Originally released on VHS in an edited version, TAMMY AND THE T-REX is a forgotten genre film recently restored by Vinegar Syndrome. This new cut – labelled the ‘Gore-Cut’ – is screening at the Glasgow Film Festival as part of the Future Cult strand. This edition restores all of the film’s violent, exploitation-movie gore. It also cements TAMMY AND THE T-REX’s status as unapologetically campy nonsense best seen in a cinema with other people.
In 1994, the blockbuster success of Steven Spielberg’s JURASSIC PARK the previous year led to a brief spate of dinosaur movies out of Hollywood. It was in this context that Stewart Raffill (director of cult movies, THE ICE PIRATES and the McDonald’s-funded E.T. rip-off MAC AND ME) was approached by a German film distributor who, for reasons still unexplained, had an animatronic T-Rex. For further unexplained reasons, the distributor had the T-Rex for only two weeks before it was due to be shipped to Texas, and he wanted to fund Raffill to make a movie with it.
Raffill and his co-writer, Gary Brockette, drafted a script within a week and started shooting only two weeks later. TAMMY AND THE T-REX (intriguingly called ‘Tanny and the Teenage T-Rex’ in the opening frame of the film, suggesting a marketing-related title change at some point which may have been to make the film appear more kid-friendly and/or, considering the misspelling of the main character’s name, may have just been a mistake) starts with high-school students Tammy (Denise Richards) and Michael (Paul Walker) falling in love despite the interventions of Tammy’s abusive ex-boyfriend, Billy (George Pilgrim). This first section of the film is a barrage of high-school movie clichés, from the initial male-gaze-y scene of young cheerleaders practising to the horny teenage boy who carries around a single condom to Tammy’s supportive and sassy best friend (Theo Forsett). Within the first five minutes of the film, Michael and Billy – who is essentially the same character as Bobby from Twin Peaks but without the sense of pathos – have a weirdly long fight for Tammy’s affection culminating in what is referred to as a “testicular standoff”. The stage is set for a hormone-fueled confrontation between these rowdy teens.
But when a tragic accident befalls Michael, his brain is stolen by a mad scientist (Terry Kiser) and transplanted (for some reason) into the animatronic T-Rex. Like Frankenstein’s Creature, Michael must come to terms with his new existence, enact vengeance on Billy, the mad scientist, and anyone else who happens to be in his way and win back the love of Tammy despite now having the body of an animatronic dinosaur.
The premise of the film is wild but, although the audience presumably knows the premise and can’t wait to get to the point, there’s a tediously long time to wait before Michael’s inevitable death and brain removal. Before he reaches his actual death, the film has Michael beaten up, fallen from a window, chased by rowdy teens in cars, and, honest-to-God, chased by a variety of big cats including a lion and a panther. It’s a real ‘When are they gonna get to the fireworks factory?’ situation. Even the brain transplant scene goes on for an agonisingly long time while the scientist and his hapless assistants crack bad jokes when all we want to see is the dinosaur crushing and eating people.
That said, once Michael the T-Rex finally breaks free and starts his rampage, the gore-cut lives up to its name. There’s head-crushings and gut-tearings and leg-eatings: the aforementioned brain transplant is particularly graphic and unusually realistic-looking. This surfeit of blood and disembowelment was originally cut by the T-Rex-owning financier who Raffill says wanted a “Disney movie” and could be found only in a version broadcast on Italian television. TAMMY AND THE T-REX was released in the USA on VHS for Christmas 1994 as a family-friendly comedy with the violence excised but the sex jokes and titillating high-school girls imagery intact.
TAMMY AND THE T-REX is self-consciously silly and cheesy but it’s also just plain silly and cheesy too. It’s like a Treehouse of Horror episode of The Simpsons that takes too long to get to the point and has long stretches of flat dialogue between the campy comedy and the gore. Denise Richards and Theo Forsett at least seem to be having a lot of fun with their roles and fully embracing the kitsch of it all, but a lot of the other actors just don’t seem to be enjoying it. Paul Walker is suitably charming but, by necessity of the script, he’s replaced by a stiff animatronic T-Rex halfway through the film.
An oral history of TAMMY AND THE T-REX or a documentary à la JODOROWSKY’S DUNE would be incredible because everything about the production of this film sounds fascinating. The film itself has cult-movie written all over it and is trashy nonsense best viewed either in a big rowdy screening with other people or as a teenager on a video that you’ve borrowed from a friend at school.