Raptor Ranch/The Dinosaur Experiment (2013)


A modern day small Texas community is overrun by vicious prehistoric Carnosaurs and a group of people try to survive the onslaught at a cattle ranch.

REVIEW: I know I said on the Facebook page that I was taking a couple months break from working on the blog over the winter, like I usually do this time every year, but that was before I got my hands on a little diddy I've been wanting to check out for years, Raptor Ranch (also known under the alternate title of The Dinosaur Experiment in America). So consider this a break from my break, to bring you this review of Raptor Ranch, aka The Dinosaur Experiment!

But first, a little bit of a backstory. I've always loved dinosaur movies, and I especially love dinosaur horror movies, so it goes without saying that the Carnosaur trilogy is one of my all-time top favorite B-Movie series'. Ever since I watched those three for the first time, I've been on the lookout for a great Carnosaur 4-in-spirit movie, one that while isn't technically Carnosaur 4, I could still view it as such in my head. There have been many Potentials over the years, movies like Raptor, which was made by the same people and made up almost entirely of stock footage from Carnosaur 1-3, or The Eden Formula which also used a bit of Carnosaur stock footage. More recently there's even been the found footage Area 407 or the 2013 Asylum 'summer blockbuster' Age of Dinosaurs that while arn't connected to the Carnosaur trilogy at all, are still great Potentials and each of those movies all had me viewing them at some point or another as a 'Carnosaur sequel-in-spirit'.

I can't remember the exact year, but I think it was somewhere in the 2003-2005 range, I started seeing news stories on an upcoming dinosaur horror flick called Raptor Ranch and I was even able to view Production Photos and Movie Stills on the film's own website. I saw it was shot and takes place in a small middle-of-nowhere desert town in Texas (Hey, just like Carnosaur!), I saw that the dinosaurs (at least partially) were done with practical models and props (Hey, just like Carnosaur!) that actually looked pretty reminiscent of the dinosaurs from Carnosaur and even had green-tinted POV shots from the dinosaurs (Hey, just like Carnosaur!), and it seemed to have a pretty dark and gloomy atmosphere from what I could tell (Hey, just like Carnosaur!). Suffice to say, I was uber-excited for this one and kept a very close eye on it. But then it just vanished. All news on it stopped coming out, the website went down, and even the imdb board for it went dead. I kept checking back in with Google on the project at random points over the years, hoping that some new article or website would give even a tiny morsel on what happened with this awesome-looking dinosaur horror movie, but I always came up with nada. Indiana Jones even had better luck tracking down ancient lost biblical artifacts then I did on turning up any mention of this movie or what might have happened to it. That is, until late last year/early this year, I saw it briefly mentioned in an article on Shock Till You Drop about a few upcoming B-Movies of 2013 in which Raptor Ranch was ever-so-briefly mentioned. A blink and you'd miss it namedrop. But it was something. And something, no matter how small, was the most I had gotten on this project in years. Not only that, but it mentioned a 2013 release! This year! Over the year more and more news on the movie started pouring out again – more photos, a plot synopsis, and even a brand new trailer. Yeah, I was pretty damn excited. 

Now here it is, the end of 2013, and technically Raptor Ranch still isn't being released over here in Canada or the U.S. (UPDATE: As of May 28th, 2014 it is now released in Canada and the U.S. under the alternate title of The Dinosaur Experiment). Though it has certainly played at some movie festivals and it does have a home video DVD release in other parts of the world in early December, so the day has finally come where I get to sit down and watch this potential Carnosaur 4-in-spirit dinosaur horror movie that I've been waiting all this time for!


Really, I pretty much only have myself to blame that I didn't enjoy it as much as I expected to. Don't get me wrong, I didn't totally dislike it, but it was nowhere near the level worthy of anticipation that I had set myself up for over the years. Right from the opening moments I was kind of doubting if I'd enjoy this as much as I had hoped I would. You see, the movie opens on a woman sitting in the woods getting stalked and killed by a Raptor, with a Tyrannosaurus Rex randomly walking down the street nearby, complete with music filled with attempted tension. The scene could have worked, but any attempt at genuine tension was ruined by a very annoying and out-of-place narration monologue from the main character of the movie that instantly takes you out of the moment of the scene, plus it doesn't even seem like the audio from her narration was mixed in with the audio from the scene very well either, more often clashing with it and being difficult to hear either audio tracks.

This would be a problem that would go on to plaque the majority of the rest of the movie. Not the audio clashing so much as just what that issue represented – a pretty disjointed movie that just did not seem to flow naturally at all. The entire thing actually felt like an amalgamation of multiple different cuts and reshoots of the same movie. Not sure if that's actually the case, but considering that it took the better part of a decade to be released from it's initial production, I wouldn't be surprised if that was at least partially true. Certainly, it didn't help either that the movie failed to even let you know when a scene was taking place in another location, until after the fact. This was most present in the beginning portion of the movie when it was setting up all the characters: We have the main town that the movie takes place in, this middle-of-nowhere Texan town, of which our main lead lives in, hates, and wants to leave ASAP. Than we have a trio of college kids on a roadtrip to a ski resort somewhere to have fun and get laid (cause nothing says getting laid like being buried in bundles of thick winter gear), and then we have a gay low quality pimp-wannabe/singer and his two young hot ladies that are on a trip to L.A., and the way the movie sets all these groups of people up, and the way their individual introduction locations look, you'd think they all started out in the same town and it's not until they end up all converging in that town later into the movie that I realized that it was all separate locations and towns that these characters and their subplots started out in. The only exception to that was the two FBI characters (one of which is played by B-Movie familiar Lorenzo Lamas, who has gone up against dinosaurs before in the unrelated Raptor Island) that leave the big city (which does get a subtitle indicating where it's to, even though that's the one location that actually already looked different anyway and was easily assumed to be a different place) to go investigate a series of mysterious deaths in this small town. 

There's also weird scene cuts that only work to confuse the viewer, such as this one part where it directly cuts from them running out of a store away from the dinosaurs in the middle of downtown with the power out at night, right to them running through the desert to an abandoned factory during the middle of the day but acting as if it was just a couple minutes later for them. Like I said at the top, stuff like that makes the movie feel very disjointed and like a mish-mash of various different final cuts and reshoots that maybe shouldn't have been edited together in the way they were.


As for the actors portraying these human characters, they covered all the levels of the acting ladder here, some being actually pretty good and enjoyable (like leading lady Jana Mashonee, who actually has never been in any other movie or show according to IMDB), all the way down to just downright painful to watch (most of the others), with a couple of the really bad ones coming across like they were stoned and high while filming. Lorenzo Lamas is passable enough, but he has next to nothing to do since he's missing from most of the movie. He comes across in the first 20 minutes like he's going to be a main character, but then he just drops out of the movie altogether and pops back up at the very end again, having absolutely no impact on anything, which just adds to the uneven disjointed feel I mentioned previously. It's not just the actors' faults though, because quite frankly, they weren’t given a whole lot to work with. The characters they have to play – every single one - are underwritten and just plain unlikable, and none of them actually seem to have been written to act like how real people act. None of them are all that surprised when they find out they're dealing with living dinosaurs, and even after everything starts happening, hardly any of the characters ever even take the whole situation seriously much.

As for the effects work on the dinosaurs, we got both CGI models and practical work, and they tend to range from surprisingly good to really really bad, depending on the scene. For the physical puppets and models, I actually wish we saw more, since they were mostly only used for really quick shots, but what we do get of them I thought looked great (and I kept pausing and doing frame-by-frame looks at them as often as I could). I would understand using them only for quick shots if they work on them wasn't that great, but considering the level of detail in them and how great they ended up looking, I'm surprised we weren’t given longer and better looks at them, especially when it comes to that amazingly well-made T. Rex head model - THAT was the stuff of a Carnosaur movie right there! The CGI models though is where things wavered. Luckily most of the time they too looked surprisingly great for such a low budget affair, but there were scenes and shots scattered throughout where they did not look anywhere near on-par with the rest of the movie. Over all though, I was more impressed then let down. 

I did not care, however, for showing a Raptor and a Rex in their full glory right off the bat within the first 10 seconds of the movie. It felt forced, unneeded, and without that scene the movie would have had an excellently-paced build-up to the reveal of the dinosaurs later in the movie. What they should have done was just give us a quick glimpse of an outline of...something...mysterious in the woods, and then the couple roars in the distance that we get at one point, and then that should have been it until the dinosaurs are let loose later in the movie. Sometimes it's the little changes that can make the big differences in the end.


Now, with some of those things out of the way, including everything that makes up the disappointment I felt at times throughout...this movie is FUN. Perfect? Hell no, very far from it as I've already covered, to the point where parts in that first half of the movie are almost unwatchable, depending on the scene. But despite all those issues the movie still ultimately manages to be fun as hell, thanks in large part to it's Carnosaur-style dinosaur carnage filling up the second half. We have Raptors stalking their prey in the dark, a Rex's head coming down through the roof of a house to eat someone and bursting through the walls to get to the others within, a Raptor breaking into a gas station's outhouse to get to the person using it, Raptors sneaking into the tour bus to get to two teens having sex, and later a Rex going all Jurassic Park on the bus by knocking it over, then upside down, and banging it around as it tries to get to the survivors inside, in addition to a very nice scene of two Rexes stalking the characters through a forest. And that stuff is only a small sample of the dino carnage on display here, culminating in a pretty awesome fight between two Raptors, two Rexes, and a Megalosaurus. Oh, and also toss in a tough badass lead chick with a crossbow as a weapon to fight against the dinosaurs. Once the movie truly kicks into high gear for it's second half, there's not a dull moment to be found, and plenty of action and gore in every single scene.

There's still one aspect I'm still not quite clear on though, and that's the subplot of one of the Raptors being loose all along. There was a Raptor that killed the misses in the beginning, that then started stalking the teens as they appeared in the town, but the movie never explained anything about that. There was never any mention of a dinosaur having escaped before that, nor any mention by the guy who was creating them being worried about one having escaped, and other than the intro scene the escaped Raptor didn't really do anything at all, so I'm not really sure what the deal was with that. The movie also never explains why or more importantly how the guy created the dinosaurs, just that he has. Which I suppose, for me viewing this as a Carnosaur 4-in-spirit movie, actually works kind of good cause I can just assume the guy found some leftover Carnosaur eggs from one of those movies – ha! Actually, speaking of the Carnosaur movies, I got a tad bit giddy when one of the characters names off the dinosaurs and say they're from the 'Carnosaur family'. I know that's actually a real thing, but seeing as how much I'm jonsing for comparing this to the Carnosaur movie series, that was the nice little sweet cherry on top for me. Although for a movie called Raptor Ranch, the Raptors themselves aren’t even really in the movie much - it's mostly just the two Rexes and the Megolosaurus that are the main dinosaurs here, and considering that the characters even say right in the movie that they're of the Carnosaur family, I'm not sure why the movie wasn't just named Carnosaur Ranch and be done with it. Not only would I have liked that Carnosaur connection in the name, but it also would have been more accurate since the dinosaurs of the Carnosaur family make up a hell of a lot more screentime then the Raptors do.

The movie also fully embraces the camp instead of trying to pretend it's not there like so many of these movies do, and at times it actually comes across like more of a comedy than I was expecting. I was expecting a dark, gritty, serious dinosaur horror movie along the likes of the Carnosaur flicks and while we do get quite a bit of that, there was equally as much of it that was played for laughs, including not one death-by-being-stepped-on, but two. I'm not saying the comedy wasn't fun, nor am I holding it against the movie, it just wasn't what I was expecting going into the movie is all.


In short, the flow of Raptor Ranch, aka The Dinosaur Experiment, felt very disjointed and lots of the poor editing made some aspects confusing to watch, plus the acting really doesn't help much either and most of the characters are unlikable and don't even act like real people, making the first half of the movie honestly a bit hard to sit through at times. However, once the dinosaur action really kicks into high gear around the halfway mark, the movie throws enough blood, gore, screams, and dinosaur attack scenes our way that you quickly forget about most of that other stuff because it's so much fun to watch, although some of the questionable editing certainly takes you out of the moment quite a few times. I do, however, love that almost all of it took place during the nighttime. So many B-Movies these days take place entirely during bright day scenes, I often find myself longing for the B-Movies of old, where they actually liked taking place in the dark and using that kind of atmosphere to its advantage, and I loved that this movie brought that back.

Even though the finished product is quite uneven and at times frustrating even, if there ever was to be a Carnosaur 4 made now-adays, I would actually really like for it to be along the lines of this movie, just with a bit stronger of a first half, as I felt this movie was quite a decent Carnosaur 4-in-spirit attempt that I can easily see myself adding to my annual Carnosaur series re-watch and just pretending it's part of that series

5/10 rooms in the Psych Ward


Comments

  1. The powers that be officially changed the film title to The Dinosaur Experiment....which sucks. Back in 06 the film was in negotiations with SciFi (now syfy) but a ton of legal battles halted the distribution of sales. It's supposed to show up on Netflix this year and has been doing well in all the gorefests. I disagree about Jana being talented in acting. As far as singing. ... well there's a reason she's been nominated for a handful of grammy's. I enjoyed the article! Thanks for posting.

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