Color, 1994, 90 mins. 51 secs.
Directed by Stewart Raffill
Starring Denise Richards, Paul Walker, Terry Kiser, Ellen Dubin, Sean Whalen, George Pilgrim, George "Buck" Flower, John F. Goff, Efren Ramirez
Vinegar Syndrome (UHD, Blu-ray & DVD) (US R0 HD/NTSC) / WS (1.85:1) (16:9)
Boasting a premise so ridiculous it would've been laughed out of the offices at Troma, Tammy and the T-Rex (or technically Tanny and the T-Rex to go by the credits) feels like even more of an anomaly since it came out during the relatively milequetoast home video era of the mid-1990s. At the time it barely even qualified as a minor curiosity thanks to the basic idea (high school girl finds out her boyfriend's brain has been stuck in a Tyrannosaurus Rex), but since then it's taken on more value as the first starring vehicle for future stars Denise Richards and the late Paul Walker. More mysteirously, the film was released in a sometimes incoherent PG-13 version that contradicted the intention of making a gore-filled sci-fi romantic comedy, with rumors abounding about extreme moments of bloodshed left on the cutting room floor when it hit VHS from Imperial Entertainment. The roster behind the camera is just as unexpected including director and co-writer Stewart Raffill (who also helmed The Adventures of the Wilderness Family, The Ice Pirates, The Philadelphia Experiment, Mannequin: On the Move, and the immortal Mac and Me), with screenwriting duties also handled by Gary Brockette, who had first turned up in Mark of the Witch and also appeared au naturel in The Last Picture Show. A singularly weird experience, this one managed to get a second lease on life in 2019 when Vinegar Syndrome salvaged the original gore cut of the film and gave it a few theatrical screenings, followed by a Black Friday release as both a Blu-ray/DVD dual-format edition (complete with a crazy lenticular hardcase featuring designs by Tom Hodge of The Dude Designs) and, incredibly, the label's very first UHD release.
At a very sunny SoCal high school, cheerleader Tammy (Richards) is happy with her clean-cut new boyfriend, Michael (Walker), much to the annoyance of her violent ex, Billy (Pilgrim). That night, Michael is chased by Billy and his cronies onto an animal reserve where he runs afoul of a lion and ends up in the hospital. Seizing the opportunity, mad scientist Dr. Wachenstein (Weekend at Bernies' Kiser) and his assistant, Helga (Dubin), have Michael declared dead and steal him away to a warehouse where they saw open his skull to transplant it in a giant dinosaur. The operation proves to be a success, but the agitated T-Rex escapes and goes on a bloody rampage before reuniting with a very surprised Tammy... but their troubles are just beginning.
The mixture of very broad comedy, '90s fashions, and animatronic effects is one that only the bravest of souls would even attempt, and throwing heavy R-rated levels of bloodshed into the mix earns even more points for sheer chutzpah. Most of the carnage is isolated to the brain surgery sequence and a very squishy murder spree at a house party, though there's some fun evisceration restored to the climax, too. Some other bits are extended as well including Richards' memorable "routine" in the final scene, which will be unspoiled here. How much this works will be a matter of taste as it's knowingly played for laughs, which keeps it outside of the realm of the usual snickering bad movie crowd, and there's a certain kick to seeing a very young Richards and Walker giving their all to the storyline and selling the hell out of it no matter where it goes. Also noteworthy is the character of Byron (played by Theo Forsett), Tammy's best friend, a rare positively portrayed gay black character from the era. Everyone involved seemed to be aware that this would likely be heading straight to video, with the technical aspects falling short at times including some of the sloppiest sound editing you'll ever hear. Given the speed with which it was assembled though, you can cut it some slack and just immerse yourself in the only teen gore dinosaur movie on the planet.
As expected, the Vinegar Syndrome is up to the label's stellar standards right off the bat with a 4K scan from the original camera negative. It looks pretty spectacular with vibrant colors throughout and very impressive detail, resulting in a pleasing visual experience on the Blu-ray. (The UHD wasn't provided for review but presumably looks even better.) The DTS-HD MA English 2.0 stereo track (which features optional English SDH subtitles) sounds great considered how rough the original mix is with room tone and background sound effects often switching abruptly between shots. That crazy dinosaur opening song sounds pretty tremendous coming out of a solid set of speakers, too. An audio commentary with director Stewart Raffill and producer Diane Kirman, moderated by the American Genre Film Archive's Bret Berg, goes into the sense of "freedom and fun" they tried to nurture on the set and make the most of the limited budget. They also touch on the natural disasters that threatened the production around L.A., the one week they had to shoot the animatronic dinosaur star, the experience with animals that led to one of the film's craziest scenes, and tons more. "Blood, Brains and Teenage T-Rex" (22m12s) features Raffill explaining how he got into showbiz and embarked on this film, including a surprising explanation for that orange glow when Tammy's riding the T-rex and thoughts on how growing up on a farm led to his treatment of wet gore effects here. He also explains the reason for the name Tammy vs. Tanny confusion when it comes to the film's title and main character name (and he even touches on a similar situation with the ending of The Ice Pirates) and the convoluted history behind the special effects including some work by John Carl Buechler. Then Richards has a great time reminiscing about the film in "A Blast from the Past" (11m31s) including the challenge of running around Calabassas in red heels and the very happy times she had on the set; her enthusiasm for the film is really infectious here, and it really makes you wish she'd turn up in front of the camera more often these days. In "Having the Guts" (12m12s), actor Sean Whalen discusses the night shoots for the big party scene, his love for Mac and Me, the wrap party at Richards' house, and other odds and ends from the shoot. Finally "A Testicular Stand-Off" (25m7s) with Pilgrim is easily the most entertaining of the interviews as he reveals his initial reaction to the script, the sudden rewritten fight scene between him and Walker that required them to "grab each other's junk," the medical emergency that struck at the end of that same scene, and tons of other crazy stories from the set. Oh, and you can also watch the gutted PG-13 version (82m36s) in all its open matte glory, straight from an Imperial VHS tape, just to see how this plays without blood splashing all over the place.
Reviewed on November 28, 2019