Tammy & The T-Rex

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After circumstances granted B-Movie guru Stewart Raffill access to a giant animatronic Tyrannosaurus Rex the filmmaker did what anyone would do: make a movie. Of all the dinosaur films that came out in the wake of Jurassic Park (1993), Tammy & The T-Rex (1994) is by far the most original and bizarre. Unlike Roger Corman’s production Carnosaur (1993), Tammy & The T-Rex rejects the science fiction tropes of cloning and genetic manipulation, as well as apocalyptic themes in favor of robots, mad scientists, and teen gang violence. Tammy & The T-Rex is a film of 1960s drive-in plot beats executed with Clinton era excess.

Denise Richards plays Tammy, a high school cheerleader, whose boyfriend Michael (Paul Walker) is constantly terrorized by Tammy’s delinquent ex Billy (George Pilgrim) and his gang. After one of their altercations, Billy abandons Michael on a big cat preserve where he is promptly mauled by a lion. While this spells tragedy for Tammy it means opportunity for Dr. Wachenstein (Terry Kiser) and his minions who plan to transplant Michael’s brain into a robot T-Rex in hopes of unlocking the secret of immortality. What follows is an often gory adventure that pits T-Rex and cheerleader against mad scientist and cop.

Tammy & The T-Rex is, on an aesthetic level, a kind of post-modernist collage of genre tropes, archetypes, and pre-fab signifiers. The roots of the aesthetic constructs that give Tammy & The T-Rex its shape all stem from the B-Movies of the late fifties and sixties. What Raffill does is shuffle these disparate parts and then link them via their campy similarities. In this way the mad scientist horror flick finds itself immersed in the teen with a hot rod genre. Likewise characters, from Tammy to her gay best friend Byron (Theo Forsett) to Dr. Wachenstein, exist as reductive portraits of specific archetypes. The very nature of Tammy & The T-Rex is to offer an unadulterated escapist spectacle with as little emotional depth as possible.

However intentional or not, through the very nature of Tammy & The T-Rex‘s post-modernist design it manages to provide a kind of commentary on the visual codification of the exploitation film. Just like Re-Animator (1985), Tammy & The T-Rex delights the viewer with superficial titillation while it subtly deconstructs the very genres that have informed it. As weird and campy as Tammy & The T-Rex is, it is by no means a “bad movie” or even an insignificant one.

In addition to Tammy & The T-Rex, 1994 also saw the release of Clifford. These two films are misunderstood masterpieces. Tammy & The T-Rex is to the drive-in movies of the sixties what Clifford is to the Jerry Lewis films of that same decade. From the vantage point of the mid-nineties Tammy & The T-Rex and Clifford look back to the aesthetic complexes of the youth movies of their authors’ childhoods and find ways of connecting those aesthetic values to contemporary commercial cinema. These are deconstructive works that are so stylized and specific in their intertextual interplay that they deny any easy access.

While Tammy & The T-Rex and Clifford proved difficult for mainstream audiences to access intellectually, this does not mean that their value is in any way diminished. On the one hand it is exceedingly rare for one film, let alone two, to be as interesting as they are is enjoyable. On the other hand the work that Tammy & The T-Rex and Clifford accomplished is to keep often over looked genres and traditions in American cinema as a part of the ongoing aesthetic discourse between the past (the 1960s) and the present (which at the time was 1994).