I’m a longtime Full Moon fan, dating back to the third grade. Once I discovered Puppet Master, it all ballooned from there. When I started diving into the Charles Band filmography though, I was amazed even as a kid to learn that I’d actually been a fan of the man’s work from some of my earliest memories, thanks to the Moonbeam imprint which had produced several kid-friendly features in the early 1990s. Dragonworld and Beanstalk were among the titles I was fond of, but my three favorites were without a doubt the Prehysteria! trilogy. I definitely have not revisited them since I was in the single digits, but as a dinosaur kid, they were in regular rotation in my household, driving my parents crazy, I have no doubt.
It’s a testament to how much I loved this franchise in my youth that as soon as the film started, after easily over twenty years, everything came rushing back. I remembered the names of every dinosaur before they were introduced, I pieced together why Dolls and Robocop 2 actor Stephen Lee has always felt extremely familiar to me, because he’d been the bad guy in one of my early childhood favorites. I was also delighted to see that Prehysteria! holds up about as well as any other Full Moon favorite of the era. Which is to say: pretty damn well, if you know what you’re in for.
A lot of that is due to the new Blu-ray transfer. Since the releases of the early Puppet Master features, Full Moon has been absolutely crushing it in this regard. With a few exceptions here and there, the Blu-rays look great. Prehysteria! definitely keeps that trend going. This is as crisp a transfer as Full Moon has ever put out. Not only is the transfer incredibly vibrant and clear, but it also—most importantly—allows for the David Allen FX work to shine better than it ever had a chance to on VHS.
The story is extremely simple. A coked out fossil collector finds actual dinosaur eggs and places them inside a cooler, only for that cooler to be switched with one belonging to a down-home country dad and his two kids, who regularly sell fossils to this collector. The family dog keeps the eggs warm and weirdly becomes a mother figure to the baby dinosaurs that hatch. The group of dinos are, in pure Charles Band fashion, very small. There’s no real concrete explanation given as to why, either, I think it’s just accepted that that’s simply what you get out of a Full Moon/Moonbeam movie at this point.
Silly and campy as the film might be, it actually holds up surprisingly well—which is a huge relief to me, considering how much I loved the series as a kid. There’s an E.T. element with the kid befriending the dinosaurs and enlisting the help of his uninterested older sister—who almost seems like a cross between both the older brother and younger sister in E.T.—to keep the little critters out of the hands of the guy who only wants to use them to escalate his own profit and fame. Still, I wouldn’t go as far as to call Prehysteria! Amblin-esque. Low budget ‘90s family films had an aesthetic all their own, and it’s an aesthetic that this movie definitely helped to define, somewhere between a Disney Channel movie and the low-stakes family drama of Critters 3. Coming from me, that’s actually a glowing review.
The characterization of the young kid, Jerry—played by none other than Last Action Hero star Austin O’Brien—is both endearing and weirdly specific. He’s a ‘90s kid who feels totally out of place in his own era, with jokes from the older sister that he might as well have come from the stone age because he still listens to Elvis. It’s totally on the nose in a way that family comedies get away with better than any other genre. It not only links the kid to the dinosaurs in an unexpected way, but paves the way for the boy naming the T-Rex “Elvis” because they were both the king of their respective eras.
Each of the dinos is named after a musician, in fact, from Madonna to Jagger, and each of the creatures looks great. They’re all different—from a T-Rex, to a Brachiosaurus, to a Pteranadon, Chasmosaurus and Stegosaurus—and each of them stands out in their own way. From the individual characterizations and specific vocalized mumbling or growling, the dinosaurs actually feel very reflective of the stars of Band’s flagship Puppet Master series.
There’s no question that even on Blu-ray, the stop-motion and puppetry effects look dated, but that should never have mattered in the first place. Every movie is reflective of its era, and even though it’s a family film, Prehysteria! is totally representative of early Full Moon at the height of its powers, when the movies were coming out like clockwork and selling (and renting) extremely well. David Allen was specializing in stop-motion years after the technique had stopped being popular in live action film, and managed to turn what most considered an outdated—extinct, if you will—technique into genuine spectacle. That was the magic of the work he did with Band, and Prehysteria! is a terrific example of it.
While the movie is a lot of fun and the transfer looks excellent, Prehysteria doesn’t come loaded with special features. Having said that, the ones that it does come with are still a treat. Like most of the Full Moon releases, this Blu-ray contains the original Video Zone, something I had actually forgotten was done for the Moonbeam movies. For those unfamiliar, the Video Zones were billed as a “behind-the-scenes video magazine” that gave viewers a glimpse at the making of the film as well as a sneak peek at future releases, years before the onset of DVD and the popularity of bonus content.
The only other special feature is a commentary by Charles Band and Austin O’Brien. Despite his massive filmography, Band’s commentaries can wildly vary in quality, as evidenced by the Puppet Master II commentary in which he mostly discussed then-ongoing deals at Full Moon Direct. But having Band and the star together helped to stir up some interesting tidbits and, especially, fuel the nostalgia that drove a release like this to begin with.
All in all, this is a fairly slim release but still a fantastic one for fans of the movie and old-school Full Moon in general. As someone who’s been wanting to revisit Prehysteria for a long time, I was admittedly already something of a mark for this, but the transfer alone absolutely makes the new Blu-ray worth it. If you love quirky ‘90s straight-to-video flicks, Full Moon, or some of the offbeat family features of the era, this one’s actually kind of a must. Prehysteria! is available on Blu-ray, now.
WICKED RATING: 7.5/10