Tammy can figure out that Michael’s brain is inside the robot dinosaur is pretty much genius. Not to mention pulling off the star-crossed-lovers plotline when one of the invested parties is a dinosaur is no easy matter, yet Richards handles it like a pro.
Stewart Raffill’s Tammy and the T-Rex was never going to win any awards, but it never failed to deliver on its ludicrous premise and that can’t be said of all “So bad it’s good” movies out there. Watching this movie you can tell that everyone involved was having a good time and any fan of the genre will have an equally good time if entering such a viewing with the right attitude. This is one I heartily recommend if for nothing else but for the sheer audaciousness of its premise.
Note: It doesn’t hurt that not only was Denise Richards a fine young actress but she also made for a spectacular-looking leading lady as well. What more could you want from a film about a robot dinosaur in love?
Tammy and the T-Rex (1994)
Movie Rank - 6/10
As cult movies go Tammy and the T-Rex is a solid entry and director Stewart Raffill beautifully blended a bizarre collection of ingredients into a soufflé of campy greatness.