Carnosaur (1993) Retrospective

SUMMARY
Dr. Jane Tiptree has withdrawn from public life to conduct sequestered research for the Eunice Corporation. The DARPA is wary of her work with genetically modified chickens but cannot legally interfere in her research. While in transport, one of Tiptree’s chickens hatches a reptilian creature which kills the driver and escapes. Meanwhile, near her laboratory in the small town of Climax, Nevada, the populace begin suffering from a mysterious illness with flu-like symptoms.

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At a neighboring Eunice-owned quarry, watchman Doc Smith protects excavation equipment from environmentalists. He reports a trespasser, Ann Thrush, but Sheriff Fowler is investigating a series of gruesome killings, perpetrated by Tiptree’s missing creature, a Deinonychus. Among the victims is the daughter of Eunice employee Jesse Paloma, but before he raises any suspicion to her research, Tiptree lures him into a laser-protected dinosaur pen where a fully grown Tyrannosaurus rex devours him.

Despite the deaths, Thrush and a group of activists handcuff themselves to excavation equipment in a form of protest. They are encountered by the Deinonychus and everyone except Thrush is slaughtered. Still in shock, Thrush is brought back by Doc to his trailer, where she survives another attack by the creature. Doc discovers a truck with two corpses belonging to Eunice and contacts Tiptree on the vehicle’s radio, deducing the creature originated from her facility. As he approaches the lab, Fowler discovers a dinosaur embryo in a carton of eggs and takes it for investigation.

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Doc infiltrates Tiptree’s laboratory and, at gunpoint, she reveals her experiment subjects to him. The town’s mysterious illness is caused by infected chicken eggs, which contain a lethal airborne virus and impregnate women with dinosaur embryos. Her objective is to exterminate the human race, which Tiptree faults as disastrous, and enable dinosaurs to repopulate the Earth. News of the town’s deaths reach Eunice sponsors who trace it to Tiptree. In response, the government places the community under quarantine and resolves to kill civilians — infected or not — on sight.

With the illness rapidly spreading, Fowler responds to a disturbance at a kennel. He confronts the Deinonychus, but both he and the creature suffer fatal wounds in the exchange. Top governmental officials, in a secure underground bunker, also begin plotting the repopulation of the human race in response to the virus; they envision a new social order prograted by strict fertilization policies and artificial wombs. At the laboratory, Doc attempts to escape with a cure to the illness and mistakenly enters the dinosaur pen. Tiptree releases the T. rex which pursues Doc out of the facility. Infected herself, Tiptree births a dinosaur and succumbs to the illness.

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Doc returns to Thrush, who has been exposed to the illness. The T. rex enters the quarry where Doc battles the creature using a Backhoe loader, impaling and killing the creature with Thrush’s assistance. After injecting her with the serum, Doc is killed by government soldiers alerted to his presence, and both his and Thrush’s bodies are burned.

DEVELOPMENT/PRODUCTION
When Roger Corman offered the job of writing and directing the dinosaurs vs. mankind epic Carnosaur to Adam Simon, the filmmaker leapt at the chance for a number of reasons. Not the least of these was the opportunity to avoid what he sees as a curse.

“The curse of any young filmmaker is that if they turn anything down, they are doomed to direct its sequel,” laughs Simon. “Right after I did Brain Dead, I was offered the original Body Chemistry and turned it down. Guess what I ended up directing? Body Chemistry 2. That’s why I jumped at Carnosaur, because if I didn’t, I knew I’d end up directing Carnosaur 2.”

Having survived the arduous schedule that typifies a Concorde production (“18 days, 18 hours a day”), Simon is in the editing phase of Carnosaur, Corman’s low-budget (rumored to cost under $1 million) answer to the megabuck contender Jurassic Park. The director’s immediate future entails a week of minor reshoots and miniature work and four weeks of editing en route to a scheduled theatrical release in June. But the good-natured Simon feels his experience on the aforementioned Corman films will help him handle the crunch.

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“The biggest danger I face at this point is working so many long days and so many long hours that, all of a sudden, I’ll lose perspective. That’s the stage I’m in right now. But the big difference is that I’m going through this with Roger for the third time, so I’m able to relax and just trust in the process.”

The writer/director is philosophical about the fact that he “essentially had one foot out of Concorde and had started some outside writing projects” when Corman called with the Carnosaur assignment. The producer had originally purchased the rights to the novel, a tongue-in-cheek tale of dinosaurs brought to life in the present day written by British author Harry Adam Knight (a pseudonym for John Brosnan), in 1990. When the Spielberg-driven Jurassic Park loomed on the horizon, Corman gave Carnosaur a go in 1992. But after three drafts of the script (including one written by Knight himself) failed to set Corman’s flesh crawling, he called upon Simon, who was more than ready to accept.

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One might speculate that Ladd’s involvement with Carnosaur is somehow connected to the fact that her daughter, Laura Dern, stars in the competing Jurassic Park. But Simon reports that the actress, who worked a total of five days on the film, agreed to appear for other reasons. “She did it partly as a hoot, and partly because she had an unwritten agreement with Roger,” he says. “Because he had given her and former husband Bruce Dern breaks early in their careers, she agreed to come back and do another film for him if the project and the situation seemed right.

“I had basically reached a point where I had been spending a lot of time knocking on major studio doors and having nothing come out of it,” confesses Simon, who cameoed, using his real name as a struggling screenwriter in last year’s acclaimed The Player. “I felt like I was too young to be sitting on my ass and not doing anything. So I decided to stop worrying about when the big studios were going to notice me and just do my own thing. And that’s about the time Roger called with Carnosaur.

“I loved the idea of doing a classic dinosaur movie, and I had never really worked with effects and creatures before,” he continues. “It also didn’t hurt that Roger was giving me a lot of time and freedom to write the script.”

But in exchange for those luxuries, Simon relates that he had to make what he calls “a Faustian bargain” with the producer. Although Corman required that only the title be retained from the novel, he insisted that the film feature genetically engineered dinosaurs, one of which had to be a Tyrannosaurus rex. Simon agreed and, in preparation for the task, read Knight’s book.

“I loved the tongue-in-cheek nature of the novel,” he admits. “The problem was that it was very campy, and while I didn’t mind this kind of film being funny, I definitely didn’t think the movie should be camp. I wanted humor, but not a parody.”

“It’s a very similar premise,” noted CARNOSAUR producer Roger Corman of the competition, JURASSIC PARK. CARNOSAUR is also about genetically engineered dinosaurs, but the veteran producer, with a completely straight face, brushed aside any charge of plagiarism against JURASSIC PARK. “Our film is from a novel written eight or nine years ago by Harry Adam Knight. I don’t know whether Michael Crichton or Steven Spielberg ever read Carnosaur. I don’t think he took the idea from Carnosaur. It was probably an original idea with him and he didn’t even know that Harry Adam Knight had written a similar story.”

Knight is actually the pseudonym of English film journalist John Brosnan who authored or co-authored a series of novels “which are pretty funny,” according to Adam Simon, who wrote and directed CARNOSAUR for Corman. “I first encountered them at Dark Carnival, a great bookstore in Berkeley. Apparently, not long after that, Roger was there for a book signing, and they stuck Carnosaur in his hands. He read it, liked it and put it aside. When he heard about JURASSIC PARK, I can just picture him at his desk with this enormous light bulb going off over his head-because the beauty of Brosnan’s novel is that it did conceive of that idea a good six years before JURASSIC PARK.”

In any case, little of Brosnan’s work survived the adaptation to the screen. Noted Simon, “Roger told me, ‘I don’t care whether you read the novel or not; all I care about is that it has genetically engineered dinosaurs, that it’s called CARNOSAUR and that at some point a Tyrannosaurus

“We ended up with a very good script that managed to attract talent of a high order,” he says. “Everybody was surprised by it. This script may have seemed like one thing at first, but once people like Diane and Clint picked it up and read it, they found it was something quite different. And they liked what it was.

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“This film has a ’90s attitude, rather than one from the ’50s,” he continues. “In a nutshell, it’s the Army vs. the dinosaurs, but you’re going to see the Army in a totally unexpected role. Ultimately, what it comes down to is that there are more things to be afraid of than the dinosaurs.”

However, Simon notes that the prehistoric monsters definitely make their presence felt in a bloody manner. The movie’s explicit dinosaur dining scenes will ultimately result in a hard R theatrical rating and, more than likely, an unrated video version “These dinosaurs aren’t going to be the kind we see in kids’ movies,” the director warns. “They’re hungry, and there’s going to be a lot of blood, guts and gore.”

He goes on to cite some examples, including a scene in which Fryer’s head is ripped off from above, and another where a whole group of people are stripped to the bloody bone in a quarry. “This is rough stuff; we didn’t pull any punches. These are dinosaurs, and this is what dinosaurs do.”

SPECIAL EFFECTS
Creating the onscreen interaction between man and beast involved the blending of live actors and various-sized models. “We used a lot of forced perspective, which is not really a new trick but has worked quite effectively on this film,” Simon explains. “There are also some mechanicals and puppets and a whole lot of quick cuts. I’ve got to hand it to the actors; a big part of selling the effects fell on their shoulders. If they didn’t make it all believable, none of it would have worked. But they did a hell of a job. There are some truly horrifying things in our film that would be disturbing to little kids and perhaps to adults, too.”

According to John Carl Buechler, who provided the film’s creatures and carnage, “Roger stressed that he wanted to go for an NC-17, at least for one version of the film, so there is no sparing the amount of viscera we were asked to provide.”

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“This ain’t like a Harryhausen movie, I loved them, but they were family-oriented,” said Buechler. “The approach here is more like ALIENS. How many seconds do you see the Queen Alien on screen for any specific cut? This movie is structured like a dark horror film; consequently, when we designed the creatures, our approach was to make them look great for a few seconds, as opposed to mediocre for a long, boring shot.’

CAST/CREW
Directed
Adam Simon

Produced
Roger Corman
Mike Elliott

Screenplay
Adam Simon

Story
John Brosnan

Based on
Carnosaur
by John Brosnan

Diane Ladd as Dr. Jane Tiptree
Raphael Sbarge as Doc Smith
Jennifer Runyon as Ann Thrush
Harrison Page as Sheriff Fowler
Ned Bellamy as Fallon
Clint Howard as Friar
Frank Novak as Jesse Paloma
Ed Williams as Dr. Raven
Brent Hinkley as Peregrine

Special Effects by
David Barrett    … fabrication crew: Magical Media Industries Inc.
John Carl Buechler   … designer/supervisor: Magical Media Industries Inc. / special makeup and creature effects
Lynn Buechler    … controller: Magical Media Industries Inc.
Joe Colwell  … fabrication crew: Magical Media Industries Inc.
James Conrad … fabrication crew: Magical Media Industries Inc.
John Crawford    … fabrication crew: Magical Media Industries Inc. / mechanics: Magical Media Industries Inc.
Trevor Cripps    … special effects
Tom Dicken   … fabrication crew: Magical Media Industries Inc.
Thomas R. Dickens … special effects
Anthony Doublin  … location effects supervisor: Magical Media Industries Inc.
Jeffrey S. Farley … sculptor: Magical Media Industries Inc.
John Foster  … fabrication crew: Magical Media Industries Inc. / production manager: Magical Media Industries Inc.
John Gillan  … fabrication crew: Magical Media Industries Inc.
Ted Haines   … fabrication crew: Magical Media Industries Inc.
Kenneth J. Hall  … fabrication crew: Magical Media Industries Inc. / foam sculptor: Magical Media Industries Inc.
Jeff Henderson   … fabrication crew: Magical Media Industries Inc.
Mike Jones   … fabrication crew: Magical Media Industries Inc. / sculptor: Magical Media Industries Inc.
Andrea London    … fabrication crew: Magical Media Industries Inc.
Rod Matsui   … fabrication crew: Magical Media Industries Inc.
Charles Myrick   … fabrication crew: Magical Media Industries Inc.
Tuck John Porter … special effects shop fabricator
James Rohland    … fabrication crew: Magical Media Industries Inc.
Paul Salamoff    … fabrication crew: Magical Media Industries Inc. / key location liaison: Magical Media Industries Inc.
Mark Weatherbe   … fabrication crew: Magical Media Industries Inc.
Bill Zahn    … fabrication crew: Magical Media Industries Inc. / key makeup effects: Magical Media Industries Inc.

CREDITS/REFERENCES/SOURCES/BIBLIOGRAPHY
Cinefantastique v24n02
Fangoria#124

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