Carnosaur 2 (1995): This Time it’s Roar

Matty takes a bite out of Roger Corman and Louis Morneau’s raptor-tastic sequel. 

Following the best-selling success of Jurassic Park, author Michael Crichton felt pressured by fans of the 1990 novel — and, no doubt, the book’s publishers — to pen a sequel; a feeling that intensified in the wake of Steven Spielberg’s blockbusting film adaptation. Come March 1994, when Crichton, Spielberg, and Jurassic Park (1993) scripter David Koepp convened to spitball ideas for what would become The Lost World: Jurassic Park (the novel and movie were developed virtually in tandem), the trio had been beaten to the punch again by producer Roger Corman.

Corman had, of course, scored a hit with his Jurassic Park cash-in, Carnosaur (1993). Though critical response was mixed, the fact Carnosaur debuted in U.S. theatres the week before Spielberg’s picture earned Corman his best press in years. Wags praised the wily exploitation veteran’s entrepreneurship regardless of their thoughts on the finished product. Said press translated to profitable box office (because, hey, who doesn’t love a scrappy underdog?) and, then, sizable financial returns on video, PPV and cable. Thus, by the time Crichton et al formalised the bones of The Lost World’s story, CARNOSAUR 2 (1995) was already in production.

As much a part of the same Corman dynasty as Galaxy of Terror (1981), Forbidden World (1982) and The Terror Within (1989) as it is the Carnosaur saga (a quintet that also includes Carnosaur 3: Primal Species (1996), and spin-offs Raptor (2001) and The Eden Formula (2006)), Carnosaur 2 ranks among the mogul’s finest Alien (1979) imitators. Essentially Aliens (1986) with Velociraptors — the creatures pushed to the forefront in order to capitalise on their popularity post Jurassic Park — the plot of this wickedly entertaining romp sees Cliff DeYoung’s a-hole military guy leading a rag-tag group of communication technicians into a nuclear waste repository to figure out why the place has gone silent. Naturally, the shady biotech firm using the facility to house their recent batch of experiments has something to do with it, resulting in a wonderfully squishy procession of gore gags as a swarm of marauding hell-lizards chomp all and sundry.

Despite lacking the thoughtful social and political commentary of its predecessor, Carnosaur 2 boasts a lean and mean script by Michael Palmer whose Corman/sequel/homage form extends to the amusing Peruvian Predator (1987) riff, Watchers 3 (1994). Populated by a multitude of memorably gimmicky characters, the cast — an incredible spread of cult-friendly talent rounded out by John Savage, Don Stroud, Rick Dean, Arabella Holzbog, Miguel A. Núñez, Neith Hunter, and Guy Boyd — attack the material with gusto and relish the tough talk and gritty prattle that carry Carnosaur 2 between its dynamically rendered scenes of dinosaur action. Indeed, even the film’s sole narrative misstep — a sub-Newt wunderkind (Ryan Thomas Johnson), shoehorned in to attract the teenage boy demographic when the carnage and machismo does that anyway — can’t quell the merriment. 

In terms of pure spectacle, Carnosaur 2 is fabulous.

Entering the Concorde/New Horizons fold via the marketing department, Louis Morneau proved an invaluable asset for Corman during the early ‘90s, going from assembling trailers, and tackling second unit on Watchers II (1990) and Full Fathom Five (1990); to supervising additional shooting on Future Kick (1991) and The Skateboard Kid (1993), and helming To Die Standing (1991) (starring De Young), Final Judgement (1992) and Quake (1992). Having passed on the original Carnosaur, Morneau was handed Carnosaur 2’s reins as his penultimate Corman assignment [1] — a virtual mirror of Adam Simon who, prior to shepherding Carnosaur, was tasked with Body Chemistry 2: Voice of a Stranger (1991) after declining Body Chemistry (1990). Flying in the face of the film’s $900,000 budget and eighteen day schedule, Morneau loads Carnosaur 2 with style and energy, and is ably supported by Robert de Vico’s striking production design; John B. Aronson’s robust photography; and the hypnotic Steadicam work of Steven A. Adelson, Joe Broderick, and David Chameides [2]. Atmospheric and exciting, watching Carnosaur 2 today is a fascinating experience given that both of Morneau’s subsequent ‘big budget’ offerings, masterful sci-fi-thriller Retroactive (1997) and ace fellow creature feature Bats (1999), are so firmly rooted in its eye-popping blend of inky shadows, luminous highlights, knuckle-whitening kineticism, and clever editorial transitions.     

Trouncing his nonetheless impressive efforts in the first film, John Carl Buechler’s FX are likewise magnificent. Delivered with the kind of ferocity that landed the sorely missed maestro in hot water during the making of Friday the 13th Part VII: The New Blood (1988), when his gloriously grisly murder set pieces were cut to ribbons by the MPAA, the bloodshed treads a nice balance between sadism, mischief, and crowd-pleasing abandon. The dinosaurs themselves, meanwhile, deserve to be mentioned alongside Buechler’s better-known creations such as The Hungry Beast in TerrorVision (1986), and the eponymous Ghoulies (1985), Troll (1986) and Cellar Dweller (1987). Boasting the make-up wiz’s signature cartoon-y sheen, the extremely cool-looking raptors — primarily executed through puppetry and good ol’ fashioned rubber suit technology — exude a splendour matched only by their awe-inspiring tactility; and Carnosaur 2’s surrogate ‘Alien Queen’ — the hulking, sixteen-foot tall T-Rex carried over from the first flick, its animatronics retooled for greater motion [3] — provides a welcome dollop of Kaiju-esque mayhem in the film’s doubly meta finale (it’s a deliberate rephrasing of the o.g. Carnosaur and Aliens). 

Earmarked for a fall ‘94 theatrical run, Carnosaur 2 (or, per its on-screen title, ‘Carnosaur II’) instead surfaced as a DTV release on 15th February 1995; six-and-a-half months ahead of The Lost World landing on bookstore shelves, and over two years ahead of the spring ‘97 bow of Spielberg’s film version — which, in a further twist, Corman pipped with Carnosaur 3 as well.

[1] Morneau’s last was Haunted Symphony (1995), a compelling period hair-raiser in the manner of Corman’s iconic Poe Cycle. Though scheduled to direct the Showtime-backed cable programmer (it was broadcast in the network’s Roger Corman Presents strand), Morneau ultimately received a story credit. He relinquished directorial duties when HBO tapped him up for their Michael Dudikoff action flick, Soldier Boyz (1995).
[2] Fittingly, Broderick Steadicam’d on Full Moon’s cutesy dino-sploiter Prehysteria! 3 (1995) and Chameides subsequently provided his services for Jurassic Park III (2001).
[3] Prior to its return here, Buechler’s T-Rex appeared in Fred Olen Ray and Jim Wynorski’s Corman-produced Dinosaur Island (1994). Incidentally, the raptor suits used in Carnosaur 2 and 3 were later recycled in Dan Golden’s Corman shocker, The Haunted Sea (1997).

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