Horror in the 90's: 'Carnosaur'
One of the worst movies of the 1990s, Carnosaur is a masterclass in what not to do when making a movie.
Directed by Adam Simon
Written by Adam Simon
Starring Raphael Sbarge, Diane Ladd, Jennifer Runyon, Clint Howard
Release Date May 14th, 1993
Published May 15th, 1993
Carnosaur is a bizarre, incomprehensible mess of a movie. Ostensibly created to capitalize on Jurassic Park, Carnosaur was actually released a month prior to the release of the Steven Spielberg all time classic. Legend tells that Executive Producer Roger Corman heard that Steven Spielberg's next movie was a dinosaur film based on a Michael Crichton bestseller. So, ever the huckster carny, Corman scoured the bestseller list for another book with dinosaurs.
That's when he discovered Carnosaur by John Brosnan and snapped it up. Now, Corman had no intention of actually adapting the book, he just needed it for the optics of making his movie look like Jurassic Park. This extended to the casting of Carnosaur. When it became known that Laura Dern was in the cast of Jurassic Park, Corman wrote a check to get Dern's mother, Diane Ladd in Carnosaur. By this point, he'd chosen a director he was sure could hack up the book and come up with a semblance of a movie.
Enter writer-director Adam Simon. The man who partnered with Corman's wife, Julie Corman, to make 1990's Brain Dead, was just the man to slap together a dinosaur movie where the only goal was to release it before Jurassic Park came out. Mission accomplished. Simon slapped, cut, and pasted Carnosaur into something similar to an actual movie in a remarkable 18 days of principal photography. Diane Ladd was on hand for 5 of those days. Yes, the behind the scenes story is way more interesting than anything on the screen.
Carnosaur is what would happen if you dropped random pages of a dinosaur novel into an A.I generator and asked it to turn that book into a horror movie. It has no inflection points, major motivations are missing, and several plot strands arrive and depart seemingly at random, as if creative decisions had been made based on severely limited information. Scenes exist in Carnosaur but they often leave you wondering why they exist.
I'm going to attempt to unpack this plot, if that's at all possible. Carnosaur stars Diane Ladd as Dr. Jane Tiptree, a famed weapons designer now working on designer eggs. What most don't know is that Dr. Tiptree is a mad scientist bent on the destruction of the human race. Dr. Tiptree believes that the Earth belongs to the dinosaur and her goal is to restore the dinosaur in place of man. To do that, she has genetically engineered chickens to give birth to dinosaurs.
But, that's not all. Dr. Tiptree has also created a virus that infects people and causes them to give birth to dinosaur eggs. Well, women give birth to dinosaur eggs, its left highly unclear what the virus does to men despite the director going out of his way to show men being super-gross and spreading the dino-virus to each other by coughing on each other or on the food they are serving to others. Despite that, we only see women giving birth to dinosaur eggs and then dying.
Well, except for Dr. Tiptree who, when her time comes, gives birth to a fully formed tiny T-Rex, rather than just a gross egg. This scene is so sad. Having done her best to preserve her dignity in this movie, when it is clear that Ladd is laying out a blanket for herself to give birth on, I cried out, "NO! Not Diane Ladd! Corman, you monster!" Ladd had made it to the end of the movie barely acting a moment in this awful film and when she finally sacrifices her dignity to give birth to a dinosaur, it's the only time Carnosaur achieves any kind of horror. It's mortification, an empathetic sadness on our part on behalf of Diane Ladd, but it does elicit a response.
Diane Ladd is the villain of Carnosaur, I haven't even introduced our 'hero.' Raphael Sbarge stars as Doc, a former doctor turned drunken security guard at a quarry... I think. He has a medical degree on the wall.... I think. Everyone calls him Doc and he seems to know what to do when a woman goes into labor but, it is incredibly unclear what the nature of his character is. We know that his mortal enemy are hippies. Hippy protestors are trying to stop the quarry from digging... something.
One of the hippies is a lovely, stoic, and distracted young woman who tells Doc- I swear I am not making this up- that she's given herself the name Thrush. Let that set in for a moment. Her self-applied nickname, chosen as part of living in a hippie commune, is Thrush. I am going to urge you not to do something and I am not joking, DO NOT GOOGLE THRUSH! Don't, I know you're curious, but this will not go well for you. Just know that it's horrible and leave it at that. It's not a nickname, it's not a name, it's something to desperately try and avoid.
If Carnosaur has any value to film, it's as an exercise in what not to do. Don't leech your success from the success of others. Don't cast legends and rob them of their dignity. Do not name characters after a type of infection that isn't discussed in polite societies. On a smaller, but still notable scale, for future filmmakers, don't include distracting details or extraneous characters and or scenes in your movie. A good tip for editing your screenplay or even your final cut, if you can't justify why the scene exists, cut it. Every scene in your movie needs to serve your overall point. Carnosaur has numerous unnecessary and deeply extraneous scenes and characters.
Some of these scenes exist just to kick the movie to a feature length. I am, of course, talking about character actor Clint Howard. Howard may be a beloved cult legend but he adds nothing to Carnosaur. His character muddies the narrative and though his death scene is quite funny, either intentionally or not, the character could be removed from Carnosaur without affecting the plot in any way. Howard is welcome in so many, many roles but his inclusion here only serves to make this unendurable mess of a movie even more unbearable.
This article/review of 1993's Carnosaur is part of two big projects I am working on. Carnosaur is the subject of the latest episode of the Everyone's a Critic Movie Review Podcast spinoff, Everyone's a Critic 1993. Myself and co-host Amy K. had a lot of fun making fun of Carnosaur and its bizarre existence and you can hear that when it debuts on the Everyone's a Critic Movie Review Podcast feed. Find it wherever you listen to podcasts.
And, Carnosaur is an entry in my new book project, tentatively but unofficially, called Horror in the 90s. I am watching as many theatrically released horror movies from the 1990s as I can get my hands on and writing about all of them while also collecting stories and observations about them for a book that will chart the odd, wonderful, terrifying and just plain weird place horror occupied in our culture during the 1990s. It's a labor of love but one I cannot complete without your support. You can help make Horror in the 90s happen by pledging your support here on Vocal. Make a monthly pledge or leave a one-time tip and I will give you shout out in the book when it is ready for release.
I'm making really great progress. You can find excerpts from the book at Horror.Media. Pieces on Henry Portrait of a Serial Killer, Brain Dead, Frankenhooker, The First Power, The Exorcist 3, Tales from the Dark Side The Movie, and Nightbreed are already up with more excerpts to come. These excerpts are just a taste of what will be in the final book so, don't think I am giving everything away for free. These pieces are a jumping off point for bigger conversations about horror in the 1990s.
About the Creator
Hello, my name is Sean Patrick He/Him, and I am a film critic and podcast host for Everyone's a Critic Movie Review Podcast. I am a voting member of the Broadcast Film Critics Association, the group behind the annual Critics Choice Awards.
Great review 😉💖