Bit Men and Hitmen

You know they’re part their prime when a Roger Corman
movie receives a degree of critical acclaim, Diane Ladd ends up
in a Jurassic Park rip-off and James Coburn plays third lead to
the likes of Jeff Fahey and Yancy Butler.

About the time of Jurassic Park‘s release
there was a report that the old king of the exploiters, Roger
Corman, was busily preparing his own dinosaur movie called Carnosaur.

Somewhere between postproduction and the video store Carnosaur (New Horizon Home Video) won something called
the Golden Scroll Award from the Academy of Science Fiction and
Horror. Worse, according to a box blurb, none other than Gene
Siskel said: "Terrific! 1 liked this movie." Respectability
and critical acceptance are the last things an exploitation movie
needs.

This being a Roger Corman production, we know right
away that there, isn’t going to be a lot of money wasted on expensive
sets or computer generated dinosaurs and that it’s probably going
to contain ideas borrowed from better movies.

Scientist Diane Ladd has concluded that the earth
isn’t ours to destroy; that it was made for dinosaurs. She decides
to give it back to them by injecting chickens with Tyrannosaurus
Rex DNA. When the eggs hatch, the dinosaurs grow by leaps and
bounds. Rex starts eating up the cast, which includes some teenagers
romping around the desert in a jeep and a hippie commune left
over from the `60’s.

While Steven Spielberg had the good grace to leave
the gore to our imagination, Carnosaur never misses a chance
to show entrails being ripped out, severed arms and legs, and
Rex with a mouth full of blood. After a while the real horror
comes from the thought of having to endure more of the same.

It also borrows from Alien. People have been
eating the eggs and soon dinosaurs are popping out of stomachs
and bodies. The theory seems to be that if it was shocking to
see a monster come out of a body once it would be really terrific
to see it several times. Throw in a death squad running around
machine-gunning the egg eaters, and you’ve got a continual blood
bath.

Tyrannosaurus Rex attacks only at aright, probably
because it was easier to hide the cheesy model and its jerky movements.
Unlike dinosaurs in other movies, this one is hardly invincible.
It can be knocked down with a single shotgun blast and killed
by a backhoe that looks suspiciously like a Tonka toy.

As for Diane Ladd, she really doesn’t have much
to do except wear a black wig, put the plot in motion, and talk
to her associates on television monitors. It’s hardly a taxing
part, but then Carnosaur is a far cry from her glory days
in Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore.

Still, it’s more of a part than James Coburn’s in The Hit List, Westwind Video which was made for theaters
but went directly to cable TV.

Although Coburn prepares the hit list, he has little
to do except answer the phone and show up for an occasional meeting
with hitman Jeff Fahey. One of Fahey’s assignments is to contact
Yancy Butler, whose husband has died. Seems he cheated on his
taxes and substituted inferior equipment which was sold to the
government. His partner found out, and now someone is following
Butler and puts a bomb in her car which ends up killing the housekeeper
instead.

She gives Fahey a photograph of the partner, and
Fahey kills him. Soon he’s being followed by corrupt cops and
a team of hit men. When he finds out that the partner was really
a government official, he begins to suspect she’s set him up.
But since there are several others who could have set him up,
he’s really not sure. Unfortunately just about everyone will have
figured it out about 15 minutes into the movie, which is stretched
out with a lot of darkly lit love scenes and a few shoot-outs.

Hit men are also the central characters in Red
Rock West
, a much better film with twists and turns that aren’t
nearly as obvious. Nicolas Cage, whose star seems to be rising
rather than falling, has driven 1,200 miles from Texas to Red
Rock, Wyoming, and is down to his last five dollar; when he stops
for a drink at the local bar. The owner, seeing his Texas license
plates, thinks he’s someone hired by phone who was due the week
before.

Cage plays along and gets a hefty advance and the
job of killing the owner’s wife, Lara Flynn Boyle. Instead he
looks her up and warns her of the plot. He’s about to take the
money and run when the real hit man, Dennis Hopper, shows up.
The film becomes a cat and mouse game filled with unexpected plot
twists as Hopper and the owner, who is also the town sheriff,
try to catch Cage and Boyle.

Hopper has one of his better parts as a folksy likable
lunatic, and Cage is fine as the none-too-bright drifter trying
to find a way out of this rural nightmare. Country singer Dwight
Yoakam contributes an excellent bit as a grungy truck driver.

Director John Dahl keeps the story moving at a brisk
pace, and lends some film noir touches with lots of night shots,
dark shadows, and shady characters. MM

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