Producer Jack Harris and director Irvin Yeaworth teamed for only a few sci-fi pictures, but those few are well remembered. After their classic The Blob, and the interesting 4-D Man, they moved on to this more traditional tale of dinosaurs on the loose.
On those long ago Saturday afternoons spent watching monster movies on television, I always thought of Dinosaurus! as a weak sister to brawnier dino films like The Valley of Gwangi, The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms or even The Beast of Hollow Mountain. It seemed juvenile and cheap next to the others, the animation of the monsters looking stiff and phony.
This new widescreen DVD presentation has done much to improve this appraisal. A lot of my former opinion was no doubt due to the cropped and edited TV presentation. The new digital transfer, with so much more picture on each side, makes the whole film look much more colorful and well produced. The animation by Gene Warren looks a whole lot better now that you can see all of it. And the added depth makes the characters — though standard — seem a bit more natural.
Ward Ramsey stars as Bart Thompson, a construction contractor who was hired to build a new seaport for a small Latin American island. He’s gotten off to a bad start. The island manager Hacker (Fred Engelberg) resists every request for assistance that doesn’t come with a bribe attached. And to make matters worse, the crew’s underwater blasting has unearthed the bodies of two dinosaurs — frozen solid for millions of years by compressed gas (?).
Bart asks Hacker to wire a university to get some paleontologists down to take care of their find. However, the greedy Hacker has other plans, especially for the cave man he finds nearby.
Before anything can be done with them, lightning revives the tyrannosaurus rex and “brontosaurus”, who have been identified via the cereal box models of Hacker’s ward little Julio (Alan Roberts, also one of The Space Children). The T Rex does one good deed before running off, eating the pickled drunk O’Leary. Though O’Leary is played as a typical racist stereotype by James Logan, fans should recognize him as a familiar face from many genre films — from Bedlam to The Mole People to The Bermuda Triangle.
With power knocked out and monsters on the loose, the islanders and contractors are quick to get organized. They evacuate the population to an old Spanish fort where they hope to hold off the critters. Well, most of them do — it seems like half the cast is also out looking for a runaway Julio or hunting for the escaped cave man (Gregg Martell), or some other quest that puts them in danger.
Meanwhile, the cave man is hiding out in the home of Bart’s girlfriend Betty (Kristina Hanson). The film gets a bit campy with this character here, showing him afraid of flushing toilets and dressing him up in one of Betty’s frilly frocks. Then the insufferably chatty Julio arrives and tries to make the Neanderthal sit in a chair and eat pie with a fork. I could never figure out why he didn’t just crush Julio’s skull with his club, but they end up as swell pals, and go riding off on the bronto’s back together.
Later, the cave man further proves his heroism by saving Betty from the T Rex (who has carried her off in his claws — guess he was saving her for later). Hmmm. Maybe not so heroic, as it’s suggested (in scenes echoed by Eegah! two years later) that the cave man has more on his mind than rescue when he gets Betty back to a nearby mine. Can’t really blame the guy — he hasn’t seen a girl in millions of years, and Miss Hanson looks yummy.
The T Rex, and a lot of other characters, show up in time to ruin their first date, so it’s back to the kind of dinosaur action that had the kids going wild at matinees in 1960. The animation, and even the puppetry, is much more convincing than I’d remembered. It’s no Jurassic Park, but damn decent for 40 years ago.
The excitement continues, climaxing with a big machine vs. monster finale in which Bart tries to use a steam shovel to wrestle with Mr. T. This battle must have made a big impression, as I’ve seen it copied by numerous cartoons ever since. For a bit of icing on the camp cake, the film ends with the “The End?” title so popular with sci-fi flicks of the ’50s.
As long as it stays away from Julio, Dinosaurus! is a fun-filled little monster movie, which now can be viewed in an approximation of its big screen glory, thanks to the magic of DVD restoration.