Carnosaur (1993)

Own it!

review by Scott Hamilton and Chris Holland
See also:

The Valley of Gwangi

One Million Years B.C.

Godzilla (1954)



Lava Lamp

Our rating: one LAVA® motion lamp.

Hey, if you were cast in a Corman film,
you'd howl at the moon too.
Roger Corman has long been the king of the rip-offs. Over the past forty years, he has produced low budget films to capitalize on the success of every exploitation, horror, western, science fiction, and action film imaginable. From X, the Man With X-Ray Eyes to Future Kick to Piranha to Stripped to Kill, Corman fears no genre and spares every expense. The man even rips off his own films, recycling special effects from earlier movies to pad out the basic photography of his latest ultra-low budget opus.

All of this brings us to the summer of 1993, when a certain dinosaur movie directed by a certain Mr. Spielberg was scheduled to make box office history with some of the most realistic dinosaur effects ever created. Corman, seeing an opportunity, churned out his own dinosaur flick: Carnosaur, the small theatrical run of which started the week before that other dinosaur film made its bow.

The director of Carnosaur searches
for the motivation to film the next scene.
Never one to miss out on a trick, Corman somehow shoehorned the otherwise competent Diane Ladd into the role of Dr. Tiptree, a mad scientist who genetically re-engineers dinosaurs into existence. We call this a "trick" because Ladd is mother to Laura Dern, who appeared in 1993's other dinosaur film. We don't know what dirt Corman had on Ladd to get her to appear in Carnosaur, but it probably involves someone's death, or sex with farm animals, or both.

Carnosaur claims to be based on the 1984 novel Carnosaur by Harry Adam Knight, but the film resembles the book only slightly. The novel is about a British reporter, Pascal, who thinks that a mega-rich local wildlife connoisseur named Penward has imported dangerous animals into the country. Pascal bravely seduces Penward's wife, and learns the truth. In fact, Penward has been using gene splicing to turn chickens into dinosaurs, and pretty soon Deionychus and Tarbosaurus are roaming the British countryside, eating British citizens because even gamy old Britons are more appetizing than anything served in a British pub. Genre author John Brosnan, Knight's real identity, is credited with the movie's story treatment, but we suspect his work was completely ignored.

This is what happens when you don't
take your Carnosaur to Sizzler on schedule.
The movie Carnosaur takes place in a small town in the American southwest, populated by drunks, hippies, and Clint Howard. The drunks are represented by Raphael Sbarge, who plays a disillusioned former medical student who passes the time raping the environment and slurrily spouting lines like "Better a bottle in front of me than a frontal lobotomy." Doc's life turns around when he meets one of the hippies, a woman named Thrush (Jennifer Runyon). Meanwhile Clint Howard, represented by Clint Howard, tells gory stories to people who are trying to eat.

Then there are the dinosaurs. It seems local geneticist Dr. Tiptree is engineering chickens into dinosaurs because she has a beef with mankind in general. Boy, if there's one thing more evil than a scientist, it's a woman scientist. And if there's one thing more evil than a woman scientist, it's a woman scientist with an environmental agenda. But Tiptree has more up her sleeve than merely those chickens. There's a nasty strain of the flu (revealed in the film as a series of pseudo-scientific captions) that she has invented which may spell the end of the human race -- in one way or another.

Most of the film is the predictable "people get stalked by monster" scenes that have remained basically unchanged since Alien. The company that bankrolls Tiptree, a government subcontractor named Eunice, becomes aware of the fact that people are dying bloodily, and the saliva from the killer has the genetic markers associated with Eunice-improved chickens. Maybe the killer is eating Eunice chickens? "Either that, or the animal that killed these people was a chicken," one character opines with a straight face.

This just might be enough punishment for
participating in the production of this movie.
Movies like Carnosaur can be goofy and fun, but little of that comes into play here because the movie takes such a dark turn with the introduction of the disease and its gory results. The "government" as it is portrayed here is brutal and vicious, shooting first and asking no questions in its attempts to cover up the little project that they have inadvertently been funding. The movie starts out right with a few humorous lines and the use of Clint Howard, but Carnosaur's final moments are so bleak and depressing that any fun we might have had quickly goes down the toilet.

Dooming Carnosaur to hellish mediocrity, however, are some very cheaply made dinosaurs. In a film titled after its creatures, those creatures need to be convincing, and these dinosaurs just aren't. Especially amusing was the article in "Dinosaur," a magazine special printed by Starlog Telecommunications, which highlighted the various effects techniques in the movie:

"... [Creature designer John] Buechler set about a creating a series of different sized T. Rexes, including the full-sized, 16-foot-tall, pneumatically-operated creature, a 7-foot man-in-a-suit version, and a fully mechanical 3-foot beast with the ability to walk. For the Deionychus, Buechler created an 8-foot-man-in-a-suit model and a mechanized, walkable 1-foot mockup. Miniatures and hand puppets of both dinosaurs were also crafted."

Needless to say, only the hand puppets (and a precious few seconds of animation) made the final cut of film. Yeesh, guys: if your hand puppet footage was the good stuff which made it into the actual feature, then you probably should have spent a few more bucks on R&D.

Review date: 07/18/2000

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 * She has chickens up her sleeve? That must be painful. Go back!














* Pseudo-scientific captions at work. Notice that the "infected cells per million" are then expressed as a percentage. Why bother to say "per million" if you're just going to slap a percent sign after the number? Go back!


























  * And sometimes just bare hands! That's supposed to be a terrifying shot of a woman fighting off a dinosaur with her legs, but the "off-screen" hand pulling on her foot kind of spoils the shot. Go back!