Tammy and the T-Rex

Tammy and the T-Rex (1994)

Tammy and the T-Rex first published by Little White Lies, as entry 122 in my Cinema Psychotronicum column

“All you need is mobility and life beyond this boring room and the limitations of this stupid computer. I, my love, will give you that freedom. I will give you a brain. I will give you immortality!”

The speaker is the priapic, chain-smoking Dr Gunther Wachenstein (Terry Kiser), addressing the robotic dinosaur that he keeps in a warehouse and hopes to animate with a human brain transplant. A Frankenstein-like mad scientist par excellence, if somewhat out of place and time in mid-Nineties California, Gunther hopes to create a lucrative franchise of cybernetic body frames that will house the brains of the otherwise dead, whether humans or pets, and this T-rex is his improbable prototype. Yet Gunther’s words here come with a metacinematic resonance. For Stewart Raffill (The Ice Pirates, 1984; The Philadelphia Experiment, 1984; Mac and Me, 1988) was offered, out of the blue, the use of an animatronic tyrannosaur for a specific two-week period, and while the writer/director could sniff opportunity, he had very little time in which to throw together a screenplay that would flesh out this giant moving prop with a plot, with brains, and maybe with the kind of immortality that box office success can bring. Maybe – although Raffill also had enough self-awareness to make Wachenstein’s computer-savvy technician Bobby (John Franklin) quietly dismiss his boss’ – and perhaps also the filmmaker’s – grand ambitions with the comment: “What a crock of shit.”

This is the paradox of Tammy and the T-Rex: it is utterly dumb, but smart enough to know just that; and while no gag is too low for its brand of anything-goes screwball, it really does bring a lumbering kind of life to its hybrid collection of ill-fitting ideas. Stitching together elements from Sixties B-movie sci-fi, the high-school movie, the revenge flick, gross-out comedy and the previous year’s Jurassic Park, it comes with a confused identity – confused even more by the surgical excision of some six minutes of blood, guts, gore and profanity for its original US theatrical and home release in a bid to make it appeal more to the family market. In 2019, Vinegar Syndrome restored the unexpurgated version – the so-called ‘Gore Cut’ – whose heroine is credited as ‘Tanny’ and whose title is Tanny & The Teenage T-Rex

Tammy is played by a pre-Starship Troopers, pre-Wild Things, pre-Bond Denise Richards, while her boyfriend Michael is played by a pre-The Fast and the Furious Paul Walker. After Michael is left for dead in a wildlife reserve (don’t ask) by Tammy’s controlling ex Billy (George Pilgrim), Gunther does not hesitate to abduct the comatose jock, sawing open his skull for a brain transplant. Now in control of the robot dinosaur, Michael goes on a destructive rampage against Billy and his gang, while Tammy and her gay black sidekick Byron (Theo Forsett) search graves and the morgue for a more human body to accommodate Michael’s consciousness. There are ‘testicular standoffs’, interspecies romance, comedy cops, and other wild excursions, and it all climaxes in a seductive striptease that is strictly ‘no touching’. Ultimately Tammy & the T-Rex comes closest to the gonzo style of John Hughes’ Weird Science or Savage Steve Holland’s  Better Off Dead… (both 1985), but there is an oddness, an in-your-face inconsistency, to the tone and texture here that is all Raffill’s own, making this one of the Nineties’ weirder UFOs. 

“Going to screw your brains,” says Tammy at the film’s end – and that is exactly what this mind-messing movie does. It might not quite have achieved immortality, but we are still talking about Raffill’s horny low-budget campfest a quarter of a century later.

strap: Stewart Raffill’s hybrid screwball comedy/action/horror/interspecies romance is one of the Nineties’ weirder UFOs

Anton Bitel