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DINOSAURUS! (1960)

"It’s here! Sound the alarm! DINOSAURUS!!"

Director: Irvin S. Yeaworth Jr
Starring: Ward Ramsey, Kristina Hanson, Fred Engelberg, Alan Roberts, Paul Lukather, Luci Blaine, Gregg Martell
Screenplay: Dan E. Weisberg and Jean Yeaworth

Synopsis: Bart Thompson (Ward Ramsey) and his foreman Chuck (Paul Lukather) are carrying out underwater blasting on a small Caribbean island when a local girl, Betty Piper (Kristina Hansen), comes close to the site in her boat. Bart races out to her in a motorboat to warn her of the danger, and reaches her as another charge goes off. Neither Bart nor Betty is injured, but Betty loses some property overboard and dives in to save it. Bart goes after her. Swimming down to the bottom of the bay, Betty suddenly finds herself confronting a dinosaur. The shock makes her lose consciousness. Bart takes her back to shore and revives her, but does not believe her story of what she has seen. Bart clashes with Mike Hacker (Fred Engelberg), the governor’s representative, who is interfering with the construction work in order to force Bart to pay him for his co-operation. Hacker has already earned the animosity of the construction crew by mistreating his ward, Julio (Alan Roberts), a young boy who has made friends with the workers. While Bart and Hacker are arguing, Chuck rushes in and announces that, while diving, he too has seen dinosaurs, which appear to be frozen in an icy underwater river. The construction crew brings the creatures, a tyrannosaurus and a brontosaurus, to shore, where they begin to thaw out. While examining the creatures, Hacker discovers that a caveman was also frozen with the dinosaurs. Secretly, Hacker removes the caveman from the site, hiding him in the bushes. A violent storm erupts, forcing the people indoors. Lightening strikes the two dinosaurs, which begin to revive. When the man left to guard the creatures is attacked by the tyrannosaurus, he tries to fight it off with dynamite. He fails, but the explosion brings Bart and the others to the site, where they discover to their horror that both dinosaurs have gone. Meanwhile, Hacker finds that the caveman, too, has vanished.

Comments: Given that I’ve never yet met an eight year old who wasn’t fully aware that dinosaurs and cavemen were separated by eons of time, you really do have to wonder just what audience Dinosaurus was intended for. This is doubly true given the frankly gloomy nature of the plot, which revives a tyrannosaurus, a brontosaurus and a Neanderthal man, and then kills them all off within the space of an hour’s running time. The bronto’s fate is particularly depressing. Having survived an attack by its fellow saurian, the wounded reptile staggers into quicksand and promptly drowns. The tyrannosaurus – which has the very peculiar habit of carrying people off with its front legs! - goes one-on-one with a truck, and is knocked off a cliff when the vehicle delivers a vicious right cross. The cruelest fate is reserved for the caveman, who is used for humiliating comic relief. While wandering through a house and discovering wonders of modern civilisation like ham radios and wax fruit, the Neanderthal encounters a closet full of clothing and instantly reveals a touch of the Ed Woods by donning an apron. When Mike Hacker finally corners his resurrected find, an interesting fact about human evolution is revealed when the caveman instinctively knows that pies are intended to be thrown in people’s faces. Ultimately, this nonsense is brought to a merciful end, and the beleaguered caveman given back a touch of dignity, when he gives his life to save Bart, Betty and Julio. All of this stupidity might have been excusable if the special effects had been better, but they’re just dismal. I mean, we’re not talking Jurassic Park (1993) here. Frankly, at times we’re not even talking Robot Monster (1953). Kids weaned on CGI effects (or on Ray Harryhausen, for that matter) are likely to squirm with impatience while the patently plastic dinosaurs go through their jerky motions. The human beings we meet aren’t much more convincing. The action takes place on a very small island. There’s just not room for a lot of people, so everyone we meet is, shall we say, representative. There’s the square-jawed American, leading with his fists; his blonde, blue-eyed girlfriend, who spends a lot of time running away and tripping over things (and who faints underwater, which I’m not sure is physically possible); an older man whose gruff exterior hides a heart of gold; a local girl referred to as a "tamale"; a drunken Irishman; a lazy black guy who falls asleep on duty; and a cute Mexican kid called Julio (didn’t you just know he was going to be called "Julio"?). There’s also the local bad guy, who’s rather more problematical. He goes by the unlikely name of Mike Hacker, calls everyone "Senor" and speaks with a distinctly French-Canadian accent (who says multiculturalism doesn’t work?). As Hacker, Fred Engelberg may not give a good performance, but at least he looks like he’s enjoying himself, and he gets the film’s only intentionally funny moment when, breaking a bottle to use as a weapon, he ends up cutting his own hand open. The rest of the cast looks like they’d rather be somewhere else, but provide most of Dinosaurus’s entertainment value by spouting some truly hilarious dialogue, including a couple of unbelievable soliloquies (see "Immortal Dialogue"). There’s also a scene involving a steel band that I’m sure was meant to provide "local colour", and does indeed provide colour of a sort: the band is a group of white actors in brownface! Dinosaurus was the work of producer Jack H. Harris and director Irvin Yeaworth, the same team that brought us The Blob. (What a comedown! Well, kinda….) The film is technically poor in every aspect, with awful back projection work and editing that closes nearly every scene with a blurry freeze-frame. The film’s cinematographer was Stanley Cortez, whose erratic career hit such heights as The Magnificent Ambersons (1942) and Night Of The Hunter (1955); took an odd detour through Shock Corridor (1963) and The Naked Kiss (1964); and ended up with The Navy Versus The Night Monsters (1966) and The Ghost In The Invisible Bikini (1966). I’ll leave it to future viewers to decide just whereabouts in Cortez’s resume Dinosaurus belongs.