Monday, July 26, 2021

Carnosaur (USA, 1993)

"The earth was not made for us, she was made for the dinosaurs."

Dr. Jane Tiptree (Diane Ladd)

This review meanders... go down just past the Carnosaur trailer should you not enjoy verbosity.
Let's hear it for mad scientists (cum doctors): where would the world be without them? The staple of bad films everywhere, the prototype of course comes from literature, namely the good ol' doctor Frankenstein (1818), with the next mad docs of note arguably being the eponymous ones of Robert Louis Stevenson's The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde (1886) and H. G. Wells's The Island of Doctor Moreau (1896).

All three mad-to-misdirected men have been portrayed on-screen many times, the earliest versions being, for Moreau, neither Charles Laughton (1 Jul 1899 – 15 Dec 1962) in The Island of Lost Souls (1932) nor Erich Kaiser-Tilz (7 Oct 1875 – 22 Nov 1928) as Prof. McClelland in the unauthorized German version Die Insel der Verschollenen a.k.a. The Island of the Lost (1921), but someone unknown in a lost British film from 1913, The Island of Terror; for Dr Jekyll, neither John "I Need A Drink" Barrymore (14 or 15 Feb 1882 – 29 May 1942) in John S. Robertson's Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde (1920 / full movie) nor King Baggot (7 Nov 1879 – 11 July 1948) in the 1913 short of the same name (full short), but Hobart Bosworth (11 Aug 1867 – 30 Dec 1943) in a lost version from 1908; and for Dr Frankenstein, not Colin Clive (20 Jan 1900 – 25 June 1937) in the undisputed classic must-see Frankenstein (1931 / trailer) but, some three or five film versions earlier, Augustus Phillips in James Searle Dawley's silent short Frankenstein (1910, our Short Film of the Month for May 2021). [In a total aside: John Barrymore's fourth and final wife, Elaine Barry, starred in our Short Film of the Month for March 2016, Dwain Esper's How to Undress in Front of Your Husband (1937).] The archetypical filmic portrayal of the mad scientist is probably Rotwang (Rudolf Klein-Rogge of Hexen [1949 / full film / poster below]) in Metropolis (1927 / trailer), but the generally male stock character itself comes in many shapes and sizes in fun and not-so-fun films throughout film history.*
* Of the films we've reviewed here, the mad doctor/scientist films that promptly come to mind are The Brain that Wouldn't Die (USA, 1959), Maniac (USA, 1934) Re-Animator (USA, 1985) and The Monster Maker (USA, 1944), but as little as a two-minute perusal of the list of reviewed films found to the left finds: Alien Lockdown / Creature (USA, 2004), The Asphyx (Great Britain, 1973), Bela Lugosi Meets A Brooklyn Gorilla (USA, 1952), BrainWaves / Mind Games (USA, 1983), Corpses (USA, 2004), Corruption (Great Britain, 1968), The Curse of Frankenstein (Great Britain, 1957), Dante 01 (France, 2008), Devil Species (2004), Dr. Chopper (USA, 2005), Dr. Jekyll and Sister Hyde (Great Britain, 1971), Dr. M (Germany, 1990), Event Horizon (USA, 1997), Hammerhead: Shark Frenzy / Sharkman (USA, 2005), the surreal gore porn Hardgore (USA, 1974)...
Trailer to Tod Browning's
 The Devil-Doll (1936):
As probably to be expected in this perfect world of omnipresent equal rights and universal equality, female mad scientists (like Afro-American ones*) are a far rarer breed. In literature, perhaps the earliest of the "lunatic ladies in the laboratory" is the titular protagonist of George Griffith's long out-of-print 1894 novel, Olga Romanoff (aka The Syren of the Skies), who has never made the jump to the silver screen. On screen, the first might be housewife-turned-mad-scientist Malita, played by an immensely enjoyable Rafaela Ottiano (4 Mar 1888 – 18 Aug 1942), in Tod Browning's The Devil-Doll (1936 / trailer above, starring John Barrymore). Thereafter, the first "real" (mad) female scientists to promptly come to our mind are Dr Myra (Katherine Victor) of the no-budget anti-classic Teenage Zombies (1959),  Dr Lil Stanhope (Renee Harmon) of Frozen Scream (1980), and Dr. Pamela Isley aka Poison Ivy (Uma Thurman) of the mega-budget, ultra-campy critical flop, Batman & Robin with Nipples (1997 / trailer). A name that we now know must be added to that illustrious list of three is that of Dr. Jane Tiptree (Diane Ladd), of this Roger Corman production, Carnosaur.
* Though we do promptly think of The Blob (1988 / trailer) remake and, of course, Dr. Jekyll, Mr. Black (1976 / trailer). The first Black mad doctor to appear in film, however, appeared eight years after the first Dr. Frankenstein: an unknown actor plays the unnamed mad-doctor daddy of the "race film" Mercy, the Mummy Mumbled (1918 / what's left of it), a 13-minute comedy short that is more or less a Black-cast remake of the white-cast short, The Egyptian Mummy (1914 / full film). "[Mercy, the Mummy Mumbled] was made by the 'Historical Feature Film Company [us]', which was a white-run company, but distributed by the Ebony Film Company [us]' to make it appear that it was released by a black-controlled company. [imdb]" True, but the statement glosses over the fact that Mercy was, nevertheless, "an all-Black production in terms of the director, writers, production crew and actors," as Scared Silly points out. But as Scared Silly also goes on to say, the film is problematic in many ways. (Go to Scared Silly to find out more.) In turn, if one looks at the definition of "mad scientist/doctor" loosely, the first female Black mad doctor (actually less mad than simply misguided) is probably Dr Jackson (Laura Bowman) of "the first science fiction horror film to feature an all-black cast," the contentious Son of Ingagi (1940 / full film). 
Trailer to
As directed and written by scriptwriter & director Adam Simon (co-scripter of Bones [2001] and S&D of the pretty good Brain Dead [1990 / trailer]), this dino film and its mad doctor sit amidst appropriate company when it comes to the three previously listed "mad female doctor" films. Like the previously mentioned movies, a masterpiece this movie is not — but then, who really expects a film named something like Carnosaur to actually be a "good" movie? Based, in theory, on the eponymously named book from 1984 by some guy named John Brosnan (7 Oct 1947 – 11 Apr 2005), the script for Carnosaur takes so many liberties with its source material that it could be argued that the original novel has yet to be adapted.*
* A relatively productive author with diverse pen names (Carnosaur was written, for example and as you can see below, by Harry Adam Knight), Brosnan saw three feature-film adaptations of different books of his during his lifetime: this film here, Proteus (1995 / trailer), based on Slimer, and Beyond Bedlam aka Nightscare (1994 / full movie), based on Bedlam. While some see Brosnan's novel Carnosaur as derivative of Michael Crichton's best seller Jurassic Park, Carnosaur preceded the latter author's novel by six years.
Even if the source novel of Carnosaur was not a rip-off, the film itself is of course and definitely a cheap & quick attempt by Corman's Concorde-New Horizons production house to rip off and ride on the coattails of 1993's big budget hit production, Spielberg's Jurassic Park (trailer). In an inspired casting turn, Corman even got Diane Ladd, the real-life mother of that film's lead female actor, Laura Dern, to play Carnosaur's mad scientist. As might be expected of a professional actor whose feature-film career spans back to an un-credited appearance in Something Wild (1961 / trailer) — Lane's first credited feature-film appearance is in The Wild Angels (1965 / trailer)* — she does an unexpectedly professional acting job considering that she's working with a one-note stock character ("mad scientist"). Indeed, her thespian turn and that of Harrison Page,** as the one-note stock character Sherriff Fowler, are notably miles above the quality of the absolutely terrible acting job Raphael Sbarge (of The Hidden II [1994 / trailer]) does playing the movie's male lead and hero, the security guard "Doc" Smith. Sbarge is simply unconvincing throughout the film as either hero or nice guy, but it is during his attempts at playing drunk that he achieves an almost sublime textbook example of everything you can do wrong when "acting" a drunkard. One can only wonder that unlike the somewhat nominally better female lead of the movie, Jennifer Runyon*** (playing the eco-activist Ann "Thrush"), he maintained an acting career after this film.****
* Diane Ladd and fellow co-star Bruce Dern were already 5 years married when they appeared together in this legendary Roger Corman movie starring Peter Fonda and Nancy Sinatra. According to common Hollywood lore, their daughter Laura Dern was conceived during the shoot of this movie. (See Dick Miller, Pt II.)
** Harrison Page might be not be in all that many feature films, but he started his career with two roles of note: he made his debut playing the Afro-American draft dodger Niles in Russ Meyer's classic Vixen! (1968 / trailer) and then appeared in Meyer's camp masterpiece Beyond the Valley of the Dolls (1970 / trailer / see R.I.P. Charles Napier) as Emerson Page, the good-guy beau of the bodacious Petronella Danforth (Marcia McBroom) versus her hotly muscular and violent one night stand, Randy Black (James Iglehart). Iglehart may have had the muscles, but Page got the acting career.
*** Runyon, aged 33, who made her film debut in David Hess's slather To All a Good Night (1980 / trailer / see R.I.P. Harry Reems Pt. V), retired from acting after this movie. In the teens of the 21st century, she returned to make special appearances in three films: Silent Night, Bloody Night 2: Revival (2015 / trailer), Terror Tales (2016 / trailer) and Bloodsucka Jones vs. the Creeping Death (2017 / trailer).
**** The only other actor of note, whom we fail to mention in our review, is everyone's favorite Republican, the cult actor Clint Howard. He does a typical Clint Howard turn, if perhaps a bit more subdued than normal, and then dies.
As a rip-off of a blockbuster, Carnosaur comes nowhere close to being as good as the best of earlier Corman blockbuster rip-offs like John Sayles's Alligator (1980) and Joe Dante's Piranha (1978 / see R.I.P. Dick Miller Pt V). The flaw lies not just in the uneven acting, but far more in the substandard episodic script, atrocious editing and dearth of humor. Not that there is no humor present in Carnosaur, just that too much of it is budget-related (the "big showdown", with its obvious toy trucks and dinos, is pretty funny) or is lost amidst the bad acting and editing, the latter of which causes the movie to come across as if swathes of the narrative were inexplicably ripped out and left on the editing room floor. The result is that the narrative often feels like a bunch of scenes strung together but lacking the bridge between them. Not that these gaps make the movie hard to follow, they merely make the narrative extremely inconsistent and full of "Huh?" moments.
On the whole, the movie is as much a mad doctor and dinosaur-on-the-loose film as it is — fitting to the times we chose to finally watch it — a pandemic movie. If we got the plot right: Dr. Tiptree (Ladd), hired to biotech-pimp chicken, instead creates a virus that infects everyone but also specifically causes women (including, one would suppose, post-menopausal women) to self-fertilize and give — in belly-bursting homage to Alien (1979 / trailer) — birth to chicken-based carnosauria. Prior to this mass fertilization, however, one baby carnosaurus (born to a chicken) gets loose and lays waste to almost everyone introduced anywhere in the movie. The government is then called in to handle the situation, but as to be expected it basically lays everyone else to waste in their typically SNAFU fashion...
Anti-big business, anti-biotech, anti-government and oddly anti-woman (the ability to get pregnant definitely feels like a biological flaw in this film), Carnosaur is definitely third-rate Corman trash, far closer in its entire id to the ineptitude and lack of intelligence of Piranha II: The Spawning (1982 / trailer) than the film that that slice of Italo-trash followed. But much like that Z-film, there is a lot to be found in Carnosaur for fans of cinematic flotsam to enjoy: you name it, but for Diane Lane and Harrison Page and most of the practical gore effects, it is all laughably terrible. And to crown off all that badness, screenwriter/director Adam Simon has the cahonas to pay a direct homage to the ironic, hard-hitting and extremely bleak ending of the original George Romero version of The Crazies (1973 / trailer). (Kudos, dude!)
Yep, Carnosaur is pretty crappy, but in a fun way. It goes well with pizza and beer. That said, the less you expect the more you'll probably be able to enjoy it.
A success during its theatrical release, Carnosaur went on to spawn two direct-to-video sequels: Carnosaur 2 (1995 / trailer), with the great John Heard, and Carnosaur 3: Primal Species (1996 / trailer). Roger Corman, being the legendary penny-pincher that he is, also reused Carnosaur footage in Raptor (2001 / trailer) and The Eden Formula (2006 / trailer) — the last wreckage of a film with Dee Wallace, Tony Todd and Jeff Fahey! 
Cinema Dinosaurs (1920-2015):

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