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The Bizarre Saga of Tammy and the T-Rex, the Paul Walker and Denise Richards Sci-Fi Film

The story of how Tammy and the T-Rex got made is almost as strange as the movie itself.

By Matthew Jackson
Screen Shot 2023 12aTammy (Denise Richards) lays next to a T-Rex in Tammy and the T-Rex (1994). 18 At 5.25.33 Am

Tammy and the T-Rex, currently streaming on Peacock, is one of the weirdest movies you're ever likely to see. Released in 1994 as a strange blend of CluelessJurassic Park, and other even stranger things, the sci-fi comedy about the title girl (Denise Richards) and the robot dinosaur containing the brain of her boyfriend (Paul Walker) has long since been revered as a wacky cult classic, the kind of film you have to see to believe.

Well, believe it or not, the story of how it got made is almost as wild as the film itself. It involves a strange offer, an animatronic dinosaur on loan, California wildfires, and a producer who wanted something like a Disney film. Let's take a closer look.

A Dinosaur and a Dream: Revisiting Tammy and the T-Rex

A T-Rex bares its teeth over a boy with a head laceration in Tammy and the T-Rex (1994).

Writer/director Stewart Rafill was already known for some odd films by the time Tammy came to him. He's the mind behind movies like Mac and Me and Mannequin Two: One the Move, which in many ways made him the perfect candidate for a movie like what this one became. But according to Rafill, the story of Tammy and the T-Rex begins not with him, but with an associate of his who had a very strange offer.

RELATED: 41 thoughts we had while watching Tammy and the T-Rex

"A guy came to me who owned theatres in South America and he said, 'I have a T-Rex,'" Rafill recalled in a 2018 interview with the Bristol Bad Film Club. "It was animatronic and was going to a park in Texas. The eyes worked. The arms moved. The head moved. He had it for two weeks before it was going to be shipped to Texas and he came to me and said, 'We can make a movie with it!'"

Of course, this enterprising theater owner/producer didn't actually have a story in mind. He just knew that, if a movie was going to happen, it had to happen fast, and he expected Rafill to make it work. Rafill, knowing that the robotic T-Rex couldn't pass as lifelike and therefore could only exist as a robotic dinosaur in the story, wrote a script in a single week. 

"I said, 'What’s the story?' and he said, 'I don’t have a story, but we have to start filming within the month!' and so I wrote the story in a week," Rafill said.

Tammy (Denise Richards) talks to a T-Rex in Tammy and the T-Rex (1994).

With the clock still ticking, the production cast then-unknowns Denise Richards and Paul Walker as Tammy and her doomed boyfriend Michael, then set to work on shooting the film, using basically what he had on hand. 

"So I wrote it, we shot it and all the locations were within 25 minutes of my house," Rafill said, and even noted that the lion who appears in the film was owned by a friend of his. 

RELATED: The Best Sci-fi Movies On Peacock Right Now

By the time the script was done, in all its wacky glory, basically nothing could hold the film back, because the T-Rex would be gone in a matter of weeks. With that in mind, Rafill did everything he could to finish shooting, taking Richards to Victoria's Secret to buy an outfit for her seductive dance scene with the T-Rex, and even shooting amid California wildfires, no matter how dangerous it seemed. You can still see wildfire smoke in the background of certain shots. 

Racing against fire and the loss of one its stars, Tammy and the T-Rex did indeed finish production, but it had one more hurdle to clear to reach its final form. And this hurdle would stay up for decades.

One T-Rex, Two Cuts

Rafill shot what he believed was a fun, "wacky" movie, complete with loads of T-Rex gore, raunchy humor, and loads of weirdness. Then he took it back to his producer, who was immediately shocked by what he saw.

“He said, ‘No! I wanted a Disney movie!’” Raffill told The Independent in 2019. “So he recut it into a piece of nonsense.”

That "piece of nonsense" was, for 25 years, the PG-13 version of Tammy and the T-Rex that people rented on home video, shared around, and went to see at special screenings that cemented its reputation as one of the great cult movies of the 1990s. If you've ever seen that cut of the film and noticed that it seemed a little disjointed, even by this movie's standards, it's because a great deal of material was trimmed out to make the movie more family friendly. But the gore scenes Rafill shot were still out there, and by the late 2010s, fans of the film started to look for them. 

One such fan was Joe Rubin, co-founder of the specialty home video label Vinegar Syndrome, a storied treasure trove of cult movies, schlock, and films everyone else has forgotten. 

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“I actually very easily found the lost footage on YouTube,” Rubin told The Independent. “Because the uncut film had once been broadcast on Italian TV, which someone had videotaped and then cut together with the censored American video version, and had then uploaded it. I watched it and enjoyed it and went searching for the rights."

After a bit of searching, and a bit of "haggling" with the rights-holder, Rubin was able to get the "Gore Cut" of Tammy and the T-Rex in its original form, still intact from Rafill's editing room all those years ago. In 2019, Tammy and the T-Rex made its uncut debut on Vinegar Syndrome Blu-ray and DVD, and at festival screenings. Today, it's the preferred version of many fans, though some still go for the original, more jumbled PG-13 cut as well. 

“I think that this is the perfect time and place for its rediscovery,” Rubin said, “in large part because the '90s are now in vogue as a kind of ironic, retro period. It was no doubt a tough sell at the time [it was made], because people would have thumbed their noses at it, or never even considered watching it. But now years later it has a level of ‘Look at this weird curio’. But it’s also easy to just appreciate it as a purely entertaining exploitation movie.”

The 'Gore Cut' of Tammy and the T-Rex is now streaming on Peacock.