Summary:A reclusive scientist's experiments in evolution go awry when living --and carnivorous-- dinosaurs are sighted in an isolated western town.
11 years ago, Steven Spielberg and Universal Studios gave us their rendition of Michael Crichton's Jurassic Park and sparked off a new tradition of dinosaurs in film portrayal.
Fast forward to the present day and time, and we've got a slew of overly campy, overly gory dinosaur flicks on a sliding scale ranging from good to bad to utterly forgettable.
Fortunately, The Dinosaur Experiment falls on the good end (at least in my opinion) of this scale. At first glance, it seems like just another poorly executed SyFy movie (and the latest DVD cover, featuring a barely seen Lorenzo Lamas and a model who doesn't even show up, doesn't really do it a lot of favors) but after hearing about it and watching it on Hulu Plus, I find it to be rather entertaining.
Here's the basic story:
A reclusive rancher in the middle of Nowheretown, Texas is conducting strange experiments on his property. According to the locals, he's breeding killer emus. Of course, we viewers know what's really going down. Predictably, one of his "projects" escapes and several people go missing.
This brings us to our protagonist, Abilene "Abbi" Whitecloud, (portrayed by singer/songwriter Jana Mashonee in her acting debut) a strong and sexy, yet down-on-her luck aspiring singer and waitress forced to work off a debt her mother owes her boss. Conveniently enough, her mother is one of the missing victims (we see what happens to her in the film opening--it isn't pretty). Even more conveniently for the plot, her only real friend in town happens to be the aforementioned rancher since everyone else is a misogynistic, chauvinist pig.
The story progresses and we are then introduced to the rest of the cast: A washed-up funkmaster and his two cohorts who suffer engine trouble in their junker of a tour bus; a trio of college buddies on a ski trip who run out of gas; and two FBI agents (one of whom is Lorenzo Lamas and, despite being prominently promoted, does not get but maybe 30 minutes of appearance tops) who are called to investigate the "killer emu" incidents.
Naturally, our cast of characters finds its way onto the rancher's property and through a series of mishaps, the dinosaurs get released and set about decimating our heroes--and heroines.
In my opinion, this film provides just the right amount of horror and campiness to make it an A-lister among B-movies. Sure it uses some cliched tropes and factors: the hicksville setting, more than a few instances of "Too Dumb To Live" but it really is an enjoyable romp. The characters are not at all stale, at least the ones who matter aren't.
First of all, there's Jana Mashonee's very convincing depiction of protagonist Abbi, who's portrayed from the start as a tough, pull yourself up by the bootstraps kind of woman. While she's not happy with her lot in life, she's not about to cry helpless or whine about it. Nor is she going to take anyone else's guff. And did we mention she's a skilled archer to boot? She's as terrified as the next person when she learns that dinosaurs are running amok, but her survival instinct and fighting spirit keep her from just becoming another damsel in distress. She's definitely the canniest and most grounded of our characters and I feel this reflects Mashonee's increasing repertoire of talent.
College kid Sheldon (Cody Vaughn) on the other hand is anything but. He spends the entire movie complaining, even before leaving campus. Abbi even lampshades it at one point. While it's annoying, it's also endearing to a point. By the time he's been through hell and back, Abbi, who's been tough on him from the start, finally softens up enough to take him under her wing, at least partially. Despite this, he doesn't make it.
Rounding out this mismatched gang of survivors is button-cute Goth-girl Kolin--probably pronounced Koh-Leen, as she's never referred to by name in the film. Played by the wonderful and whimsical Alexandra "Lexy" Hulme, she brings an air of comedy to this story and while her wit is somewhat snarky and dry, most of the time she's so goofy or light-heartedly hilarious that it's downright adorable. You simply can't help but shake your head and smile or maybe even let out an "Awww" when Kolin pragmatically makes use of a well-placed bicycle to outrun her scaly pursuer, going so far as to give its bell a little jingle as she manages to catch up to Abbi.
The dinosaurs don't leave much to be desired in the way of special effects. Sure the CGI isn't Jurassic Park quality, but it's better than most other SyFy movies. A little trivia: the animatronics were furnished for this film by Billings, Inc. They're responsible for creating dinosaurs for zoos, museums, and theme parks the world over. 90's kids might remember them as Dinomation. We've got the 'raptors (purists will be livid that they aren't feathered) and a T-rex, which is par for the course. There's also a pair of Megalosaurus, which haven't been featured in a lot of dinosaur films, despite being the first dinosaur to be unearthed and described.
Again, The Dinosaur Experiment is a highly enjoyable film that isn't mired down by over attempts in humor, innuendo, or horror. It's one of the latest in a series of campy, none-too-serious B-movies, right up there with other well-established flicks like Sharknado. It represents a nice, light-hearted balance while still keeping a high thrill factor. I highly recommend it for dino-horror enthusiasts, especially those of us who need a hold-over as we await the 2015 release of Jurassic World.
And speaking of the Jurassic Park series, this film really pays a homage to its predecessor- raptors that open doors and attack carnivores three times their size; one unlucky soul who gets eaten off the can; and let's not forget the obligatory T-rex vs. vehicle sequence. Abbi's bow skills are a nice shout-out as well for those of us familiar with the Turok: Son of Stone series.
The Dinosaur Experiment (also released as Raptor Ranch) is currently available on DVD and can be ordered from Amazon.com or rented from Redbox. It is also available to Hulu+ members.