Tammy and the T-Rex is being released on special edition 4K Ultra HD and Blu-ray today, and the occasion should be honored as a national holiday. If you’ve not seen the film, it is the kind of fever dream you would have on the couch after passing out in neon shorts with a belly full of Totino’s Pizza Rolls on a Saturday afternoon in 1994. It’s the exact movie a horny 8th grader would invent after watching his Jurassic Park VHS for the 30th time. It’s the cinematic equivalent of using a Goosebumps book to try and hide an erection. This is a roundabout way of saying it is one of the greatest motion pictures ever made. And this aggressively horny, B-movie splatterfest was originally released as a family film.
The most important thing you need to know about Tammy and the T-Rex is that it opens with a cheerleading montage set to a hair metal song sung from the point of view of an actual Tyrannosaurus. The film follows Tammy (inexplicably referred to as “Tanny” in both the opening and end credits, because Tammy and the T-Rex seeks to challenge your very concept of reality), a high school cheerleader with a history of dating handsome psychopaths. The latest is Michael, a vague football star who was apparently cursed to lose all of his fights in the most embarrassing way possible, judging by the unholy ass-beating he catches mere minutes into the film from Tammy’s ex-boyfriend Billy. Michael is only barely able to win fights as a mechanical dinosaur, but I’ll get to that in a moment.
Denise Richards and Paul Walker play Tammy and Michael, which is iconic casting because they’re essentially the same person. Both of them barely had any acting credits to their name when they filmed Tammy and the T-Rex, a fact that blazes out of the screen and melts your retinas with every gloriously bizarre line reading and facial expression. Also, both actors enter the film wearing crop tops, because early ‘90s athleticism refused to bow to oppressive gender roles.
As I mentioned, within the first 3 minutes of the film, Paul Walker gets his ass kicked inside out by an adult man with his jeans tucked into his boots, doing his best to masquerade as a teenager despite visibly being at least 27 years old. After what can best be described as a pro wrestling match in front of the high school, the cops get called and the fight ends with both men crushing each other’s dicks in a vise grip and screaming into each other’s open mouths. The sheriff calls it “a testicular stand-off.” We are now five minutes into Tammy and the T-Rex, a movie which, much like its characters, grabs you by the dick and refuses to let go. And again, someone looked at this epic adventure and thought, “You know who would enjoy this? Parents and their young children.”
Meanwhile, on the other side of town, a mad scientist has constructed a ten-foot-tall Tyrannosaurus Rex puppet and seeks to perfect it by adding a human brain. Why he built the robot or what he intends to do with it once he has given it human intelligence is never adequately explained. This scene introduces what is easily my favorite decision of the filmmakers, which is they clearly realized they could never pass their t-rex animatronic off as an actual dinosaur so they just wrote it to be a robot. Also, the scientists demonstrate the robot’s power by having a bodybuilder put a barbell into its mouth. Forrest Gump be damned, Tammy and the T-Rex is the best film of 1994.
Billy shows up later with his gang of hooligans (including Sean Whalen, he of the classic “Aaron Burr” Got Milk ad directed by Michael Bay and the Pauly Shore comedy Jury Duty) to beat the biscuits and gravy out of Michael once again. But this time, Billy throws Michael into the trunk of his car and drives him to a jungle cat safari apparently located in the middle of Newbury Park, California to execute the world’s most elaborate murder. Michael gallops through the woods in terror as he encounters a lion and a panther in varying states of mild disinterest before finally getting mauled into a coma, which is an underreported side effect of lion attacks. The mad scientist catches wind of Michael’s plight, abducts him from the hospital and transplants his brain into the Tyranno-Bot. I fucking love this film.
After improbably convincing Tammy that her dead boyfriend lives on in the body of a state fair animatronic, Michael wreaks terrible vengeance on everyone who wronged him, generally requiring his victims to engage in near-vaudevillian acts of buffoonery to all but stick their own heads into his mouth. Meanwhile, Tammy and her BFF Byron, a blinding constellation of every “gay best friend” trope ever created, try to find Michael a new body, including a truly memorable scene in which Tammy attends Michael’s funeral dressed as TV’s Blossom only to dig his coffin up after the service and discover his remains have been reduced to funhouse skeleton status by enthusiastic rats and the natural process of decay.
Tammy and the T-Rex is intentional shlock, designed as an homage to campy drive-in horror films. In no way is this more evident than in the work the film does to create the illusion that the aggressively stationary dinosaur robot is actually stomping its way through SoCal suburbia, including a scene wherein Michael, as the Dinobot, dials a payphone using a pair of cartoonishly long Muppet arms. And while the film is certainly trash, there are moments of genuine comedy to be found, as well as a handful of slapstick gore sequences that are as bloody as they are absurd. There are also several scenes that require the film’s actresses to engage in what can best be described as an alien’s idea of human sexuality, including Denise Richards doing an awkward striptease for Michael’s disembodied brain and the movie’s Mean Girl having fully-clothed intercourse in the backseat of a car while shrieking out her disturbing ecstasy like an exorcised demon. “Family film,” a deranged producer whispered. Which deranged producer? Read on.
The movie was written and directed by Stewart Raffill, the visionary artist behind Mac & Me, The Ice Pirates, and the first draft of Passenger 57, which many of you undoubtedly remember as the film in which Wesley Snipes kicks Bruce Payne out of a wide-bodied airliner. And the making of Tammy and the T-Rex is arguably just as entertaining a story as the film itself, which was essentially made on a dare. In a 2018 interview with the website Bristol Bad Film Club, Raffill discussed some of the standout films of his career, including Tammy and the T-Rex, a movie he admits was written entirely around the fact that they had a brief window of access to an amusement park animatronic and was probably some kind of tax scam.
“There are often tight deadlines because 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 theatres 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!” I said, “What’s the story?” and he said, “I don’t have a story, but we have to start filming within the month!” and so I wrote the story in a week.”
As far as the film’s throwback horror concept, Raffill says he came up with the idea based on the fact that they could never pass the T-Rex off as anything but a robot. The rest of the film’s goose-shitting lunacy was born of a highly professional combination of groupthink and bushels of marijuana.
“You obviously couldn’t play it as an actual monster, 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… So I wrote it, we shot it and all the locations were within 25 minutes of my house! … I was just trying to do a film for people that like wacky movies. In other words, you laugh at the experience that I was facing which is, what the hell are you meant to do with this material? I was sticking all this shit in it, just to make it work. Of course, when you only have a week to work on a script, it is a bit thin! I’m also the biggest plagiarist, I’m constantly asking the cast and crew if they have anything better that they can add. All the actors on the film though were great. Denise played that scene where she’s talking to the dinosaur for real and as best as she could. She never was a great actress, but she was pretty. When you make films like that, they’re group endeavors. In this case, we have a dinosaur head for two weeks, so what are we going to do? So you just smoke a lot of pot and try and figure it out!”
As I’ve repeatedly mentioned, for some bizarre reason Tammy and the T-Rex was heavily edited down to a PG-13 rating or its release in the United States so it could be rented by that lucrative “they were out of Jurassic Park” demographic of pre-teens wandering the aisles of Blockbuster Video. That’s because Raffill’s producer, the man who brought him the animatronic T-Rex in the first place, had envisioned a family-friendly comedy. “He said, ‘No! I wanted a Disney movie!’” Raffill told The Independent. “So he recut it into a piece of nonsense.” This conflict of vision could’ve possibly been resolved if the two men had bothered to have a single conversation about the movie, but then the universe wouldn’t have received the uncompromising gift that is Tammy and the T-Rex, and that’s not a universe in which I care to live.
Luckily the special edition fully restores the original R-rated version, but includes the sanitized cut as a curiosity. It also contains a cornucopia of irresistible bonus material, including feature commentary by Raffill and a producer. And if Raffill’s truly legendary interview with Bristol Bad Film Club is any indication, I cannot wait for him to show his entire ass while talking over 90 minutes of a rampaging dinosaur robot. The government should give every household a copy as a public service, like that year George W. Bush gave us all a few hundred bucks to fuck off down to the mall while he bombed Iraq.