What with Steven Spielberg's dinosaurs stomping through Jurassic Park, Roger Corman's got left behind in the prehistoric shuffle. ThatÕs right, the king of B movies -- auteur of Big Bad Mama, Eat My Dust, Rock and Roll High School, eight Vincent Price-Edgar Allen Poe classics -- made a sci-fi monster flick in 1993. Godzilla would say that Carnosaur ital? is to die for.
In a small midwestern town, deranged geneticist Dr. Jane Tiptree (Diane Ladd -- can you believe it? Dinosaurs must run in the family: Laura Dern, her daughter, starred as a good scientist in Jurassic Park) plans to destroy humankind and repopulate the earth with a new strain of prehistoric dinosaurs. The U.S. government is her unwitting ally; it provides providing her with top-secret resources, it assumes assuming that she's experimenting with new ways to breed genetically altered chickens. What she's really doing is developing is a virus that alters women's DNA in such a way that they give birth to a dinosaur egg before dying.
A couple of good-looking young people figure out the diabolical intentions, battle the flesh-eating dinosaurs and snatch the evil scientist's antidote -- but to no avail: T-rexes et al. roam the earth once again. Results similar to Jurassic Park, but vastly different ways of getting there. Spielberg, spending millions, had fun making monsters; Corman, pinching pennies, had fun just doing that. You take a Friday-night date to Spielberg's work, then ditch that person for a buddy you'll meet up with at a midnight screening of Corman's.
Though written and directed by Adam Simon, Carnosaur is recognizably producer Corman's Corman product. Which means that given his limited budget (he made his first movie, Monsters from the Ocean Floor, in 1954 for an unprecedented $18,000), you don't exactly see his films for their special effects. Cut-open corpses look like sides of barbecued beef; paint strokes pass for scars; shaking a lot is the equivalent of otherworldly DTs. And while the press kit says one full-scale dinosaur was over 20 feet tall and another that could snarl and move its eyebrows required seven people to maneuver, the creatures come across as some more like disagreeable sorts of inflatable Muppets to take to the beach (than fearsome man-eaters). In a fight, Spielberg's real-life creations would beat the crap out of Corman's far fewer and much punier make-do ones. They aren't on screen that much, and there aren't that many of them anyway.
Carnosaur isn't really a thriller; instead, the thrill is watching what Corman gets away with.
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To produce more than 175 films and direct some 50 others, Corman (who discovered directors Coppola, Scorsese, Bogdanovich, Demme, Ron Howard, Joe Dante; gave work to then-unknown actors Nicholson, De Niro, Bronson, Ellen Burstyn, Talia Shire) must be doing something right. What he delivers here are shaggy diversions, rough-and-ready entertainments: the enthusiasm of a let's-make-a-movie atmosphere. Underacting and overacting, excessive closeups, odd camera angles, jumpy editing, escape routes placed for no more logical reason than to further the (ridiculous) plot, reliance on exposition to fill in narrative blanks and on evening shots to set the mood that the script doesn't quite convey -- he ain't proud. Better said: He's proud that he ain't proud. Carnosaur is full of this stuff.
And then there are the groaners. Amid the outlandish life-and-death goings-on, Carnosaur delights in awful humor. A woman has trouble making out a dying man's hysterical gurgling: "I can't tell," she says, "I think he's speaking Spanish." While a mean and hungry dinosaur licks his chops over a cute puppy in a pet shop, "How Much Is That Doggie in the Window" might very well pop into your head. is this in the movie? "So you're going to give the earth back to the dinosaurs," an angry man berates the evil scientist, "it'd make a great theme park." And since there's nothing subtle in a Corman movie, as the world and film switch world and film? come to an end, the camera pulls back from a burning trailer home and freezes on a framed picture of Alfred E. Newman asking his famous "What, me worry?"
Don't worry about the finer points of filmmaking here. This B movie gets a B+: Corman, whose techniques are frequently copied as well as parodied, rips off the stomach-giving-birth trick from Alien and, a la Aliens, uses heavy machinery in battle. His fellow Stanford grads would be shocked.
Carnosaur will show at midnight December 3, 4, 10 and 11, at River Oaks 3.