Hawaii Dino: Aztec Rex (2007)

Matty kicks back with Brian Trenchard-Smith’s made-for-SyFy creature feature and concludes that, yeah, it’s alright.

Initial impressions aren’t promising, when a coastal beauty shot gives way to bad period wigs and dodgy fancy dress conquistador costumes. Don’t be deterred, though: AZTEC REX’s next scene is a real moment in Brian Trenchard-Smith’s usual outrageous manner, wherein a screeching virgin is sacrificed atop a small temple in pleasingly gruesome fashion. Accompanied by some squelchy Foley, her heart is ripped out and then, in a spot impossible to watch without grinning like an idiot, a whopping great T-rex emerges from the nearby brush, trudges towards the temple, licks the claret-slathered ticker, and roars at the moon as the film’s title appears. The costuming and props remain hokey, and the character’s are as thin as single ply Andrex — but, after the false start, it’s nice to see Trenchard-Smith recalibrate and set a splendidly silly tone for the next eighty-odd minutes.  

Penned by sci-fi show scribe Richard Manning (Star Trek: The Next Generation, Farscape), Aztec Rex generates goodwill from its premise alone. Essentially a 16th century spin on the ‘soldiers vs. dinosaurs’ formula that’s been a staple of modern dino-schlock since the Carnosaur (1993) sequels and Dinosaur Island (1994) (hell, with its sacrificial hook and picturesque, island-adjacent locale, Aztec Rex is basically just a less kitschy remake of the latter anyway), Trenchard-Smith considers this undemanding romp his version of The Valley of Gwangi (1969) with a bit of The Pirates of Blood River (1962) thrown in. Thus, for all its flaws, Aztec Rex delivers swashbuckling, chicanery, derring-do, and surprisingly grisly monster action by the bucketload. Though the film sags a touch in between the cut-price spectacle, future Sharknado series star Ian Ziering makes a decent fist of his anti-hero role (he’s the leader of the six conquistadors that happen across a gaggle of dino-worshipping Aztecs during a scouting mission); Allen Gumapac does a shift as a noble tribal elder; veteran B-movie bit-parter Jack McGee adds a splash of cartoon-y colour; and Dichen Lachman — an Australian actress who’s most recently gone toe-to-toe with prehistoric beasts on a much grander scale in Jurassic World: Dominion (2022) — is tasty “indigenous” eye-candy. Less successful are Aztec Rex’s tyrannosauruses. They’re a nicely designed pair and Trenchard-Smith presents them as best he can, fostering a real sense of excitement whenever they pop up. But, well, the film’s substandard VFX leave a lot to be desired, and the entirely CGI creations are awkwardly pasted among the cast and scenery. 

Assigned the director’s job following his patch-up work on Tibor Takacs’ notoriously troubled Ice Spiders (2007), Trenchard-Smith lensed Aztec Rex across fifteen days on location in Hawaii. With producers Rigel Entertainment wanting to take advantage of the country’s then-generous tax breaks, the $900,000 film was shot at the same time as the company’s Heatstroke (2008) — another made-for-SyFy dino programmer scripted by Manning — and premiered on the network on Saturday 10th May 2008 (Heatstroke followed three weeks later). According to Trenchard-Smith, SyFy’s executives hated Aztec Rex and promptly dropped him from their list of approved directors, forcing the Ozploitation maestro to relinquish the reins of what was going to be his next project for the channel, Malibu Shark Attack (2009).

Also known as ‘Tyrannosaurus Azteca’.

USA ● 2007 ● Action, Horror ● 89mins

Ian Ziering, Dichen Lachman, Jack McGee ● Dir. Brian Trenchard-Smith Wri. Richard Manning

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