PENDING Fantastic Fest 2019 Review: TAMMY AND THE T-REX, A True Lost Gem
So-bad-it's good-cinema has its champions, but there's little doubt that living in a world over-full of Sharknados and Clownados makes the average film fan a bit skeptical of how fun any such movie will be these days.
This is especially true when so many "forgotten gems" are spruced up with a slipcase and a few special features and offered up as "must-have" collector's editions. I've come to suspect that virtually any genre movie lying dormant in a vault somewhere is destined for this treatment however unworthy it is of people's time and money.
Llet me be the first in line, though for whenever Tammy and the T-Rex The Gore Cut (1994) is finally made available on disc. It is simply one of the best times I've ever had at the movies. It is brash, crass, mightily dumb and full of plot holes so big you could ride a dinosaur through them. What makes it work so well is the weird mix of vanilla vulgar teen comedy, gory practical effects monster-movie madness and the absolute dedication of a cast to its stupid, stupid, stupid premise.
It even offers us Denise Richards and the late Paul Walker in their film debuts. True, they'd each done a fair amount of TV and some bit parts in features, but this film was their first chance to show what they could do in a leading role. High school student Mike (Paul Walker) is in love with cheerleader Tammy (Denise Richards) who, unfortunately, has a psychotic ex-boyfriend bent on getting her back. Her psychotic ex-boyfriend (and ersatz gangleader) isn't content with a few schoolyard confrontations, opting to kidnap Mike one night and drop him off in the city zoo, where he's mauled by lions.
Running concurrent to this storyline is the tale of Dr. Wachenstein, a mad scientist putting the finishing touches on his newly created bio-mechanical Tyrannosaurus Rex. All he needs is a brain: Mike's brain! He kidnaps Mike -- Mike gets kidnapped a lot in this movie -- and performs the brain transplant. Waking up in his new dinosaur body, Mike goes on a revenge spree, killing his tormentors and attempting to reconnect with his true love Tammy, who now has to figure out how to rescue him from the less than understanding police.
Part of the fun for genre geeks lies in spotting the array of character actors who lend their talents to the production. Terry Kiser, most famous for his role as the corpse Bernie from Weekend at Bernies (1989), plays Dr. Wachenstein with a sort of 'fuck it as long as they pay me' abandon. Sean Whalen of The People Under The Stairs (1991) fame and John Franklin from Children of the Corn (1984) play his lab assistants. Stare hard and you'll just catch Efren Ramirez, aka Pedro of Napoleon Dynamite (2004), as a pizza boy.
The late great John Carl Buechler provided the effects here, which range from a gruesomely realistic brain transplant to a number of truly over the top dino beheadings and de-limbings. The splatter approaches Evil Dead II (1987) levels at times but somehow the movie retains a sort of sleazy sweetness that allows us to root for the characters. The film also features some nicely done stop-motion animation, which dates it in a quaint way. Overall, it's an impressive bit of monster craft and it's hilarious to think that the only release the film has ever had was in a butchered edit, marketed more or less to children's home entertainment.
Without giving too much away, Tammy and the T-Rex ends with a scene of such startling bad taste it literally left me slack-jawed. You cant possibly see it coming, but once you do see it, you'll never see Denise Richards or Paul Walker again without thinking of it.
Director Stewart Rafill is responsible for a couple of other cult favorites. A clip from his 1988 E.T. (1982) knock off, Mac and Me (1988) has been famously used by Paul Rudd whenever the actor has appeared on Conan O'Brien. The Ice Pirates (1984) was a space opera comedy with a Who's Who cast and actually pretty funny. But it's likely that Tammy and The T-Rex is on a track to outpace them all in the schlock movie Olympics and be remembered as Rafill's truly great accomplishment.