Tag Dinosaurs

Sharktopus Vs Pteracuda (2014)

Sharktopus Vs Pteracuda (2014)

A love story

Scientist Rico Symes has crafted the latest predatory super-weapon for the military by splicing together DNA strands from a pterodactyl and a barracuda, creating a creature known as Pteracuda. During a routine test mission, the creature goes rogue after a terrorist hijacks the computer controls. Capable of flight or swimming, Symes knows that Pteracuda poses a massive problem and so tracks down the surviving offspring of the original Sharktopus, now in a sanctuary in a local aquarium. Fitting it with a transmitter, Symes gives Sharktopus a simple command: to find and destroy Pteracuda.

 

I was a little generous in my review for Sharktopus, stating it was ‘everything a cheap, goofy and enjoyable monster movie should be about’ but I could clearly see where the enjoyment was coming from and with such a ridiculous premise, it ran with it as best as it had any right to do. A few years later and Roger Corman is back with even more bizarreness but far less originality. A sequel to both Sharktopus and Piranhaconda (though I don’t get the connection with the latter film), Sharktopus Vs Pteracuda continues the trend of combing the names of two random creatures to make a new monster. Pteracuda was the dumbest name I’d ever heard – well until the sequel Sharktopus Vs Whalewolf went into production! Apparently, a bunch of combi-names was tossed around on Twitter with fans voting for the one they wanted. At least Corman is giving in to people power.

Do you expect anything remotely resembling a plot? No? Good, didn’t think so. You won’t find that here. Sharktopus Vs Pteracuda gives us the bare minimum story of military experiments, terrorists, innocent civilians who get wound up in the mayhem and plenty of unnecessary characters to throw into the way of the monsters every few minutes. Honestly, Sharktopus Vs Pteracuda doesn’t even run like clockwork – the clock has well and truly stopped here and the nonsensical plot developments would only be surprising to an unborn baby and that’s about it. Top secret government weapon that goes haywire and the people responsible attempt to bring it back and cover it up. That’s it. Let’s see what else the film has to offer.

Unlike many other giant monster showdowns of late, particularly the awful Mega Shark Vs … films, Sharktopus Vs Pteracuda does feature a lot of lengthy tussles between the titular creatures, so much so that it actually gets boring watching them. I know, I know, it appears I’m far too hard to please when I complain that there wasn’t enough in Mega Shark Vs Giant Octopus and now there is too much in this one. Usually the creatures fight off in a titanic battle at the end of the film akin to the old Godzilla films but Sharktopus and Pteracuda cross paths a lot throughout the film, which was pleasantly surprising as it meant a lot more CGI effects which would have driven up the cost of this film significantly.

Like pretty much all of these CGI slugfests from Sy Fy or The Asylum, the eventual fight scenes fail to connect with the audience. You know that what you’re watching is just two computer-generated monsters fighting off because there’s literally no sense of gravity or weight to them. Don’t get me wrong, the fights do go on for a few minutes a piece but whilst they’re scrapping, the motions and movement are just too fast: tentacles flying across the screen, wings flapping all over the place, teeth gnashing and so on. Real creatures wouldn’t be able to react like that and so in trying to crank up the excitement of the film, the fights just become frenzied free-for-alls in which your eyes and ears are bombarded with as much as possible within the time frame.

Continuing on another irritating trend, both Sharktopus and Pteracuda have a tendency to kill humans by biting their heads off. Most likely because it’s a cheap and easy special effect to pull off in post-production, literally every giant monster of the past few years has killed its human prey like that. Since when did carnivores become so picky and just go for the human head? It’s so annoying, especially when I think of some classic monsters movies and the memorable ways in which people were killed and eaten alive (Quint’s graphic swallowing in Jaws always springs to mind). Having said that, the bulk of the kills are for non-characters who may say a handful of words at best before they’re fed to the fish. People die all too often in this and it becomes a chore. So when someone with a meatier role falls victim to the monsters, there’s no shock value.

That would assume you’d give a toss about any of the characters in this film. Robert Carradine has a bit of a blast as the sort-of-slimy scientist, only he doesn’t really do anything truly evil. Rib Hillis is the stock mercenary tasked with leading the mission to stop the weapon. Hillis doesn’t really get much chance to shine in the role until the end but comes off little better than your generic hero. If there is one saving grace from Sharktopus Vs Pteracuda, it’s in the form of the lovely Katie Savoy. Though her weakly-written marine biologist role is an awful character who serves little to no purpose, she’s one of the most naturally attractive women I’ve ever seen in a film like this. I’m smitten! There’s also a really random cameo from TV talk show host Conan O’Brian, who I’m sure owed Corman a favour to appear in this. Maybe he was a big fan of the original Sharktopus?

 

Sharktopus Vs Pteracuda is a cheap sequel to a cheap film, where special effects seem to revert back in time and all sense of what a film should be has been thrown out of the window. Though I guess when you see two giant hybrid monsters pummeling each other in the air and underwater every ten minutes or so, it’s kind of irrelevant how bad everything else is.

 

 ★★★☆☆☆☆☆☆☆ 

 

 

Ice Road Terror (2011)

Ice Road Terror (2011)

When workers at a diamond mine located at the end of a long ice road in northern Alaska decide to plant explosives deeper than they ever gone before, they aren’t aware that in doing so they will awaken a dormant prehistoric creature which proceeds to terrorise the camp. This isn’t good news for two ice road truckers taking the dangerous trip up along the road to deliver explosives to the mine and are about to encounter the beast for themselves.

 

It’s been a while since I’ve seen any Sy Fy Originals and boy, I wish I hadn’t bothered. Another one off the monster movie conveyor belt, it’s no real surprise for me to want to wind the clock back and retrieve the valuable ninety minutes I spent watching. Presumably filmed as a response to the international popularity of reality TV show Ice Road Truckers, Ice Road Terror features the usual Sy Fy tropes in abundance and makes sure it ticks pretty much all of the boxes on the ‘Original’ checklist.

Forgetting any plausible reasons why this prehistoric monster has been completely alive for millions of years (like what has been eating?) and is able to quickly scarper out of the uncovered cave when it’s blown open (without any hint of being blinded by the sun or a bit of stiffness in the legs for being caged so long), the story doesn’t really go any further into explaining what it is or why it’s there, save for an obligatory Native American nick name that it’s given later in the film. Whilst this may appease some, I was wanting to know more about the creatures as I’m getting sick of being taken for a ride.

Ice Road Terror does the usual Sy Fy trick of showing us the monster within the opening few minutes of the film. It looks awful, like some sort of komodo dragon, and does the usual things that a Sy Fy monster needs to do: eat all of the minor characters; be unable to break down weak obstacles when the main characters are in peril; seems to hang around the same location for the entire film in order to re-use animation; growls or roars like a normal animal; and is never satisfied with the copious amount of food it gets. The monster is badly animated but it’s only what I’ve come to expect from Sy Fy now. Whilst its design looks fairly unique (though given the climate of the film, you’d expect something cold-blooded rather than a warm-blooded lizaerd), the way it is brought to life through computer animation leaves a lot to be desired. As is the case with a lot of these films, there’s only so many frames of animation and the same shots are repeated over and over again, sometimes using movement which makes no sense given the different situation. But hey, it saves some money!

Bargain basement effects coupled with lots of quick editing and camera shaking to give you the illusion that everything is more exciting than it really is. Thankfully, I’m not that gullible and can see through it. Ice Road Terror is surprisingly dull. There are enough action scenes in the film but as I’ve already said, they’re pretty badly put together with the effects and lack of excitement. You never feel as though any of the main characters are under threat despite the best efforts of the screenplay to throw in some perilous moments. It’s just a case of seeing them survive one scene and getting themselves into another predicament where the monster will kill them if they screw up. We never really get to know of them either as the film just goes straight into the story, unleashing the monster within the first few minutes and then having the undeveloped trio of main characters arrive at the site shortly afterwards. Given Sy Fy’s track record, I don’t think it will have made much difference in the long run but a bit of characterisation would have been nice. It’s for these reasons that the film is unengaging. You literally don’t care what happens to anyone. You won’t remember their names. The film ended and I was sat there shrugging and thinking about the next film I was planning to see. See it, move on.

The monster is well fed at the start, with the construction workers providing a healthy source of protein. Sy Fy do allow their films to get bloody when needed and the red stuff is on show here. Nothing too major but enough of a splattering to keep genre fans happy. There’s even a few shots of intestines and the like but it looks like a lot of the decent practical make-up effects are ruined with daft CGI blood smears on the camera and the use of a red lens when needed.

I’m not even going to bother covering the cast. Never heard of them before watching. Most likely will never hear from them again after watching. They were given impossible tasks to begin with as their characters aren’t developed in the slightest. I didn’t care for any of them. They’re never put into any real danger. And by the end of the film, everything is wrapped up into a neat little package as far as attempted story arcs go. Same old Sy Fy.

 

Ice Road Terror is one of Sy Fy’s worst efforts. Cashing in on a popular television show and recycling the same monster movie garbage that it’s been spewing out for years now, Sy Fy is really scraping the barrel. The formula is stale, the execution is uninspiring and devoid of life and the end result is just a complete waste of time. So I guess the next one off the conveyer belt will be along soon….

 

 ★★☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆ 

 

 

Triassic Attack (2010)

Triassic Attack (2010)

The skeletons are out of the closet!

The dean of the local university wants to expand the campus but this means bulldozing through a swathe of local businesses including a Native American fossil museum. The disgruntled owner of the museum uses some mystical powers to bring to life the museum’s three dinosaur skeletons to life which proceed to wreak havoc on the small town.

 

You should know what to expect by now from a Sy Fy Original with a name like Triassic Attack. The random title generator seems to have gone into overdrive this time around, with a daft name that screams attention and sums the plot up in two words. Why bother with timely exposition when your title can do the job in a split second? (Thanks for setting the trend, Snakes on a Plane). I’ve seen this film dozens of times before, mainly thanks to Sy Fy, with slight alterations made between each one including the type of monster and occupation of the main characters. Is there any point in going into too much detail on this? I knew full well what I was getting myself in for when I sat down to watch.

Triassic Attack could quite easily be chopped up into a brief highlight reel and no one would notice the difference because there is that little to get excited about. You’ve got actors going through the motions in roles that they’ve most likely taken for a free holiday to Eastern Europe. You’ve got special effects guys making dinosaurs in their spare time between takes on more important projects. You’ve got a director who was actually over in Bulgaria filming Lake Placid 3 (in an acting role) for Sy Fy when they must have thought “hang on, let’s save some more money and have this guy direct our next dinosaur flick” and roped him in to taking the hot seat. Ferguson’s direction is as flat as his acting was. This is hardly a director’s film though, more like a cut-and-assemble job which has been rushed along the Sy Fy production line.

The fossil dinosaurs are certainly unique in the fact that the animators didn’t have to spend time in coming up with unrealistic textures and colours for the skin. However they virtually do the same thing as every other Sy Fy dinosaur movie has done including roaring (which is impossible given their lack of muscles and vocal chords!) which is a real shame as the novelty of skeletons coming to life could have been so much better utilised. The T-Rex skeleton swallows a frat boy at one point only to have him fall out of the bottom of its skull because it has no throat. It’s a funny moment as the script at least appreciated the fact that these were only skeletons but it’s one that is a few and far between. You’d have thought that by coming up with the idea for the film, the script would be more inventive in how it treat the skeletons. But that’s asking too much from Sy Fy. They had the same script as they usually do, swapped the monsters around and then forgot to tailor it to the new monster’s needs.

Do I need to comment on the acting? It’s awful across the board, with two Scottish leads (Steven Brand and Kirsty Mitchell) doing their worst American accents and English actress Emilia Clarke as their teenage daughter fairs no better. Game of Thrones fans should take note of this early appearance of Miss Clarke about a year before she became famous as Daenerys Targaryen and began disrobing for the enjoyment of males the world over. Clarke shows none of the same feisty nature as she has on the show and judging by this performance, it’s amazing how she ever got her big break. Though I bet it’s not like she goes around trumpeting the merits of Triassic Attack and has probably slumped to the bottom of her (as it stands) very slim résumé.

I’m not sure that in 2010, we should still tolerate the daft idea of Native Americans having some sort of mystical powers which can do all sorts of weird and wonderful stuff when called upon in television and film. Horror films love the Native Americans and their spiritual and supernatural superstitions and yet again the token ‘medicine man’ character is here to both destroy and then eventually save the white man. I was quite expecting a few smoke signals or a war dance from him at some point. It’s beyond ridiculous but Triassic Attack isn’t the only recent horror film to fall guilty of that (Monsterwolf springs to mind, another Sy Fy flick).

 

Not to be outdone, Sy Fy would make the totally-unrelated Jurassic Attack a couple of years after this. With a whole host of prehistoric eras to go through, it’s only a matter of time before Devonian Attack or Cretaceous Attack go into production! Triassic Attack is just Sy Fy going through the usual creature feature motions…..again. Go and visit The Natural History Museum if you want to see dinosaur bones! They’ll be a lot more interesting to look at than this.

 

 ★★☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆ 

 

 

Dinosaurus! (1960)

Dinosaurus! (1960)

Alive With Thrills!

Whilst blasting the sea bed to deepen the harbour on a Caribbean island, Bart Thompson and his crew uncover two frozen dinosaurs which have been perfectly preserved for millions of years. The dinosaurs are removed from the water and placed on the beach to thaw out before being transported off to a museum. Whilst on the beach, the dinosaurs are struck by lightning during an overnight thunderstorm and are reanimated. With two dinosaurs unleashed upon the unsuspecting local population, matters are made worse with the reanimation of a caveman as well.

 

From the team of producer Jack H. Harris and director Irvin S. Yeaworth Jr. who had previously worked together on cult classic The Blob, Dinosaurus! comes with a bad reputation and most of it is thoroughly deserved. It’s a juvenile flick which has little redeeming quality but did the rounds quite often on television as a time filler many years ago due to its simplistic nature. Now it has faded into obscurity and that’s maybe for the best! Dinosaurus! came very late to the table after the giant monster fad of the 1950s. This would have worked better in black and white and about five years earlier where viewers may have been a tad more kind to it but in a new decade and in glorious colour, the bar was raised. The same formula which had worked so well in the past was well and truly worn out.

It does help that if you are trying to convince viewers of the idea of giant monsters of some kind, in this instance dinosaurs, then how you bring them to life should be the priority. The combination of tatty plastic model work and crude stop-motion animation will have you running for the nearest Ray Harryhausen flick. There are some awful special effects on show here, ranging from the clay T-Rex squishing a yellow toy bus full of passengers right down to the ridiculously unexciting finale featuring the T-Rex squaring off against a steam shovel on the edge of a cliff. The low budget and rushed production combination really show whenever these dinosaurs are on screen. The brontosaurus fairs a little better but that’s only because it’s not around as long as the T-Rex. You’d expect the dinosaurs scenes to more entertaining than the rest of the film and they are but only mildly.

The combination of green screens (or whatever they used back in the day), miniature sets and all sorts of other fancy camera tricks really shows up the cracks in the effects department at every possible opportunity. Hardly a scene goes by without some ropey special effect coming into play. Even the actors look like talking in front of huge projectors in specific scenes. Day-for-night photography ruins a lot of the night scenes and watching the dinosaurs interact with the humans is laughable – the first unlucky local who gets attacked by the T-Rex looks like he’s being tickled rather than eaten alive.

If the presence of two dinosaurs wasn’t enough to make the island panic, there’s also a caveman running riot. This is how the film deals its comedy hand – having the caveman be domesticated by the annoying child star. Watch as he tries eating with a fork, wonders what a mirror is and, in the film’s worst scene (and it takes some topping believe me!), the caveman tries on a dress. I’m being a little hard on this whole sequence to be honest. Gregg Martell does a wonderful job of portraying a man who has been taken out of his element and is struggling to cope with a world that is alien to him.

The problems extend to the rest of the film so don’t think that it just the effects that are stinking up the joint. The acting is really wooden right across the board with the exception of Martell (who just grunts anyway) and there’s a whole bunch of stereotyped characters waddling around the film from the corrupt local businessman to comic relief sidekick and straight-laced white man hero. The irritating child actor wines and whinges his way through every scene he’s in. You’ll be wishing he turns into dino chow at some point but films in the 60s weren’t that cruel. The narrative is a real slog to get through and the film doesn’t really do much in its running time when you look back on it.

 

Dinosaurus! is feeble 60s ‘entertainment’ at its most primitive and basic. It just about manages to tick off a couple of genre boxes within its running time and, despite being squarely aimed at the younger audience, even youngsters would find Dinosaurus! both boring and a laugh at the same time.

 

 ★★☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆ 

 

 

Land Unknown, The (1957)

The Land Unknown (1957)

DEEP IN THE ANTARCTIC WILDERNESS!

Four members of a major Antarctic expedition find themselves stranded in a remote area when their helicopter is forced to land inside a volcanic crater some 3,000 feet below sea level. They find themselves trapped in a tropical environment which has survived from the prehistoric era and is home to a variety of large carnivorous dinosaurs. It is here where they encounter Dr Carl Hunter, the lone survivor from a previous expedition that went missing years earlier and were presumed dead.

 

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s The Lost World is one of the most famous literary texts of all time. It has been adapted time and time again for film and television and will no doubt continue to do so for years to come. Published over one hundred years ago, the book tapped in man’s fascination with the Earth before we arrived on the scene as a species and just what things had been like during the time of the dinosaurs. The book influenced many others including Edgar Rice Burrough’s The Land That Time Forgot. The birth and development of film as an art and entertainment form at the turn of the 20th century gave rise to a number of films which brought this world to life. From 1925’s The Lost World right up to King Kong’s exploits on the island, exotic and tropical lands beaming with dinosaurs had become the norm. The Land Unknown was a little late to the genre party but it came amidst a flurry of atomic monster movies or alien invasion films during the 50s.

Despite’s it’s obvious flaws, The Land Unknown is a solid, imaginative sci-fi film which brings to life a prehistoric valley filled with hot geysers, tropical flora and deadly dinosaurs with reasonable success. This must have been one expensive film to make back in the 50s, with these elaborate and intricate tropical sets looking vast in scope (and miniaturised versions for the dinosaurs to stomp around in too). Some of the detail will be lost through the black and white film but you still get the idea. You would assume that this is where the majority of the cash went, though rumours are rife that the budget mainly went on the mechanical dinosaur and so they couldn’t shoot in colour as was originally planned and had to cast B-rate actors instead of the A-list celebrities that they wanted.

From what I can see, the T-Rex is just a guy in a suit stomping around miniature sets and not a mechanical creation, the plesiosaur is a wind-up bath toy (I guess this was the expensive dinosaur that blew the budget) and the other dinosaurs are simply normal lizards standing in for dinosaurs. On their own, the effects don’t hold up very well but taken into consideration with the scope of the film, it’s nice to see a bit of variety in the monsters and the way that they’re presented. Had they all have been brought to life in the same manner, there would be problems. After all, not every film could afford to splash out on expensive stop motion effects like King Kong or The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms. There’s some decent rear screen projection in some sequences, particularly that of the T-Rex chasing one character. But in other scenes, specifically the water-based ones with the plesiosaur, the rear projection is blatantly obvious. The effects are laughable and cumbersome today but understandable given the time period.

The Land Unknown does have a fair bit going for it so it’s not all cheese. The initial set up is well done and pacey enough to get us right into the heart of the action as soon as feasibly possible. The scene in which the characters inadvertently discover this world on board their helicopter is well-crafted and the descent down through the misty volcano is rife with tension and suspense. Though the cast isn’t very big, there’s enough of them to interact with the hostile environment on a regular basis. The Land Unknown has plenty of decent ideas but either no creative way to show them or simply no money to put them into practice. When the dinosaurs aren’t on screen, the film drags its feet through the swampy mud like no man’s business and even when they are on screen, they don’t do much except chase people and roar.

Where The Land Unknown veers into slightly more dangerous territory is with its portrayal of Dr Carl Hunter, a survivor of a previous expedition who has been marooned in this place for ten years. Though he’s supposed to attract our sympathy for surviving on his own for so long when the rest of his team died, it turns out that he’s a homicidal rapist who just wants to get rid of the three men and be alone with Maggie (played by Shirley Patterson).

 

The Land Unknown is a high concept film with a budget that doesn’t even come close to realising the potential. There are hints of a great film in here with the imaginative setting and effective recreation of a prehistoric ‘lost world’ but with all of the money being spent on one silly dinosaur, the producers and director were always going to be up against it.

 

 ★★★★☆☆☆☆☆☆ 

 

 

Creatures the World Forgot (1971)

Creatures the World Forgot (1971)

Survival against all odds!

After a volcanic eruption kills most of his tribe, the fierce Mali asserts leadership over the survivors and takes them on an arduous trek across a desert region to find a new land. A tribe of more advanced blonde-haired people welcomes them. Mali takes a mate from the other tribe and she gives birth to two twin boys – the peaceful and intelligent, fair-headed Toomak and the cruel, dark-haired Rool. As the two boys grow up, they compete for the role of tribal leader and the beautiful Nala.

 

I pinched most of this synopsis from elsewhere because without reading up on it, I wouldn’t have had the faintest clue about what was going on. I’m not sure how someone thought that a film about cavemen without any real dialogue for the entire duration would be a good thing but here we go with Creatures the World Forgot. Following on from their previous successes with One Million Years B.C. and When Dinosaurs Ruled the Earth, Hammer looked to make their trilogy of caveman films complete with a final instalment in the early 70s. However, Hammer was struggling to recapture its earlier successes during this period and were wanting to cut overheads in order to start clawing back money they were losing on lavish productions. So the studio decided early on to remove any notion of dinosaurs in this, leaving it a rather peculiar outing with lots of grunting, people in need of a good barber and a few bare breasts along the way.

On the flip side to this, Creatures the World Forgot is one of the more realistic caveman films out there simply for the fact that it doesn’t have the loincloth-wearing, spear-throwing savages up against a horde of hungry dinosaurs. There are some weird creatures in this but they’re smaller beasts designed to be tackled hand-to-hand rather than pluck up stragglers with their teeth – the least said about the man in the bear suit, the better. Ironically, in being the cheapest of the prehistoric films it made, Hammer turned this one in the most faithful to anthropology as it has been proven that millions of years separated the dinosaurs from man, despite countless fantasy films attempting to show otherwise. So no dinosaurs = realistic. However no dinosaurs = boredom as well.

The lack of dialogue is interesting. On one hand, I’ll give the filmmakers credit for at least trying to stand out from the crowd and make something original and innovative. On the other hand, the film fails miserably to excite or grip its audience because it is hard to get emotionally-involved with a bunch of mutes (or I should say grunters). It’s confusing at times trying to translate what is going on as multiple grunts and groans happen at once. Not helping things is a plot which moves across a number of years and which sees the young boys grow up. Too many similar-looking cavemen and cavewoman grace the screen, making it hard to identify any of them and the already-sparse narrative slowly winds its way along looking for something to showcase its characters. There are some hand-to-hand fights between individuals and between tribes, and there are moments where the cavemen have to face off against aforementioned creatures. But these lack any sense of real excitement or engagement – if we don’t know who is fighting who, why should we care?

It’s hard to really comment on the acting here though most of the cast can grunt and beat their chests like the best of them. I wonder how this was sold to agents when these actors signed up: “Get paid a few hundred quid for a few days shooting in Africa and you won’t have to say a word on camera.” There is no narration to kick the film off or end it either. The only notable star is Julie Ege, an actress that Hammer were pinning their hopes on to be the next big screen sex symbol. Whilst not in the same league as Raquel Welch in One Million Years B.C., at least Ege’s appearance looks rougher, readier and less dolled up to the eyes with make-up making it more realistic.  To get a flavour of the type of audience this was marketed at in Germany, the sight of Ege in a fur-lined bikini was slapped on the posters under the reworded title of Sex Vor 6 Millionen Jahren. Minor titillation aside, the title has nothing to do with the eventual film.

Speaking of Africa, the film gains major points for looking the part. Shot in the Namibian desert, the cinematography is excellent, enhancing the ‘forgotten world’ vibe and really creating the sense that this is a snapshot from prehistory. The spectacular scenery doesn’t make up for the lack of anything remotely exciting happening on it however.

 

Often considered one of Hammer’s worst films, it’s easy to see why Creatures the World Forgot has been given that moniker. If this was the sort of film they were banking on bringing back the good times, then it is no wonder Hammer limped along for the next few years before they stopped making films at the end of the decade.

 

 ★★☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆ 

 

 

Raptor Ranch (2013)

Raptor Ranch (2013)

They are very hungry

A small Texas town becomes a walking buffet when the dinosaur creations of an eccentric rancher escape from their pens and begin to wreak havoc. Rumoured to be raising some kind of exotic emus, the mad little scientist is breeding raptors, which is unfortunate for the mixed group of people who happen to arrive at his ranch the moment all hell breaks loose.

 

Raptor Ranch. Rolls off the tongue, doesn’t it? Sounds like one of those blatantly-obvious film titles that sum up the entire film in two words, doesn’t it? Sounds like a goofy, fun time to spend ninety minutes, right? Well you’re spot on two out of the three. Ever since Snakes on a Plane launched a no-nonsense, no-frills title, low budget filmmakers everywhere have opted to tell it how it is with their films. Are you not the least bit curious as to what a raptor ranch may be?

I’m still not entirely sure I know what a raptor ranch is supposed to be after watching this. I didn’t even know what was happening to be honest. I must have drifted off at some point. How did the dinosaurs get there? Why was only one old guy keeping them captive in pens with all sorts of highly-expensive equipment lying around? Who paid for him to do so? Doesn’t anyone ever bat an eyelid when they see him picking road kill off the kerb on a daily basis? Considering how grand the billion-dollar dinosaur set-up was in Jurassic Park, it’s impossible to believe that this one man could do the same job at a cut-price.

Raptor Ranch starts off like any other Sy Fy Original or Asylum creature feature and I was already gunning for the remote control. But it starts to improve not too far in, steadily maintaining interest until it trails off towards the end. I think the problem was, goofy title aside (and even then it was renamed The Dinosaur Experiment in some countries), that the director wanted to turn this into a horror-comedy but didn’t have a clue how to do so. There are moments when the ridiculousness of the situation threatens to boil over into slapstick. There are moments when characters say inappropriate but funny things given their circumstances. And the comic tone is light at times, if generally non-existent. Sometimes the humour is too forced and in other scenes the humour is natural. It’s a very uneven experience to say the least.

It’s good to see the characters develop a little bit in a film like this. It was looking like Raptor Ranch would go down the usual creature feature route with the number of stereotypes and caricatures it was presenting to the audience but, once the cast starts to thin out a bit, a really strange thing happens – the characters begin to grow personalities! Yes, they start to become funnier, more manic and generally more likeable than they have any right to be. Low-rent action star Lorenzo Lamas gets top billing but he share no screen time with any of the other major characters and his brief scenes look to have been added at a later date to pad out the running time and add another name to the front cover. It’s up to buxom singer Jana Mashonee to fill out the film and she does so pretty well in her tank top. It’s not rocket science to see why she was cast so the film cuts to the chase pretty early and has her parading around in a pair of Daisy Dukes. She’s a lot better in the role than her appearance would suggest.

The usual dodgy low rent special effects come out to play, with lacklustre explosions and corny dinosaurs being the name of the game. A large portion of the film is set at night so the effects look better than they would usually do but when one specific shot of a dinosaur is re-used countless times, it’s hardly rocket science to work out that the budget wasn’t exactly generous. It’s when the day arrives that the special effects come off looking as bad as they actually are. There are some practical effects hidden amongst the computer stuff and they look great. I really wished filmmakers had more confidence in their creations nowadays as they add much-needed realism to an otherwise silly plot. The T-Rex model head looks particularly good given the obvious limitations with the budget. In fact, the T-Rex is given far more to do throughout the film compared to the raptors so Dinosaur Ranch would have sounded more appropriate.

If there is one irritating thing, it’s that the dinosaurs are shown from almost the first scene. It’s daft to give away everything in the opening reel but once the novelty of seeing the dinosaurs has worn off, what is left for audiences to look forward to? They get well fed throughout the film and attacks are generally well-spaced out. The film does get bloody too and the red stuff flows freely as the dinosaurs begin to snack on the cast. Hardly the most exciting and nerve-wracking tension but at least some of the attack scenes provide some cheap thrills.

 

Raptor Ranch was a little better than I expected it to be. In a sub-genre of low budget dinosaur movies that includes Raptor Island, Planet Raptor, the Carnosaur films and Raptor, it’s got a few good things going for it. Hardly the worst genre effort out there but still needed a lot of work.

 

 ★★★★☆☆☆☆☆☆ 

 

 

Jurassic Attack (2013)

Jurassic Attack (2013)

They’re back … and they’re hungry!

A squad of army soldiers is sent into the jungle to rescue a female biochemist, who is being held captive by a ruthless South American dictator, and destroy the biochemical weapon that he now has in his possession.  But the mission goes wrong and their helicopter is shot down. Struggling through the dense jungle terrain, they stumble into an ancient valley filled with carnivorous dinosaurs.

 

Jurassic Attack currently holds the dubious distinction of being Sy Fy’s last Saturday Night Original Movie before the channel decided to move their monster mash-ups to Thursdays instead and, depending on what month of the year it is, has also been known as Rise of the Dinosaurs in some quarters. So what does that mean for the film? Well not a lot really as I was struggling to write an introductory paragraph and decided to pad it out a little. I could write the same things for Sy Fy films and usually have so decided to skip the instant criticism and waffle a little bit. Anyway on to the review…

We’ve all been there before with daft killer dinosaur flicks like Raptor Island. We know the drill: expendable soldiers, terribly-rendered CGI raptors, lots of gun fire, awful CG blood and more cheese than a dairy factory. Jurassic Attack rigidly sticks to this formula, providing a reasonably-sized platoon of largely nameless dinosaur chow, a token gruff action hero, a chick in a tight tank top, an overplayed human villain and special effects which look to have been dragged out from before the Ice Age. Originality is lacking but I wasn’t expecting it to be present to begin with.

It is coincidental that in the year Jurassic Park receives a 3-D cinematic makeover, a similar-sounding low budget cash-in pops it’s head out of the Jurassic period. There’s no working explanation for the appearance of dinosaurs in this film. You’ll be required to provide your own thesis because the film just presents it as fact. Even the low key reactions of the characters sum up the ho-hum attitude to this new-found discovery. These are dinosaurs we’re talking about, not pigeons or horses! Man’s usual reaction is to shoot first and ask questions later so before the enormity of this history-changing discovery can sink in, the soldiers are already trying to make sure that the dinosaur extinction is consigned to history once more with round after round of ammo.

Special effects-wise, Jurassic Attack fails in every department. Despite the decent cinematography (this actually looks like an undiscovered valley for a change), the dinosaurs look awful. They look poor on their own but when there’s more than one dinosaur on screen, the effects are jarring and shoddy. They don’t interact well with their real environment (footprints? water splashes?) and the scenes of the dinosaurs slashing and biting at the humans just descend into CGI blood fests. It’s a shame because the dinosaurs are well-detailed when they stand still but as soon as any movement is required, the good work goes out of the window.

What the special effects lack in quality, the film at least makes up with the quantity of dinosaur attacks. Once they’ve stumbled into the secret valley, this group is never five minutes away from another devastating dino encounter. Whilst there’s no real shock to the order of death of the characters, you never get the sense that the film is coasting. There’s always a random dinosaur attack to keep things fresh and interesting. The dinosaur selection is varied too with raptors, T-Rexes and Triceratops all causing problems for the characters.

Fresh off battling the titular monsters in Mega Shark Vs Crocosaurus, Gary Stretch takes centre stage once more as the action hero. Stretch was the best thing about that film and he’s the best thing on display here. He’s never going to make it big but in the lead role in these daft low budget films, he’s found his niche. Stretch looks and sounds like he can kick some ass as the dinosaurs find out first-hand. Regular B-movie actor Corin Nemec gets a supporting role as an army commander who spends his entire screen time holed up in the ‘command centre’ location. Every one of these films has to have a small command centre with three or four army guys staring blankly at the camera pretending to push buttons and give out orders to the main characters. So why Nemec, a popular mainstay in these monster movies, is relegated to background duty with a pointless role is beyond me. He spends the bulk of his screen time butting heads with Vernon Wells’ dodgy ‘Agent’ character. Basically the corporate/government suit, Wells is another guy I’d expect to see in a bigger role in something like this and Jurassic Attack wastes two of its biggest assets in non-essential parts.

 

Throw all of this into the grinder and what you get is about eighty minutes of mildly entertaining but ultimately forgettable mush which will no doubt be reheated and reserved under the guise of another dino romp in the future. Jurassic Attack isn’t Sy Fy’s worst outing but it’s not exactly recommended viewing.

 

 ★★★★☆☆☆☆☆☆ 

 

 

Dinocroc (2004)

Dinocroc (2004)

It feeds on fear.

Scientists at the Gereco Corporation discover an accelerated growth hormone in the fossils of a prehistoric super-crocodile and extract the DNA to create new prototypes of the dinosaur back in the lab. However one of the infant crocodiles kills an employee and manages to escape into a local lake where it begins to eat anything and anyone in its path. The corporation hires a famous reptile hunter to bring it back but he isn’t the only one who is out to stop it.

 

It seems like an eternity since Dinocroc was released in 2004 but that’s been mainly down to the ridiculous number of ‘prehistoric creatures on the loose’ films that have emerged from the Roger Corman stable since. Dinocroc was one of the ‘pioneering’ efforts that paved the way for such classics as Dinoshark and Supergator and then the inevitable Dinocroc Vs Supergator. It sees that Corman struck straight-to-DVD gold when he began producing these cheap modern monster movies and has been mining it dry ever since.

This doesn’t mean to say that Dinocroc is in any way, shape or form an original film. To say that there’s been nearly ten years between it being released and this review, the formula has not changed one bit. So much so that you could quite easily swap out the dinocroc creature here and place in a giant snake or other carnivorous monster and there would be no difference to the overall narrative. The only reason any sane person would tune in to watch is to see what a giant prehistoric crocodile that can walk on two legs actually looks like. I was half-expecting some animatronic puppetry but Dinocroc joins the twentieth century by bringing its monster to life in CGI. It comes off looking like a low-rent version of the 1998 Americanised Godzilla. It bugs me that the monster is so alike – could effects man-turned-director Kevin O’Neill not have thought of anything more original? I mean he’s got a blank slate to design a cool-looking dinocroc and just wastes it by creating mini-Godzilla. There’s not a hint of crocodile in here at all.

Even with a generic look, the effects are really poor and there’s not too many variations on the animations. So whilst you see a lot of the monster, it’s always the same shots of it rampaging through the swamp. The CGI effects also lend it ridiculous speed and agility, a common fault with many modern monsters. Surely something this big and cumbersome would be slow and stealthy? But it can swim faster than a speed boat when it needs to and can outpace a jeep when on land. It is also given some silly Gregorian chanting music theme so whenever it appears on screen, this unholy demonic choir begin singing. I don’t know what the intention was with this but I’m pretty sure the resultant effect on the film isn’t what they wanted it to be. With severed heads and bloody limbs flying around and at the camera, the death scenes are at least gory and some come out of nowhere. It’s a shame that the effects don’t stand up to much scrutiny when they do happen.

Whilst Dinocroc wracks up the clichés and rigidly sticks to the rules for the most, there are odd moments where it threatens to break free of its shackles and become entertaining. It never does however, despite graphically feeding a young child to the dinocroc in one shocking scene. It gets well fed too with the amount of non-characters that find themselves trapped between its jaws. There are plenty of stereotypical characters on display but as they’re all sort-of essential to the story, there’s no chance of them getting harmed until the finale. From bitchy corporate villains, to no-nonsense local sheriffs, scientists appalled with how their creation has turned out and a local animal control officer who will no doubt find love with the hero of the piece by the time the credits roll (who also happens to be her ex-boyfriend).

Costas Mandylor, who went on to greater fame as Jigsaw’s protégé in the Saw films, stars in the lead role as the token ‘great white hunter’ character who is tasked with tracking down and killing the creature. Mandylor plays the Aussie role like a more jacked-up version of the late Steve Irwin. But whilst the role cries out for a tongue-in-cheek parody performance, Mandylor, and the film for that matter, keeps things all serious and dull. Veteran character actor Charles Napier is on hand as, surprise surprise, the local badass sheriff. Napier can do these roles in his sleep, which is most likely where you’ll be after an hour or so of this.

 

Dinocroc is what happens when Roger Corman decides to blend Jurassic Park, Godzilla and Alligator together. It’s pretty worthless overall but I know some of you out there won’t be able to resist the lure of another prehistoric creature feature flick.

 

 ★★★★☆☆☆☆☆☆ 

 

 

Planet of Dinosaurs (1977)

Planet of Dinosaurs (1977)

Trapped On A Lost World of Prehistoric Monsters

A group of astronauts escape the imminent destruction of their starship on board an escape pod and head for the nearest planet which appears to be capable of supporting human life. After crash landing on the surface, the survivors find that they have no way of signalling for a rescue and set off to find a safe place to set up camp. However the planet is inhabited by an array of carnivorous dinosaurs which see the new arrivals as food.

 

Save for Ray Harryhausen flying a flag for stop motion monster movies, I didn’t think anyone else made these type of stop motion effects-driven films in the late 70s. But after recently discovering Planet of Dinosaurs and The Crater Lake Monster, I was wrong and look forward to uncovering more of this dying breed of film. Planet of the Dinosaurs is a cheap and nasty drive-in movie by definition but hides within it a fantastic array of stop motion special effects that would have Ray Harryhausen giving them a round of applause.

Straight from the off, Planet of Dinosaurs looks to be a blatant Planet of the Apes clone as we head into familiar territory. As well as the ‘Planet of…..’ title, here we have a spaceship which crashes into a lake in a remote location on a barren planet and the crew are forced to escape before their ship sinks. Stranded without hope of rescue, the crew then set off in pursuit of shelter, food, water and some form of civilisation. Only this is where the comparisons then end – instead of intelligent simians, these unlucky astronauts come face-to-face with a whole host of hungry dinosaurs. And this is where the fun begins. Far from being a serious science fiction flick, Planet of Dinosaurs descends into a cheese fest of epic proportions.

After being harassed by the dinosaurs for the first half of the film in which some of their number are picked off, the survivors decide to fight back and let the dinosaurs know who is in charge (as humans as a race have a tendency to do in science fiction films). From about the half an hour mark, the film is almost a non-stop collection of sequences involving various humans battling against the dinosaurs using spears, bow and arrows and stockades. If you came along thinking that you’d be cheated out of plenty of dino-action, then you’re completely wrong.

Planet of Dinosaurs‘ strength lies in the quality of its monsters. The dinosaurs are old school stop motion. And there are a lot of them. I can’t believe how frequently they appear on the camera. To say that this made outside of the studio system and given how low cost the rest of the film is, the special effects look fantastic. The T-Rex is the standout monster, looking suitably menacing, and could easily have been lifted from a Ray Harryhausen film. There are a stegosaurus, a triceratops and a brontosaurus to name a few others which are all animated with precise skill and technique. A few familiar names crop up in the effects department including Jim Danforth who worked on films like Jack the Giant Killer and assisted Harryhausen in the original Clash of the Titans. With talented people on board to produce some quality special effects, it makes a nice change to actually see where the money has gone.

The script and the acting do the most harm to Planet of the Dinosaurs. Whilst the story itself is basic and sees the ‘futuristic’ humans having to revert back to hunter-gather mode (which is perfectly completed by the abrupt final scene), the dialogue is appalling , though thankfully there’s not as much dialogue as I was expecting given how much action there is. These lines are delivered just as badly by the cast. Made up of gruff, bearded-men and good-looking, busty women, the film could be mistaken for some low rent porno flick. But it adds a little goofy charm to proceedings, especially as one male character spends almost the entire length of the film without his shirt on.

It isn’t just the quality of the dialogue and the delivery of them which is frustrating but the manner in which characters constantly put themselves in danger by making really stupid decisions. The females are the worst – if they’re not forgetting to pack communications equipment when their escape pod sinks, then they’re dropping the group’s food supply over the edge of a cliff. With the captain being an ineffectual dweeb who wants to run from the dinosaurs, another crew man wanting to beat his chest and do his best caveman impression, and another character just generally annoying the hell out of everyone by moaning about everything, there is dissent among the crew. Unsurprisingly, we never get to really know any of the characters in any great depth other than their stereotypes and so our support lies squarely in the dinosaurs, on whose planet these annoying characters have been dumped.

Planet of Dinosaurs also comes off like Tour of the Planet of Dinosaurs during the many scenes of the survivors walking around the desolate landscape looking for safety. There are far too many scenes of them climbing rocks, walking through swamps and scouring through bushes. There’s little attempt to drive the narrative in any direction and by the end of the film, whilst you may have had a fun time, you’d wonder what the point in it all was.

 

Planet of Dinosaurs is a curious film which didn’t sound particularly great but ended up being a lot of cheesy fun. Though it’s supposed to be set in the future, this is 70s camp at its purest. It’s got its fair share of problems but the quality and sheer number of special effects throughout the film should guarantee stop motion fans a great time.

 

 ★★★★★★☆☆☆☆