Monday, July 28, 2014

Carnosaur 2 (1995)

Roger Corman is a legend for many, many reasons. One such reason is his unerring ability to cash in on a new, popular film in a way that The Asylum can't even dream of. Sure, cashing in on Snakes On A Plane by making a movie called Snakes On A Train is kind of brilliant--but that's nothing compared to how Corman responded to Jurassic Park.

Not only did Corman recognize the hit potential of Jurassic Park far enough ahead of time to not only have his own rip-off ready--also ostensibly based on a novel, albeit only sightly more faithfully than World War Z, and featuring the mother of one of Jurassic Park's stars--but he got it into theaters a full month before the film he was cashing in on!

So it is therefore fitting that Corman also beat Jurassic Park to releasing sequels. This film came out a full two years before The Lost World: Jurassic Park finally got its act together, and Carnosaur 3 came out a year after this film. Thus is the benefit of relying on John Carl Buechler puppets and guys in suits instead of revolutionizing Hollywood effects: your turnaround is almost immediate.

Now, Carnosaur 2 goes one better than the film it follows by managing to not just rip off Jurassic Park, but the entire plot of a different Hollywood blockbuster. You'll probably figure out which one as we go along. It also continues the trend set by the first film of apparently having some serious issues with women, but we'll get to that.

The credits roll over desert scenery interspersed with quick cuts of footage from the first film (and I'll note here that John Carl Buechler's name is misspelled in the credits). Now, given that the first film ended with a virus that was causing women to give birth to dinosaurs and die sweeping the world, you might expect that this film opens in a post-apocalyptic future where dinosaurs rule the earth again and humanity is dying out.

You'd be wrong. And probably disappointed.

No, I guess that either this film is following a different continuity or it just wasn't as bad as all that. Business has apparently continued as usual at the government-run Yucca Mountain uranium mine in the Nevada desert. Or so it has until some schmuck in a cowboy hat is set upon by a snarling POV cam as he is searching through the bowels of the facility for the source of some issue or other. Presumably his last words were a gurgled, "Welp...there's your problem."

Meanwhile, teenager Jesse (Ryan Thomas Johnson) and his friend are breaking into the dynamite storage closet using a keycard-hacking device borrowed from John Connor. His uncle, one of the lead engineers, first finds a huge chunk torn out of the cables in the corridor that are somehow crucial to the mine's operation--and then finds Jesse and friend mucking around with dynamite. A brief lecture is followed by Jesse being dragged topside--where, in order to keep him busy while his uncle talks with the communications tech, Jesse is shown by another engineer how to work a forklift and the lever that opens the gate to a 150-foot deep pit. I'm sure that won't come in handy later.

The communications guy was able to send a message and a repair crew should be on their way in a few hours. Jesse and his father retire to the mine's diner. His father believes Jesse is responsible for the damaged cables, but Jesse insists he is not. Jesse is somewhat vindicated when the cafe's proprietor goes outside to chase away what he thinks is a coyote getting into the trash--and instead finds something capable of tossing him back through the diner's window. The something then follows and backhands Jesse's father to death before setting in on the rest of the diner's patrons while Jesse cowers in a corner...

The next morning, a government-contracted team of repair technicians are called in to the office at the crack of dawn. Reed (John Savage) just seems depressed and tired, Monk (Rick Dean) is complaining to Rawlins (Arabella Holzbog) about how the call was the interruptus to his extramarital coitus, and Moses (Miguel A. Nunez, Jr!) is tired and irritated with Monk. None of them knows why they were called in, until their eye-patched boss, Kehane (Don Stroud), walks in with Major McQuade (Cliff De Young). McQuade--who is oddly decked out in a flannel shirt and tan vest--explains that they are being called in to help out with a short in Yucca Mountain's systems. Ideally, a civilian crew would not be called in but the mine is on a schedule and this crew was the closest. McQuade has no idea the nature of the issue, of course, because radio contact ceased right after it was called in.

The crew takes off in a helicopter piloted by Galloway (Neith Hunter), while Monk blasts "Ride of the Valkyries" from a boombox. Once they land, Moses has to hotwire a door in order to enter the facility. Inside they find the place trashed and empty--and in the mess hall they find blood and a catatonic Jesse, who somehow escaped the notice of whatever ate everyone else by...cowering in the corner. McQuade ignores the team's vocal misgivings and Moses gets to work fixing the computers in the control room.

Reed takes Jesse to the infirmary to check him out with Galloway's help. McQuade tries to question Jesse, but it's no good. McQuade insists that the crew couldn't have run away because there's nothing but desert for 80 miles. The team wants to leave, but McQuade refuses and successfully pressures Galloway into refusing to fly the group out. With little choice the group begins to work on the job they were called out there for, even as it gets more suspicious by the minute--the computer system is too sophisticated for a mining operation and Monk pulls up a radiation readout that indicates some of the levels are "Unsafe."

Reed tries to bond with the catatonic Jesse by talking about his now deceased son that Jesse reminds him of. Perhaps to stop Reed from stroking his cheek awkwardly, Jesse begins having a flashback to the attack on the mess hall and muttering, "God help us all." After Jesse calms down, Reed leaves him so that Galloway can have her turn at stroking his face inappropriately. Galloway brings a now-conscious Jesse into the control room with Moses as the rest of the team descends into the lower levels of the facility as Moses monitors their progress through cameras and radio.

McQuade stops the group from going into a lower level because it's classified, but Reed and Rawlins just barge past him. They really should have listened--Rawlins finds a huge tooth in some cables and while the others try to get a frightened McQuade to give up some answers, something roars. Kehane had wondered off from the group to get a better radio signal, but he only succeeds in being dragged to his death by something with scaly claws. The rest of the group flees back up toward the control room, where Jesse has fully snapped out of it as he realizes what's happening and runs away. Galloway follows, which means that Moses is left on his own in the control room--when a "Velociraptor" attacks.

"Look, if this is about Juwanna Mann, I understand your frustration..."

Now, the dinosaur that held this role in the first film was an actual Deinonychus--whom some of you may recognize as the dinosaur this blog is named after. In this film, much like Jurassic Park, the dinosaur is still a Deinonychus in size and build, but it's supposed to be a Velociraptor. I'll play along and call it a raptor, but it's really a step-down: Deinonychus is way cooler than Velociraptor any day of the week.

Anyways, the "Raptor", which is plainly a guy in a suit, proceeds to slap the hell out of Moses. Galloway comes back just in time to witness this as Moses yells for her to leave and is then dragged up into an duct by the Raptor. Galloway takes Moses' last words to heart and runs to the helicopter and gets it running. Jesse joins the others and they rush out to the helicopter as Galloway yells at them to get in.

Unfortunately, Galloway has an unexpected passenger already.

"Take this chopper to Cuba!"
The Raptor's attack causes the chopper to lift off and then a not very convincing model to crash back down and explode. McQuade still dodges any questions but insists that they can't leave by foot--80 miles of desert, remember--so their best bet is to hole up back inside. In the control room, McQuade finally reveals that 2 months earlier a biotech firm somehow discovered a way to bring back dinosaurs. Naturally, the dinosaurs went wild and started killing people. A team was sent in to wipe out the dinosaurs and succeeded--but a nest of eggs was found and stored in the Yucca Mountain facility. The eggs were on ice but clearly they thawed out.

(And yes, McQuade says "months" not "years." That's a hell of a growth rate these Raptors have!)

With Jesse's help the group finds the store room where the dynamite is kept. Over McQuade's objections, Reed and Monk go down to retrieve the dynamite. After a false scare with a pet iguana, the two find the store room but McQuade remotely seals them in intending to keep them there until the Evac team arrives. However, Reed breaks the panel control the door easily and the two are free.

Reed goes down a level to begin setting dynamite snares. McQuade knocks Monk out and then attacks Reed--but McQuade is distracted when an alarm sounds and is followed by an announcement of containment failure. Monk knocks McQuade out and then Reed uses a flare gun to kill the Raptor that ambushes Monk.

Up in the control room, McQuade reveals that the lower levels of the facility are a nuclear waste repository--plutonium, nuclear warheads, MUTO eggs, you name it. McQuade figures the alarms mean they have about 2 hours till the facility is a big mushroom cloud. So either dinosaurs or nuclear explosions, either way they're all dead. Jesse suggests they crash the whole system: in theory that will set off enough alarms for the government to send an Evac team pronto.

Reed, Monk, and McQuade set about placing dynamite booby traps and then Reed leaves the boombox blasting "Ride of the Valkyries" to...annoy the Raptors? Do dinosaurs hate Wagner?

"RAR! You're only playing this because it's public domain! RAR!"
While Jesse works on the shutdown codes, he and Reed bond as Reed explains that he used to have a son, too. Finally, Jesse gets the code and shuts the system down--and right on cue, the dynamite snares begin going off. Unfortunately, it quickly becomes clear that the Raptors are somehow still getting closer to the control room. You see, they've figured out the traps and how to set them off.

Qouth Monk, "What do you mean, figured it out? They're lizards, man!"

I trust you have by now figured out what the other movie being ripped off is, but if not you will soon.

"Lizards?! How dare you, sir!"
The group rushes to the elevator, barely escaping a Raptor that tries to get in through the control room hatch. The elevator takes its sweet time in moving and another Raptor bursts through the ceiling, grabs Rawlins, and hauls her off to her doom.

Now, remember when I said this movie had issues with women? The fact that there are only two female characters and they both end up as dino-chow doesn't necessarily mean anything. Except that every other victim of the Raptors thus far has just been slapped around a bit, bloodied, and then discretely dragged away to their certain death.

Not so with Rawlins. We get to watch as the Raptor graphically tears off her arm and then rips her guts out before she finally expires.

Yeah. Issues.
"Look, my psychiatrist said it was a healthy way to deal with my anger at my ex-wife!" --the director, probably.
Somehow the Raptor attack causes the elevator to fall several levels. Reed takes out a Raptor with dynamite, but then another Raptor sets off a trap too close to Monk. Monk is injured, but Mcquade volunteers to help him while Reed and Jesse head for the surface. Unfortunately, Raptors quickly surround McQuade and Monk and McQuade grabs the last of the dynamite and lights it--killing himself and Monk, but taking several Raptors with them.

Reed somehow manages to fall over a railing. Jesse tries to help him up, but Reed slips and plunges a hundred feet down and lands on a bunch of metal pipes. Somehow, Reed survives this. Jesse hollers down that he'll be back with help. Jesse runs outside to where the Evac Team is waiting with a helicopter and tries to tell them that they need to rescue Reed. The Evac Team tries to just put Jesse on the chopper, but Jesse refuses to go and runs back in, taking the elevator down. He finds Reed, who has developed a slight limp from his fall and they head off--somehow taking a different route than Jesse came in and finding several dismembered bodies.

And then the T-Rex shows up.

Without the lens flare.
Delightfully, the T-Rex is bellowing the generic dinosaur roar used by the T-Rex in The Land Unknown and by King Kong in the 1976 remake as it somehow catches the two by surprise. They outrun it and make it to the elevator. Topside the two are helped to the chopper, but Jesse forgot the remote for the detonator (yeah I've watched this several times and I'm not certain when this remote was ever set up, but whatever) and runs back to the elevator to get it. Which means he is nearby when the T-Rex bursts out of another door (!) and proceeds to grab the only black guy in the Evac Team by the head, bite his head off, and then shake his headless corpse until it falls apart.

So the goriest deaths belong to a woman and a black man. Damn, there's a lot of unfortunate subtext going on here.

Jesse runs and gets the forklift, confronting the T-Rex. This is a familiar scene for two reasons: first, it's basically a recreation of the climax of the first film where the hero fought the T-Rex in a Bobcat (even re-using some of the footage from that sequence) and two, well, it's a blatant copy of the same scene in the film it's ripping off.

"Move back from him you female dog!"
Jesse eventually activates the the switch that opens the pit. After slashing open the Rex's stomach he finally pushes the dinosaur to its death.

"Curse my tiny arms! Come closer so I can throttle you!"
With one minute left before containment failure, Jesse rushes to board the helicopter. The chopper takes off and then Reed grabs the remote and sets off the detonator (!), blowing the facility sky high. Yeah, I don't get it either. What was the countdown for if the heroes were just going to blow the place up?

At any rate, the chopper somehow outruns a nuclear blast and Reed assures Jesse that it's all going to be okay. Well, until they hear from James Cameron's lawyers, that is.

Yes, as I'm sure you figured out very early on, this film might be the most shameless rip-off of Aliens ever made. It is almost a scene-for-scene remake of Aliens, if you switched the setting to modern day Earth, replaced aliens with dinosaurs, and strong female characters with misogyny. Hell, McQuade is dressed exactly like Paul Reiser as Burke.

It's so shameless you're forced to admire it, even if you don't like it.

And boy, I used to not like it. I saw it at around 11 or 12, before I had actually even seen Aliens all the way through, and I was not a fan. Maybe it was because I didn't like seeing all the women and minorities bite it--I was a very progressive kid in some ways--or maybe it was because the video case promised me something that the movie inside never delivered upon:

Great, I just directed a lot of Vore traffic to this site, didn't I?
No, no cheesecake photoshoots are interrupted by hungry T-Rexes in this movie--or whatever is supposed to be happening in that still.

However, when I was younger there were a lot of movies I wrote off as terrible and then years later discovered I enjoyed. Some of that was that my tastes, like most people's, changed as I got older. I no longer found gore to be a bad thing in films that I watched.

That alone is not why I sought this film out: I sought it out because a weird form of nostalgia began to overtake me a few years ago. Usually, nostalgia is for things you loved as a child and even now can't entirely give up. The form of nostalgia that struck me, however, was for things that even young me knew were terrible.

So it was that I sought out the Carnosaur trilogy and discovered that, yes, I actually do like Carnosaur 2 now.

Obviously, the film coasts a lot on the plot it's stolen from a beloved genre film, but its own merits lie in other areas. For one, the dinosaurs are delightful and delightfully terrible: I've always loved Buechler's adorable T-Rex robot and puppet, and it's in fine form here--both for the good and the hilariously cheesy. The Raptors are not even for a moment convincing and their terribleness is what makes them great. Even though none of the prehistoric denizens of this film hold a candle to the dinosaurs of their immediate inspiration, they have just as much personality and charm.

The acting ranges from pretty good to acceptable. Nobody is awful, but John Savage ought to make everyone watching laugh with his hilariously exaggerated Brooklyn accent. I swear it gets more pronounced as the film goes on. At one point he hollers, "You're a buncha sick bastahds!"

This really isn't a good film, exactly, but it has a charm to it that modern day direct-to-video rip-offs and rehashes just don't have. This film is trying. It doesn't just accept that it's terrible and expect you to laugh with it instead of at it. It runs with its obviously borrowed plot and delivers guys in Raptor suits slapping people in the face. And I will take that over a hundred Sharknados.

I'm really not sure why this film is such a shameless rip-off of Aliens. Maybe Roger Corman figured that, since he gave Cameron his start, that any of Cameron's successes were fair game. Whatever the reason, you can either admire its gall or be disgusted by it. 12-year-old me was disgusted by it, but modern me loves it.

If you're looking for a good film, watch Aliens. If you're looking for an entertaining film that's exactly like Aliens but with the added detail of a T-Rex biting a guy's head off, you'll find it in Carnosaur 2.

[EDIT: For those who don't read the comments, you might have missed the fact that Ryan Thomas Johnson, this film's Jesse, weighed in on my review back in July:
Dear writer, I was the wily, tech-knowing kid in this movie. It's been a hobby of mine over the years to read reviews that pop up about Carnosaur 2, most because I'm amazed that anyone still watches it. I must say, your sum-up is one of my favorites. I indeed LOL'd a number of times.
Fun fact: The last black guy to die actually worked at the power plant where we were filming. He told one of the PAs that he always wanted to get killed in a horror movie. This dream matched perfectly with Corman's desire to not pay union actors for smaller roles.
Another fun fact: One of my best friends has worked in creature fx for years. One of his first big jobs was working on the awful 90's Godzilla that you reviewed two posts before this one.
Thanks for your kind words, Ryan! Glad I made you laugh! And the random T-Rex head-biting becomes a lot more awesome when you know the story behind it. Were I in that guy's place, I also would absolutely have asked if I could be eaten by a dinosaur in the film!]

This review is part of the Celluloid Zeroes Roundtable, "The Sincerest Form of Fraudulence." Go check out the other entries, won't you?

Checkpoint Telstar fights a Battle Beyond The Stars!

Cinemasochist Apocalypse gets a little too frisky with Inseminoid!

Tomb of Anubis challenges a few Death Racers!

Micro-Brewed Reviews needs an adapter for a Cyberjack!


  1. Dear writer, I was the wily, tech-knowing kid in this movie. It's been a hobby of mine over the years to read reviews that pop up about Carnosaur 2, most because I'm amazed that anyone still watches it. I must say, your sum-up is one of my favorites. I indeed LOL'd a number of times.

    Fun fact: The last black guy to die actually worked at the power plant where we were filming. He told one of the PAs that he always wanted to get killed in a horror movie. This dream matched perfectly with Corman's desire to not pay union actors for smaller roles.

    Another fun fact: One of my best friends has worked in creature fx for years. One of his first big jobs was working on the awful 90's Godzilla that you reviewed two posts before this one.

    1. Sorry I took forever to reply, but thanks for sharing the anecdote about the power plant worker. I totally would have wanted the same thing in his place!