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Book vs. Flick: Carnosaur

Contributed by
Oct 16, 2018

In the summer of 1993, a film was released addressing the struggle between man and nature in a hypothetical world much like our own in which mad scientists genetically engineer dinosaurs and unleash them upon an unsuspecting world. This movie would go on to become the subject of many spin-offs and sequels and is remembered by audiences to this very day. That’s right, we’re talking about the Roger Corman produced Carnosaur, which was first shown in theaters just a few weeks before that other dinosaur film from 1993, Jurassic Park.

Although one is good and one is bad, these films share pretty similar plotlines. Carnosaur is also about scientists with questionable ethics, but rather than starting a theme park, they create dinos so a scientist can impregnate herself with dinosaur eggs. (Same difference, pretty much.) Either way, it doesn’t really work out. The novel version of Carnosaur, written by John Brosnan under the pseudonym of Harry Adam Knight, was released six years before Jurassic Park, but it does also happen to feature a zoo overrun by dinosaurs at a certain point.

Content warning: Both the movie and the book have some pretty unpleasant misogynistic elements.

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The first eight pages of Carnosaur consist of four random characters being eaten by a dinosaur, with the perspective of the book changing each time someone dies. It would be so easy for this to be an awesome concept, but instead, the route being taken seems to only indicate the writer working out some weird personal stuff through his characters. 

The main character of the book, on the other hand, is a reporter for the local paper named David Pascal. He decides to investigate the strange deaths of the unfortunate characters that died via dinosaur in the first chapter but is prevented from doing so by the people that work for eccentric billionaire and zoo owner Darren Penward. When Pascal discovers that what these officials claimed to be an escaped tiger was actually a dinosaur, he tries to interview some of them. He doesn’t get anywhere with that, but Penward’s poorly-written “nymphomaniac” wife is happy to start a sordid affair with him in the interim.

Yet that does leave us with the small matter of the murderous dinosaurs of the book to deal with. Like Jurassic Park, there is a zoo full of genetically engineered dinosaurs and an inherent misunderstanding of how DNA works which is central to the plot of Carnosaur. The long and the short of it is that the scientists have restructured the DNA of chickens to create chicken-dinosaur hybrids. Pascal eventually saves his very random ex-girlfriend from the dinosaurs, Lady Penward is fed to baby T-Rexes, and somehow Darren Penward seems to survive despite being a favored candidate for a bitterly ironic comeuppance throughout the book.

The film version of Carnosaur bears very little resemblance to the novel, save for the obvious plot devices of dinosaurs that are somehow also chickens. Instead of a frantic multi-millionaire with nothing better to do with his life than unleash dinosaurs upon the world, we have a classic mad scientist who thinks the next evolutionary step for humanity is to be artificially inseminated with dinosaurs. 

The movie is still pretty fun in the way many low-grade horror films from the early '90s can be, despite their many obvious flaws. Screenwriter and director Adam Simon seemed to have an ax to grind with the nu hippie movement and takes a lot of shots at characters that try to protest ecological injustices. After one character sneers, “Does anyone need a veggie burger?” at a group of protesters, most scenes in the movie show at least one character chomping away on fried chicken. The protesters are portrayed as being incredibly detached from reality, despite their admirable goal of peacefully protesting genetically engineered chicken dinosaurs set on the destruction of humanity.

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Just like in the book, a whole lot of random characters get murdered, usually while making out because that’s just how horror worked in the early ‘90s. The main character, Doc, an alcoholic night watchman on a poultry plant, takes an interest in Thrush, a very random hippie. Her fellow protesters are all killed by the Carnosaur, but Thrush survives, and eventually meets back up with Doc.

Doc has a showdown with the evil chicken geneticist that takes Darren Penward’s place in the movie. Diane Ladd as the even-toned, chillingly casual Dr. Jane Tiptree may not be inspired but is certainly as good a performance as the script deserved. Her daughter, actress Laura Dern, just so happened to star in Jurassic Park that same summer, so there was definitely a theme happening in that household in 1993. Tiptree’s plan is to impregnate women with dinosaurs through an airborne virus, which is probably the most terrifying thing imaginable, truth be told. 

In the end, there’s a cure for the virus, but not enough of one, because it turns out women are dying en masse from being pregnant with dinosaurs, and the government arrives to establish a new male-dominated society, that surely doesn’t resemble our own, in which everything is equal between men and women and women never die from completely preventable diseases due to doctor negligence. Thrush almost dies, but doesn’t. The Carnosaur definitely dies, but it's okay because there are more of them. Tiptree definitely dies after giving birth to a Carnosaur herself. It’s a lot.

Not every movie can be Oscar material, and not every book can be Kafka, although one supposes Carnosaur is tonally somewhat similar to Metamorphosis if you squint long enough. It is a classic tale of man versus dinosaur, and although you might not learn much, both the book and the movie are still fine ways to spend an afternoon, depending on your level of tolerance for terrible characterization and an extreme misunderstanding of basic scientific principals. Both the book and movie are indeed horribly offensive to women most of the time, not particularly well-thought-out, and the plots don’t exactly hold up, but if you just want to laugh at some really cheesy dinosaur puppets from the early ‘90s, you’re can't go wrong with Carnosaur.

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