Like so many of our classics, Tammy and the T-Rex began its life when a sketchy fella said to a down-on-his-luck director: Hey, I’ve got a fully functional animatronic dinosaur just sitting in a warehouse for two weeks before I have to ship it to a park in Texas. Let’s make a movie!
Same story, different day, amirite.
Hold on. “Let’s write a movie around a giant prop we’ll only have for two weeks”? That’s positively insane! Like a Roger Corman two-week wonder, that’s less a genuine movie, more the end result of a dare.
Stewart Raffill, however, wasn’t exactly in a position to turn down any offer to direct. His multiple decades-worth of steady work as a writer and director of family films had been derailed 6 years earlier by Mac and Me, the quasi-McDonald’s-sanctioned E.T. rip-off that bombed and earned Raffill a Razzie nomination.
The British-born Raffill spent the next decade trapped in director jail, snacking on any morsels thrown in his way (1991’s Mannequin II: On the Move, 1994’s Lost in Africa). So, when a man who claimed to own some theaters in South America came to Raffill and excitedly shouted “Let’s make a movie about an animatronic dinosaur!” his response was, essentially, “You had me at ‘let’s make a movie.’”
Great. What’s the movie going to be about?
Oh, simple – a hunky high schooler named Michael (babyfaced 17-year-old Paul Walker) makes with the googly eyes at the wrong girl (Denise Richards, in just her third film role), gets abducted by her psychotic boyfriend, driven out to a wildlife preserve, beaten half to death, nearly finished off by some hungry lions, but is found by a mad scientist (Weekend at Bernie’s Terry Kiser) and his sexy assistant Helga (Ellen Dubin) just in time to transfer his brain to a robotic T-Rex for…reasons. Michael-Rex quickly escapes and sets out to both avenge his death and win Tammy’s heart – just without, ya know, accidentally mauling her or something, what with the dinosaur hands and everything.
Sure, we’ve seen it before, but have we seen it with Denise Richards earnestly shouting “No, don’t shoot! He’s my boyfriend!” while an armed posse hunts a fake dinosaur? I think not.
I first heard about Tammy and the T-Rex around a year ago when the Shock Waves podcast crew reported back from a horror convention that Vinegar Syndrome got its hands on a “lost” Denise Richards-Paul Walker 90s comedy that had to be seen to believed. In fact, prior to the inevitable, extra features-loaded home video release Vinegar put Tammy in select theaters, gifting the film a wider platform than it ever received in its actual day. Much fanfare ensued, though the exact laughing-with vs. laughing-at ratio at screenings was often impossible to decipher. A similar response played out when Tammy finally found its way to Shudder.
This – by now – is a familiar pattern. As Joe Bob Briggs recently joked:
“Exploitation Archeology apparently became a major at Chico State when musty film cans started turning up in every arthouse from Calgary to Bogalusa, and humankind embarked on a quest for the worst movies ever made. After our Junk Spelunkers got past the obvious titles—Santa Claus Conquers the Martians, Troll 2, The Giant Spider Invasion, Showgirls, The Room—rabid lovers of out-of-focus inanity kept digging down past the Neolithic genre films to the Paleo level, then further down to Trainwreck bedrock. Films that were never seen by a paying audience, or perhaps seen by a few alcoholics in raincoats for one week in grindhouses, were exhumed, given autopsies, and granted redemption by the most forgiving generation in the history of film: millennials.”
Thus, Tammy and the T-Rex – a movie written and filmed over just a couple of weeks, never straying further than 25 miles from the director’s own house, only to end up heavily edited and seen by virtually no one upon its initial release – has finally found its audience.
The question, for my purposes, is if I’m in that audience. I’m not always in lock-step agreement with the so-bad-it’s-good movement. As the Mystery Science Theater 3000 crew discovered, there are some movies so bad they can’t be salvaged enough to mock, and not even the Shock Waves crew reached a unanimously positive opinion on Tammy and the T-Rex. Some movies, we’re just not meant to “get.”
Some movies, however, we’re also not meant to overthink. Tammy and the T-Rex is quite simply an uber-campy, Corman throwback. At one point, the dinosaur uses a payphone. (A payphone!)
At another point, Tammy and her gay black friend – who, shocker, plays entirely to mid-90s stereotype – enjoy a bit of a trying-on-dresses montage except instead of trying on dresses they evaluate dead bodies at the morgue as potential candidates for Michael’s brain to go into once they get the evil scientists to de-dino him. If you think this is the type of movie that would put in a scene like that and not eventually make a dick joke – Tammy suddenly has veto power over any “member” she doesn’t like – you haven’t been paying attention.
Then, of course, there are scenes like this one:
What it all adds up to is a movie that veers wildly between family comedy, sex puns, overacting from the supporting players, completely sincere acting from the main players, and routine bursts of astonishing violence.
It shouldn’t work.
By most measures, it really doesn’t work.
I had a blast, though. For the most part, I rarely laughed at the movie since Tammy and the T-Rex always seems to be in on the joke. Walker and Richards offer their sincere best, but the film as a whole knows exactly what it is. This isn’t Jurassic Park. It’s not even Theodore Rex. It’s a movie the Mac and Me guy made when he had little time to plan and a giant prop to write around. So, of course, he just threw a bunch of jokes together and watched as a young Denise Richards treated her animatronic dinosaur co-star as if they were in a high school production of Romeo & Juliet.
How so wonderfully bizarre.
Tammy and the T-Rex is currently on Shudder, fuboTV, and Showtime.