Tammy and the T-Rex

Everybody has that list of the movies they know they should’ve seen but just haven’t yet for some reason. For me right now it includes BARRY LYNDON, THE DEER HUNTER, the ONCE UPON A TIME IN CHINA series, KUNDUN, MASTER AND COMMANDER, THE INSIDER, and others. But it no longer includes TAMMY AND THE T-REX. Progress.

TAMMY is a movie from 1994 that I was vaguely aware of as a cheesy family comedy only released on VHS. I definitely confused it with THEODORE REX at times, but I knew it had young Denise Richards (her first starring role) and Paul Walker (his third movie, after MONSTER IN THE CLOSET and PROGRAMMED TO KILL) and was supposed to be pretty crazy. Then last year there was an important new development in film scholarship: somebody discovered a print of a “gory cut” of TAMMY. Turns out before it was released straight to video it was edited down from a very R-rated horror comedy (both terms used loosely). So it played Fantastic Fest and Vinegar Syndrome released a beautiful Blu-Ray special edition and now it’s playing on Shudder.

There’s no argument that it’s a good movie, but it’s the kind of puzzler/oddity I can sometimes get a kick out of, and must’ve been fun with rowdy crowds. The first mystery comes with the title: TANNY & THE TEENAGE T-REX is what it says on screen. And since all of the opening credits for the actors include character names we get confirmation that at least the person making the credits thought Richards was playing “Tanny.” But they are clearly saying “Tammy.”

She’s a popular cheerleader – high school I believe, but I considered it could be colleged because there’s a mention of sociology class, and her best friend Byron (Theo Forsett, M.A.N.T.I.S.) is a flamboyantly gay man dressed in afrocentric garb, which seems like a friend character from a college comedy of the era. But director Stewart Raffill also did MANNEQUIN 2: ON THE MOVE, so maybe he just needed a way to recapture that Hollywood Montrose magic.

Tammy is freshly in love with half-shirt-wearing football bro Michael (Walker), but she pushes him away out of fear of her possessive ex-boyfriend Billy (George Pilgrim, TIMEMASTER), who looks and acts like the leader of a gang of alley mugger/rapists in a vigilante movie. He spends all his time terrorizing Tammy’s potential suitors, driving around in a convertible full of stooges including Weasel (Sean Whalen, THE PEOPLE UNDER THE STAIRS, WATERWORLD, ROB ZOMBIE’S HALLOWEEN II, HATCHET III, 3 FROM HELL), who calls him “boss.” That does not indicate a healthy teenage friendship, in my opinion.

But Billy didn’t count on one thing: that the football player would be wearing a cup when the two got in a schoolyard fight that includes elbow drops and an extended nut-crushing duel. To avenge this humiliation he ambushes Michael at night and leaves him in the woods where he gets attacked by a lion (!) and ends up in the hospital where he does not appear to have a scratch on him but is in “a serious coma” and mad scientist Dr. Wachenstein (Terry Kiser, Bernie from WEEKEND AT BERNIE’S) interferes and lets him die so he can bring him to a warehouse, saw open his skull and wire his brain to an animatronic dinosaur.

Not to get too political but that’s unethical in my opinion. It was also a big surprise to me because when I heard Paul Walker’s consciousness was transferred into a t-rex I assumed it was a living dinosaur, not a crude machine from a science center display. I honestly wondered if that was what they intended and then they rewrote when they realized how slow and crude this thing’s movements and expressions would be. Turns out even better: according to Raffill in an interview with the Bristol Bad Film Club, “Usually it’s all part of some tax evasion scheme, so I come in, write it and do it and that’s what TAMMY AND THE T-REX was.”

“A guy came to me who owned theaters in South America and he said, ‘I have a T-Rex.’ It was animatronic and was going to a park in Texas. The eyes worked. The arms moved. The head moved. He had it for two weeks before it was going to be shipped to Texas and he came to me and said, ‘We can make a movie with it!’”

“You obviously couldn’t play it as an actual monster,” he said, “because it wasn’t that good of an animatronic beast and I had to work with what was available, so that was the concept I came up with.”

It’s pretty clear that they’re just throwing in whatever the fuck they can come up with. It has painfully broad comedy including Michael’s corpse getting a giant boner under the sheet. The doctor has a lusty assistant named Helga (Ellen Dubin, NAPOLEON DYNAMITE, Robocop: Prime Directives: Dark Justice) who feels compelled to kiss the brainless teenage corpse. I’m sure it was easy to cut out stuff like that and some of the parts where people get their heads bit off, but I still don’t know how this was made into a family comedy. There’s a pretty big chunk of it that’s a slasher movie structure where the dinosaur sneaks around outside of a teen party eating the people who were mean to him. I like when Weasel goes to pee and sees it and seems more annoyed than surprised that, as far as he understands, somebody left a full life t-rex statue there.

But Tammy figures out it’s Michael and tries to protect him, driving him around in a trailer with his head poking out at the top. Eventually she and Byron decide that there’s a way to transfer his brain to another corpse and bring it to life, so they go to the morgue and try to pick a new body for him. I didn’t really understand Tammy and Byron’s disagreement about the size of dick on one of them, but I enjoyed the wackiness of them holding up different dead people to the window to see which one Michael wants, and he’s outside rating them with awkward t-rex gestures.

It seemed like such a totally logical and do-able plan, but it doesn’t work. Still, Tammy is a capable young lady, she figures out what to do. Of all the abrupt tonal changes, the most jarring is the cut from Tammy crying over the dead t-rex to her driving with a big smile on her face. In the epilogue her parents are worried about her but don’t realize that she’s hiding Michael’s brain in her bedroom. It’s alive in a jar and she pours whiskey on it to get drunk with him. It’s wired to a camcorder and she plays a tape (there are many rock ’n roll tunez by bands called “Jaded Heart” and “Simon Stokes and the Black Whip Thrill Band*”) and dances for him in white stockings. It nearly has a horniness meltdown when she says “I’m gonna screw your brains out.” The end.

Walker’s only in the beginning of the movie, but he’s somewhere between normal boyfriend character that comical airhead mode of his MEET THE DEEDLES era. It’s kind of cute to see now. There’s a part where he talks to Tammy on the phone, she agrees to meet him and he excitedly runs out of his bedroom, then comes back in, pulls a condom out of a drawer, and kisses it.

Richards actually kind of impressed me though. I still think her greatness in WILD THINGS has gone under-recognized, but I can’t deny that she’s one of those actresses whose outsized va-va-voomness has overshadowed and maybe even gotten in the way of any talent she may exhibit as an actress. So I really respect that early in her career, in an obviously preposterous piece of crap that was conceived and created in two weeks, she gives a totally straight and competent performance. And whether she’s riding around on the t-rex, talking to it as her boyfriend or crying over its death she seems completely sincere. Also there’s a part where she sleeps curled up with it in a barn and it has its tiny little dino hand on her butt.

Raffill is an interesting guy because he started out as an animal supervisor in the ’60s, including on Disney’s MONKEYS, GO HOME! and the Tarzan TV series. I guess that explains the random lion in this one. He got into writing and directing with THE TENDER WARRIOR (1971), about a “young swamp-boy” who protects the local animals from “a family of white-trash moonshiners.” He spent the ‘70s doing these G-rated animal adventure movies, most famously THE ADVENTURES OF THE WILDERNESS FAMILY (1975), but he’s more associated with the ‘80s because that’s when he directed THE ICE PIRATES, THE PHILADELPHIA EXPERIMENT and MAC AND ME. He’s still working, or trying to – IMDb lists a 2019 “mystery action thriller” mini-series called ISABEL & FLO, but it has no cast or other credits listed and suspiciously non-specific promotional artwork.

I have to admit this is my introduction to his works, except for one movie he has a story credit on: PASSENGER 57. But I’ve decided I need to add MAC & ME to that BARRY LYNDON list. Always bet on Mac.

*Simon Stokes wrote the lyrics for the classic Wings Hauser jam “Neon Slime” from VICE SQUAD

This entry was posted on Tuesday, January 28th, 2020 at 7:28 am and is filed under Comedy/Laffs, Horror, Reviews. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

22 Responses to “Tammy and the T-Rex”

  1. I’m excited for this becuase I used to watch this when it first came out because it was so bad and so weird. Now everybody loves it and it’s kinda annoying. Why are we cannonizing so many bad movies and making them a thing like this and Cats and The Room? Is it really because he like interesting failures or what? And why do some catch on that way while others just become forgotten only to be brought up occasionally in one of these talkbacks? I’ll hang up and listen to the discussion.

  2. This movie is cinema…

  3. @Sternshein Maybe some combination of modern blockbusters being overly formulaic/boring to discuss and debate over big movies becoming increasingly divisive and heated (see Star Wars), to the point where talking about a bad movie that everyone agrees is daft at least means you can have a fun, good-spirited discourse among friends?

  4. I am a bit nervous to see it, because there is simply no way that it can live up to the pre-re-release hype, although it seems to swing more into the “Oh yeah, I can see where they were coming from” direction of MIAMI CONNECTION, than the “Yeah…I don’t see it” of ROAR.

  5. The fact that movies like this are more widely available, often in a format with more detail, vibrancy, and accuracy than VHS thanks to our friends at Vinegar Syndrome and Shudder, is to me the best thing about our present day mediascape. I’m all for everyone talking about Tammy and the T-Rex.

    I totally did not comprehend that Paul Walker was in this movie until this review.

  6. This is some weird coincidental cosmic energy right here. Last night, I was looking through Shudder and when I passed by this on the list (I had already watched it a week or two ago), I thought to myself “Man, I hope Vern reviews this one soon.” And lo and behold… here is your review!

    Anyway, I think this one really needs to be watched either with a crowd or at least a room full of obnoxious friends. Watching it by myself, I really didn’t find it all that interesting or more entertaining than your average bad 90s movie. But, like Vern, I could see this being a total blast with the right people watching.

    But my biggest takeaway is to thank the movie gods for Shudder (ok, maybe not the movie gods but at least the people at AMC who are in charge of the Shudder programming). Shudder is really doing a great job lately of balancing legitimately great classics (either iconic well-known ones or obscure forgotten gems) with total WTF sleaze fests. They also have “channels” which essentially acts like a shuffle feature and is something I’ve wanted the other streaming platforms to do since the beginning. Sometimes I don’t want to spend half an hour looking for a title, I just want to turn on a crazy Italian gorefest halfway through.

  7. German Shudder had this channel too, but every time I turned it on, YAKUZA APOCALYPSE was running for some reason.

  8. CJ-
    This is my second time responding to this because my connection to the internet failed when I was posting. Apologies if there are two similar responses.

    The channels feature on Shudder is pretty buggy overall. Sometimes, the same “channel” will be playing completely different things on my living room and bedroom tvs. This can be pretty annoying when watching something late at night and wanting to move from the couch to the bed or whatever. Also, sometimes it seems like the movie will pause when you turn off the app and so the same movie will be at the exact same point several days later. I’m not sure what is going on with the technical side of things, but the mere existence of the channels is something that I am very happy about and willing to deal with some jankiness for now in hopes that they get the kinks ironed out. And if it ends up inspiring other streaming platforms to do something similar: Even better!

  9. I don’t understand the purpose of Shudder TV. Can’t I just stream anything it’s playing? Why would I want to watch a movie that I probably didn’t tune into the beginning of and can’t pause or rewind? Doesn’t that miss the whole point of streaming? If I wanted to pretend it was the 90s I would hook my VCR back up.

  10. Majestyk – For me, personally, most of the time I do just want to stream something from the beginning. But, other times, I just want to put something on without having to wade through a bunch of titles and figure out what I want to watch. Since I cut the cord long ago, this has taken the place of just randomly turning on cable and letting whatever is on play while I either pay attention to it or just have it as background. Basically, it’s perfect for when I want the tv on without necessarily spending a lot of effort or time picking something. Sometimes it’s nice just to jump in to a slasher film halfway through and see a few kills or whatever while I’m eating dinner. It’s also a great way to discover things that maybe I wouldn’t have chosen to watch but which turn out to be something I really like. I just really appreciate the option.

  11. That makes sense. I haven’t had cable since college so channel-surfing is a habit I long ago burned out of my system. I admit that it can be a pain in the ass always having to make a specific choice about what to watch (and sometimes I just punt on the issue and listen to a commentary track or something) but it’s important to me to not be a passive viewer. To not just watch whatever passes in front of my eyeballs. It’s how I justify all the time I spend in front of my TV. In my own hypocritical mind, I might be a screen junkie, but at least I’m an active participant in my own zombification.

  12. Vinegar Syndrome mostly do ’70s and ’80s stuff, but they also did that nice JACK FROST blu-ray. What other ’90s DTV stuff would be good for them?

  13. Since around 1990 when she was in some lousy Sports Illustrated knock off magazine’s swimsuit issue, I have been madly in love with Denise Richards. I don’t care if she is not the best actress, or has horrendous taste in men. She can be the absolute worst Bond girl in history and I would still watch whatever she is in just to see her smile. Starship Troopers, even though it is a fine satire, needs about five times as much Denise Richards in it to qualify as “good”. If you have Denise Richards in your movie and she isn’t in at least half the scenes you have failed.

    In all seriousness though, Denise Richards is maybe the most attractive woman I have ever seen.

  14. I’m one of those viewers who can’t just watch someting random. I must know what I’m going to watch long before I sit down, or else it will take me up to the lenght of a movie to find my entertainment for the night. That’s why I prefer TV shows on weekdays and movies when I’m off work.

  15. I know Ellen Dubin from the Canadian/German sci-fi co-production Lexx, where she played the cannibal Giggerota and then … the Pope. I also remember her from the Canadian series.The Collector which included her trying to track down the eponymous Collector … who worked for the Devil by the way.

  16. The thing I like about the channel in Shudder is sometimes they are starting a movie I might never have decided to watch on my own. Plus it allows them to air Joe Bob Briggs.

    Vern, the fact that no company has released deep dive DVDs into the PM Entertainment catalog pisses me off so much.

  17. I wouldn’t mind seeing the ’90s DTV output of Yancy Butler committed to Blu, specifically the Butler/Matt McCoy vehicle (ha ha) FAST MONEY which I remember as being pretty good, albeit fairly toothless, stuff. I’ve had a crush on Yancy since HARD TARGET, tho, so that may just be me.

  18. Jermone, the obvious blu ray I want is the closest we’ll get to the workprint version of Hard Target.

  19. There’s a 1973 Doctor Who story called Invasion of the Dinosaurs that features the most absurdly unrealistic dinosaurs ever created for film or TV. And yet, the story is fantastic, because all the actors play it completely straight, with no winking whatsoever. I always admire actors who don’t go broad even when they’re appearing in something that’s completely ridiculous. I don’t watch such things ironically. I’m genuinely enjoying them. Ironic viewing is immature and tedious. Like something or don’t like it. Enough goddamn irony. Irony is the voice of the trapped who’ve come to enjoy their cage. Hence why Denise Richards’s performance in Tammy and the T-Rex is so interesting. No one is required to seriously act in a movie like this, but Richards is doing something other than self-aware mugging, unlike most of the other actors who are hamming it up as broadly as possible. That makes her the best actor here by far.

    As for 90’s movies for Vinegar Syndrome to release in future, one of my favourites is a forgotten Canadian made for TV thriller Dream House from 1998, with Lisa Jakub (Mrs Doubtfire, Matinee, Independence Day) moving with her family into a new hi-tech house where an evil AI runs everything. Like D.A.R.Y.L. and C.H.O.M.P.S., the computer is called H.E.L.E.N., which stands for Home Economic Learning Environment Navigator. This wannabe Skynet has its own enormous brain room in the house, unleashes spider robots to attack people, controls other machines, including a stabbing dishwasher, and IT CAN SEE INTO PEOPLE’S DREAMS. I love it.

  20. Yancy Butler! Oh my, it’s been a minute since I’ve heard that name.

    I dig Shudder’s tv option. It’s increased my film intake significantly, because I tend to watch whatever comes on if I catch it from the beginning. I saw Haunt (which I really liked) and The Marshes (it’s okay) this way, where I prob wouldn’t have searched them out.

    Plus it’s a fun way to wake up.

  21. Hi Vern, I just wanted to check in and let you know that you are still the best.

    I’ve noticed you have been apt to view recommendations, review the classics and consider respectful requests in recent times.

    With that in mind, may I please offer that I hope you get to the Barry Lyndon part of the Barry Lyndon list one of these days. It is a great movie about placelessness and class. I think you’d have a lot of interesting and unique things to say about it, which would only be suitable, as it is a film that has a lot of interesting and unique things to say about another work of art.

    Thank you for your excellence.

    Your fan,

  22. Finally watched this on Showtime. It made me laugh out loud when the Dino attacks while the bully is with a girl, the girl screams and Billy goes, “I’m good, right?”

    The bully is extremely violent for a teen movie. Denise and Paul are adorable though.

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