Pterodactyl (2005): Keep Your Pecker Up

Matty is left exhausted by a rare misfire from Marks Lester and Sevi.

Lensed for pennies in Bulgaria, PTERODACTYL is the first and worst in a series of ten programmers director/producer Mark L. Lester and his companies American World Pictures and, later, Titan Global Entertainment designed for SyFy. 

Scripted by Mark Sevi — a generally dependable workhorse responsible for penning such giddy treats as Ghoulies IV (1994), a pair of excellent Relentless sequels, and the appealingly offbeat follow-up to Lester’s cult fav Class of 1999 (1990), Class of 1999 II: The Substitute (1994) — the film is buoyed by a simple premise:

College kids and a ragtag group of soldiers versus a swarm of flying prehistoric lizards.

I mean, that’s a scenario impossible for any self-respecting monster and dinosaur fan to resist, right? However, trouble starts the second you realise that Sevi has pinched all of Pterodactyl’s main beats from his earlier, equally awful creature feature Arachnid (2001). Like Arachnid, Pterodactyl is saddled with uninteresting characters, rote storytelling and brain-farting dialogue, and is completely free of the swagger and energy that typifies Sevi’s best work. 

Lester’s direction, meanwhile, is similarly haphazard. Usually rhythmic and full of beans, here the Commando (1986) helmer seems to be on autopilot. Pterodactyl limps along in such a depressingly flat manner that you can pretty much hear Lester yawning from behind the camera. The film’s action set pieces are messy and half-hearted, and, save for one or two nice visuals, the skills of cinematographer George Mooradian — a talent so integral to the aesthetic of Louis Morneau’s vastly superior cut of winged terror, Bats (1999), and all of Albert Pyun’s key ‘90s texts — frequently fall victim to poor blocking and choppy editing. Alarming, cheap and ambitionless, Pterodactyl primarily unfolds in a giant field that every man and his dog appears to be trudging across — though a shack siege in the film’s last third does facilitate a kind of screeching, beak-y spin on Night of the Living Dead (1968) that’s actually pretty good fun. Alas, by then it’s too little too late. Everything else is a real endurance test, and no sooner has this raucous snap kicked into gear than we’re back in the doldrums with a cumbersome and ugly rendered end stretch set on a polystyrene cliff top. 

That said, if you’re in a forgiving mood, there’s a few decent dollops of gore peppered throughout, and both Scott Coulter’s CGI pterodactyls (which is what the film should be called considering there’s loads of them) and Creature Effects, Inc.’s fleetingly used practical fabrications of the airborne beasts and their pecky bambinos are terrific. They deserve a better showcase. 

For the better dino-centric Lester creature feature jump straight to Poseidon Rex (2013) or Jurassic Attack (2013) instead.

USA/Bulgaria ● 2005 ● Sci-Fi, Horror, Action ● 91mins

Cameron Daddo, Coolio, Amy Sloan ● Dir. Mark L. Lester Wri. Mark Sevi

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