It's pretty amusing that this flick came out the same year as Jurassic Park, because while Speilberg and co. were wowing the world with spectacular CG monsters for the first time, Roger Corman and co. were using a too-small puppet and a lot of forced perspective. That is, they'd just hold their cheap dino toy closer to the camera than the actors were and hope for the best. But I have to admit this low-rent feature kind of surprised me.
The main surprise is the screenplay, which is of a higher quality than everything around it. (The writer, an Australian novelist named John Brosnan, also wrote two other crappy horror/sci-fi flicks that I'll be checking out next year.) After a title sequence showing creepy footage of a chicken processing warehouse, the plot kicks off with a meeting of ARPA, the Advanced Research Projects Agency (which is real). They're alarmed because a certain Dr. Jane Tiptree, who wiped out a species of insect for her doctoral dissertation, has been off the grid for two years. Turns out she's been working for a big conglomerate, and her free rein of research is part of her contract; to do otherwise the company would forfeit potentially lucrative patents.
"Wait a second," I thought. "This is actually a very sophisticated setup here."
And really, it is. This is how a mad scientist would have to operate in the real world: hoodwink a company into providing money and resources instead of destroying the world with a table full of flasks and test tubes kept in the basement. Not to worry, though, this isn't too sophisticated. What the good doctor is up to is making dinosaurs hatch out of chicken eggs, creatures that grow like The Blob as they eat. When one gets out of the coop, it makes its way around the corporate-owned desert gathering victims and mass. The filmmakers do what they can with the dino puppets they got, but no amount of clever editing can hide the ridiculousness. Nevertheless, I found myself wanting to let them have a break; as with the rubber-suited Gojira, I felt inclined to give the movie credit for what it was going for, instead of mocking the limitations.
Actually, you can pretty much do both things and enjoy it, as the movie has its own sense of humor. For instance, our hero is Doc, a night watchman on a construction site who does a lousy job keeping environmental activists from gumming up the machinery. One night the group all chain themselves to the equipment, sticking it to The Man and making Doc look bad again. But -- oops! -- a dinosaur shows up and enjoys himself a big hippie smorgasbord. Now that's funny!
The ad copy for this dvd made a big deal out of Diane Ladd's presence as the mad Dr. Tiptree, but unfortunately she pretty much phones it in. Her big explanation scene is another example of the movie's quality writing, as she outlines her scheme to hand the Earth back to the dinosaurs. "This planet is built to their scale, not ours." Listless perfomance aside, her argument is sort of convincing. And the chicken dinos are small potatoes compared to the virus she's created and released -- a human version of her doctoral dissertation, starting as a fever but eventually spelling our doom by causing women to birth big honkin' dinosaur eggs.
Puppet silliness aside, this movie sports a healthy helping of gore and a story crafted well enough that you maybe wish the rest of it was better. The characters are at least mildly engaging and the Dr. Strangelove style take on the incompetence of those in charge is fairly amusing. Worth a look.
P.S. Most of the scenes are introduced with some text in the corner telling you where this is and below that a bunch of other gobbledegook. I made an effort to keep track of what was being conveyed there, but you can totally ignore it.