Carnosaur is widely known as a rip off of Jurassic Park. The idea makes sense. After all, Jurassic Park was the biggest hit of 1993 and it built up a lot of hype even before it was released, making it easy for a mockbuster to be made quickly and cheaply, one that could hit theatres or the video market maybe a week or two before the Spielberg blockbuster was released.
That’s right, even in the 1990s we had Asylum-esque mockbusters. In fact, this might have been their original era. Sure, we had exploitation flicks and imitations dating back to the ‘60s and ‘70s, but the ‘90s kicked off an era in which a major release could come out and there would be a cheesier, cheaper version of it on video store shelves by the time it was out of theaters. This was the dawn of straight-to-video.
Ideally, it began with movies like Carnosaur, that were cheap and cost-effective, given small theatrical runs before really stretching their legs and finding an audience on video.
Michael Crichton’s Jurassic Park, which is a seminal science fiction novel and a serious horror book in its own right, was published in 1990. Carnosaur, however, was a novel by Harry Adam Knight that was published in 1984, more than five years earlier.
It would be no shock to have two books about dinosaurs published within the same decade, as I’m sure there were plenty of other dinosaur novels being published around that time. But both of these books happen to be about the cloning of dinosaurs and the repercussions on the modern world. Carnosaur’s entire plot is often criticized for being totally ripped from Spielberg’s movie and/or Chrichton’s book when it’s just following the source material, which came first.
And we’re just going to chalk that one up to coincidence, then. We’re not going to call Jurassic Park the rip-off of Carnosaur because that’s an insane, topsy-turvy world that I am not yet ready to live in.
Instead, let’s look at the actual merits of Carnosaur as a movie, because they are many. It’s a different film than Jurassic Park in a whole lot of ways, and that’s what it needs to be. It’s very much a classic, cheesy monster-on-the-loose flick. But it also tries to be surprisingly socially conscious at the same time.
There’s a very on-the-nose environmental commentary going on, with one of the lead characters being an activist believing that these crews out in the desert are just destroying natural resources. It’s a kind of commentary that a director like Larry Cohen could really have made work, but it doesn’t have quite the effect that it should.
Luckily, there’s a far more interesting commentary going on in Carnosaur, in that this is sort of a food industry horror, which is about the last thing you’d expect it to be. GMOs, food processing, food engineering, it all comes down to science getting involved in the world of mass-produced food and the inherent side effects of that. This is perfectly embodied by a scene where someone is cooking eggs only to crack one open and see a slimy dinosaur fetus fall out.
There’s everything you could want from an R-rated, rampant dinosaur on the loose story in this film. But at the same time, it goes much further than you’d expect it to, and that’s a large part of what makes it so engaging. We primarily think of dinosaurs as something for kids and I definitely ate this one up when I was younger and obsessed with prehistoric beasts. However, I was not really the target audience.
I think there’s just a sort of expectation with a movie like this where, even though it’s rated R, you expect it to be a little friendlier, like a Full Moon flick. Instead, it’s actually pretty damn gory. On top of that, there’s stuff you would never expect to see in a movie of this type.
For example, there’s actually a scene in which we watch—with just as much discomfort as the scene in The Fly—a woman give birth to a dinosaur.
There’s nothing more we can ask from cheesy, gory monster movies than that they give us at least one scene that leaves our jaw on the floor. Carnosaur, believe it or not, does just that. The fact that it’s also about an angry, hungry foam rubber dinosaur? Just the icing on the cake.