Nether Regions 05.25.10: The Prehysteria! Trilogy
Posted by Chad Webb on 05.25.2010
Yes, this week I tackle the entire trilogy from Moonbeam Entertainment. Come join me as I take on “The World’s Oldest Party Animals” in the most exciting Nether Regions yet!
Nether Regions started as a segment of the Big Screen Bulletin that meant to showcase films that have been discontinued on DVD, are out of print in the United States, are only available in certain regions outside the United States, or are generally hard to find. Now it is a column all its own! You might ask "Why should I care about a film I have no access to?" My goal is to keep these films relevant because some of them genuinely deserve to be recognized. Every time I review a new film I will have a list of those I covered below so you can see if they have been announced for DVD release, or are still out of print.
Starring: Austin O'Brien, Brett Cullen, and Stephen Lee Directed By: Albert and Charles Band Written By: Mark Goldstein and Greg Suddeth Running Time: 84 minutes Release Date: June 30, 1993 Missing Since: 1997 Existing Formats: VHS Netflix Status: Not Available Availability: Rare - Hard to buy, but not to watch
This week is special. Instead of splitting up the Prehysteria! trilogy into three separate columns, I decided to combine them into one epic critique of this forgotten Direct-to-Video franchise. As most of them are around 80 minutes long, writing about them on their own would require some definite stretching on my part. No thanks. The sooner I'm finished with Moonbeam Entertainment, the better. Prehysteria! was the very first Moonbeam feature, and was the centerpiece for the company. It was released in 1993, and keep in mind that was the same year as Jurassic Park, a time when dinosaurs had a rise in popularity.
Austin jams to Elvis. Don't be cruel.
Harmless family fare might be a fitting way to describe these films, but the thought of watching one of these movies again makes me queasy. The first adventure stars Austin O'Brien, who appeared in The Last Action Hero with Arnold Schwarzenegger that same year. After My Girl 2 and Lawnmower Man 2, his career pretty much sputtered into nothingness, and he acts infrequently now. But in 1993 his face was somewhat recognizable. Sadly for him, if it was 1993 with today's technology, he would at least have his own facebook fan page, and I'm sure a dozen or so souls would follow him on Twitter.
It should be noted that the word "Prehysteria!" translates to being crazy about dinosaurs, according to story creators Peter and Andrea Von Sholly. Others equate it to Beatlemania. Our tale commences in some random jungle, where Rico Sarno (Stephen Lee), the curator of a local museum, is attempting to find some mysterious objects. He is accompanied by a group of stereotypical Natives, who, at the mention of the cursed Culebra Cave, flee into the forest. Their leader orders Rico not to enter, but he proceeds anyway, and finds a bunch of large eggs. The leader confronts him, but Rico hits him on the side of the head with an egg, and escapes with dollar signs in his eyes.
Meanwhile, we are introduced to the Taylor family, who of course has a dead mother. 90% of family films will involve a dead mom somewhere. Frank (Brett Cullen), the father, is a raisin farmer. Like Garfield, I hate raisins, and am beginning to hate this movie as a result. He has a pubescent son named Jerry (Austin O'Brien) and a teenage daughter named Monica (Samantha Mills). They search for fossils, and then sell them to the museum, where curatorial assistant (and mega-babe) Vicki (Colleen Morris) assists them. She also flirts with Frank heavily. As they wait for a price, Rico returns with his cooler of eggs. Apparently the Taylors took a cooler of their own for lunch inside the museum. I won't keep you readers in suspense, but I'll be damned if the coolers weren't switched. What is supremely idiotic is how. It turns out Ruby the golden retriever took the wrong cooler. She then sits on the eggs like a hen and they promptly hatch.
Miniature dinosaurs emerge, and it is explained that they are small due to being frozen in the cave for such a long period of time. Jerry is the first to spot them. Monica does soon enough. We learn that after the T-Rex takes a bite out of Monica's butt, that doing so will cause indigestion and brain damage. This should be a warning to any guy that dates her. The kids name the dinosaurs after musicians. The t-rex is Elvis because it's "The King." The stegosaurus is Jagger, the pterodactyl is Madonna, the triceratops is Hammer, and the brachiosaurus is Paula. So Rico is obviously distraught about his missing cooler, and begins hunting down the Taylors frantically. Before long, Frank discovers the dinosaurs' existence, and Vicki chooses to help them after a night of smooching with Frank on the couch.
The Taylors cling together in fear of Rico Suave.
The dinosaurs were handled by David Allan Productions and Mark Rapaport. For the early 90's, these effects might have been inventive, but the dinos have not aged well. Children probably won't care, but that's why adults are there…to point out the flaws. Co-Directors Albert and Charles Band must have just taken this idea and assumed it would carry for a whole film. The dinosaurs never actually do much of anything. They wiggle and open their mouths, but it becomes dull super fast. One scene has them all dancing, and mercifully this is the only time they go overboard in this first installment. Instead of having the dinosaurs as a part of the plot, we sit back as the kids try to hide them from their father, delay the running time with an insipid romance, and fight a cartoonish villain.
The performances could have been much worse. As humorous as his resume is, Austin O'Brien was a likable child actor, and does commendably as Jerry. He is given a weak script by Mark Goldstein & Greg Suddeth, but does not overplay it to the point of annoyance. Brett Cullen plays a loving and earnest father, and he also finds a consistent stride with the corny dialogue. He has enjoyed a healthy television career on various shows. Samantha Mills, an attractive blonde, is fine as the cynical (and semi-irritating) daughter that sneaks out with boys and rebels. Colleen Morris is just pleasant to look at. She is the token love interest for the recovering single Daddy. Stephen Lee is akin to fingernails on a chalkboard as the feeble foe Rico. In one sequence late in the movie, he steals the dinosaurs with a gun, and frighteningly tells the Taylors to turn around and count to 500 while he leaves. What a lame villain. He could have tied them up, drugged them, or hit them with rocks like they did to him, but no.
Albert and Charles Band were the production team behind Moonbeam and Empire. They have pumped out some profitable DTV efforts such as Ghoulies, Trancers, Puppetmaster, and Subspecies. Moonbeam was a division intended for children. I wonder what the parents said to their kids: "Forget Disney! You're getting Moonbeam. It's the way of the future." Prehysteria! is a fun premise on paper, but the execution is lousy simply because the dinosaurs are pointless. Plus, the story that surrounds them is so thin and frail that Calista Flockhart would cry for help. The janitor character has a scary constipated molester expression at the end, Jerry has a throw away obsession with Elvis, and there is really no acceptable closure once it's all set and done.
Final Rating = 5.0/10.0
Starring: Kevin Connors, Jennifer Harte, and Bettye Ackerman Directed By: Albert Band Written By: Brent Friedman and Michael Davis Running Time: 81 minutes Release Date: November 9, 1994 Missing Since: 1997 Existing Formats: VHS Netflix Status: Not Available Availability: Rare - Hard to buy, but not to watch
One year later Moonbeam has the ability to churn out its first sequel, because it seems that the classics Remote, Dragonworld, Pet Shop, and Beanstalk failed to take off as they wished. They also have less money available for this film, thus Madonna the pterodactyl must have an injured wing. If she flew, Moonbeam would have to pay for stop-motion animation. This tightening crosses over into the third film as well. Poor Madonna. No one cares about her wing. Prehysteria! 2, the middle installment of the series, goes to extreme lengths and reaches appalling depths to hurt the viewer. For some reason, the Bands think that as long as this is a children's film, they can do whatever they want and it will be deemed innocent family fun.
"No More Wire Hangers!" Wait, wrong movie.
The Taylors have gone on vacation, and leave some old coot to take care of the dinosaurs. He's about as reliable as Lindsay Lohan on New Year's Eve. The dinos quickly escape their greenhouse home and raid the raisins that the Taylors farmed. During a pick-up, they are shoveled into a crate of raisins and taken away. Amazingly the truck drivers missed the 5 dinosaurs that were crammed into a small crate. A rich brat named Brendan J. Wellington (Kevin Connors), who lives next to the stock yards, finds them inside a railcar. He spots them with a poor girl named Naomi (Jennifer Harte). They argue about who will keep them, but Brendan pays for the crate of raisins they are kept in.
Back at home, Brendan is greeted by a staff that hates him. There is Hiro (Michael Hagiwara) the Japanese cook, Ivan (Greg Lewis) the creepy gardener, and Ms. Winters (Bettye Ackerman) the domineering housekeeper. She is allergic to the dinosaurs, and makes it her goal to find what "pets" Brendan is housing and get rid of them. She wants him to be miserable. Meanwhile, Brendan's father (Dean Scofield) is barely home, and when he is he spends his time yelling hollow business jargon on his cell phone. Brendan grows close to the dinosaurs and forms a friendship with Naomi while trying to capture his father's attention. Hilarity and tears ensue.
You see, Moonbeam includes a short "making-of" featurette at the end of each VHS tape entitled "Video Zone." For the sequel, it only hurts them because it proves how lazy and cheap the filming of Prehysteria! 2 was. Not that it wasn't noticeable without Video Zone, but here the dinosaurs are shot up close a lot, making it clear that they are controlled merely by wires, or in some cases a bar and a handle to make the mouth move. It is a contraption a kid can buy in any dollar general store. There is also a sequence where Brendan is convincing Ms. Winters that the dinos are machines. They move and make noises like remote controlled props would. This is something I heard in the first film, but thought I was crazy. The illusion that these were real dinosaurs might not have been very genuine, but hearing the machine parts buzzing would make even a toddler lose their patience.
Albert Band directs this one on his own, and embraces the ludicrous above all else. The fivesome of prehistoric creatures behave in ways that are absolutely moronic. Elvis, the T-Rex, picks a lock with his tail. Later, you see all of them laughing hysterically like Gremlins, which this aims to be at times. Another scene has Ms. Winters chasing the dinos, and she is literally right on top of them with a broom, yet she misses them at least a hundred times. The kid duo competes with them for most inane gags. At one point, they distract the gardener by persuading him that a tree is talking to him. Ms. Winters calls two exterminators that act like military men (Larry Hankin and Alan Palo). Their names are Ketchum and Killem. Yeah.
Kevin Connors is Brendan J. Wellington. He was also in Phantasm III as Tim. If Auston O'Brien was an adequate child actor, Connors settles for mediocre. For some reason, the Bands give him the most outrageous costumes to compensate for the lack of interest in his character. He is introduced in a leather outfit where he pulls out a switchblade comb. Throughout this masterwork we see him in prison pajamas, a pirate outfit, a train conductor uniform, and a trenchcoat getup similar to a private detective. The neighborhood he resides in also seems to be suspiciously close to the trainyard, within walking distance actually. Mr. Wellington should re-evaluate his property value. Also, does Brendan have a mother, or did his pops get accosted by Ms. Winters as a young lad? Did the Bands really re-use the dead mother angle?
Brendan the pirate converses with hobo Naomi.
His little hobo girlfriend Naomi, depicted by Jennifer Harte in her only role, is basically an enigma. She lives amongst the train folk and is raised by a father we never meet. Instead, we see a no-name dude that works in the yards, but is not her Dad. Naomi is always seen with dirt on her face and the ugliest clothing, re-affirming the fact that she is homeless. I admit, these two kids have heart and they try to make the best out of this torturous script, but watching them is painful. Bettye Ackerman is Ms. Winters, the housekeeper that seems to order Brendan and his father around? How much power does she have? Little is known about these relationships, but even if it were it would make no sense. She reminds me of the wicked stepmother in Cinderella. Ackerman is grating as soon as she appears, and never lets up for a second. One dumb moment has Winters taking off her wig to reveal a witch-like bald head with stray hairs. If she wasn't evil before, we know now that baldness makes you mean as hell!
The only aspect of Prehysteria! 2 I thought was remotely comical was the Japanese cook singing food renditions of classic songs. It turns out that Albert Band was planning on co-directing this with Charles, but he never showed up on the set. Nice. He was probably hooking up with Colleen Morris from the previous movie. When Prehysteria! 2 isn't striving to be Gremlins, it recycles Home Alone hjincks with the exterminators, and hurls the "ignored child trying to impress parent" cliche at the viewer.
The filmmaking here is incredibly haphazard. Cables and endoskeletons from the dinosaurs are visible in many scenes, they are different colors on occasion, and no attempt is made to heighten their relevancy. I love how the dinosaurs themselves don't need to be in these films. Did anyone notice while they were making this or did they all want to finish quick enough so they could move on? And I'm sorry, but you'll have to forgive me if I'm not touched by Brendan's dad smashing his cell phone so he can learn to play with model trains again.
Albert Band claims that he didn't go overboard with Prehysteria! 2. If this is not going over the line, I'd hate to see what is. Someone save me. I'm on to the final stretch.
Final Rating = 2.0/10.0
Starring: Whitney Anderson, Fred Willard, and Bruce Weitz Directed By: David DeCoteau Written By: Michael Davis, Brent V. Friedman, and Neil Ruttenberg Running Time: 84 minutes Release Date: September 26, 1995 Missing Since: 1997 Existing Formats: VHS Netflix Status: Not Available Availability: Rare - Hard to buy, but not to watch
If I ever hear the Prehysteria! theme again, I will erupt into a fit of mad rage like Bruce Banner. It really is incredible when a sequel can get worse after a previous sequel that was almost as low as one can sink. Prehysteria! 3 accomplishes this. I must also add that someone in the audio department went a bit nutty with the sound effects. Even a burger chomp makes a noise for goodness sakes!
Hammer and Jagger fight over the total earnings for this movie.
This jewel begins with narration by a deep voice filled with wisdom as he explains how these "miracles" came to pass. This is accompanied by recycled footage from the previous two flicks. The man who was watching the Taylors' house, Mr. Cranston (Owen Bush), picks up the dinos from Brendan's house in Prehysteria! 2 and is finally ready to head back home. Unfortunately, his clunker of a truck breaks down on the way, and he pulls over near the King's Road Country Club Golf Course. He is out of gas because the dinosaurs took the cap off, but Mr. Cranston can't read gauges it seems. The golf course is saturated with a wide variety of nauseating characters. The dinosaurs escape the truck and make their way onto the property.
Hal MacGregor (Bruce Weitz) runs the golf course, but his brother Thomas (Fred Willard) owns a small piece of land right beside it which holds a miniature golf course. He has a daughter named Ella (Whitney Anderson), a son named Heath (Dave Buzzotta), and a wife named Michelle (Pam Matteson). Yes, at long last our main character has a living mother. That heroine is Ella, and she desperately wants to be a pro-golfer. Her father wants nothing to do with the sport. The mini-putt is now a scrap yard and he forbids her to play. Thomas was a great amateur golfer in his day, but he missed a big shot once and now he hates it. Yadda Yadda Yadda. Hal wants Thomas to hand over his land so he can woo a Japanese business man named Mr. Yamamoto (John Fujioka) into partnering with him for a spa & resort.
Thomas needs to pay off a loan he took out for the land, but has no money to do so. Hal knows this because he golfs with Thomas' banker. Isn't there a law about discussing private accounts? It doesn't take a genius to see where this is going. Ella eventually finds the dinosaurs, and it is their enthusiasm that influences her to clean up the mini-putt and convince her father to try and stir up business. Hal and his group of bumbling evil caddies try to sabotage the successful new "Dino-Putt", and….I'm tired of writing about this plot. If you're still reading this article, you deserve a gold star. The climax has Ella challenging Uncle Hal to a round of mini golf. If Ella wins, Hal pays the family loan. If she loses, Hal gets the property. It's Caddyshack for kids, folks! Yay!
This is one of the worst sequels, DTV or not, I have ever seen. I would spend a day with Brendan J. Wellington, watching him play with trains, or a whole week with Austin O'Brien, watching The Last Action Hero over and over again, until my eyes bleed, rather than wasting 80 minutes of my life with Prehysteria! 3 once more. Instead of music comedy, the wit here is geared towards film, TV, and politics. You have lines from Apocalypse Now and Godzilla. Someone actually used the Grey Poupon commercial joke, which I haven't heard that since Wayne's World. Thomas examines the tape of his legendary flubbed shot as if it were the JFK assassination, and the asinine caddies are named Needlemeyer, Bush, and Dole. Ha. Plenty of pratfalls involving this trio will be seen whether you like it or not. None of it induces a laugh, a chuckle, a smile, or even an accidental smirk. I doubt any kid who sat down to endure this agony understood the jokes either.
Whitney Anderson is quite cute as Ella, but her extraordinarily unbearable Scottish accent made me want to stick a hot branding iron up my backside with force. She switches from regular English to Scottish so many times, and in such a jarring fashion that I had the urge to punch the screen. And the thing is, I'm not sure if she was just messing around with the accent or not. The film has an odd obsession with Scottish culture and its celebrities (Sean Connery, Rod Stewart, and the Bay City Rollers), but never divulges any reason why other than to spew redundant golf history. Anderson's performance is truly vile, and what makes it worse is that I got the distinct impression she was talking down to any poor schmuck watching. At one point her Dad refers to her as "a strange girl" behind her back. What a wonderful father.
The only way the T-Rex could survive this shoot is by downing sake.
Fred Willard, the most recognizable name in the Prehysteria! series, is Thomas. I feel sorry for Fred. His character is written so scantily and with absolutely no care whatsoever. Observing Willard in this role is embarrassing. His wife, Pam Matteson, establishes zero chemistry with him. I know that is asking a bit much at this stage in the franchise, but hey. She sounds like she is from New York City, but fades in a Scottish and English tone in other instances. Bruce Weitz does his best Ted Knight impersonation as Uncle Hal. The first time we see Ella's brother Heath, portrayed by Dave Buzzotta, he is lounging with his shirt off, looking like a rock version of Andrew Keegan? That is not someone to idolize, but that is who he reminded me of. He also sports a Quiet Riot shirt, and it is the mid-90's. No girls for him.
David DeCoteau is responsible for the direction, but it might as well have been the Bands again. By the way, DeCoteau has had more pseudonyms than any other filmmaker I have come across. Here he is Julian Breen. I'd want to change my name too. Here is a question: Did anyone actually care about the dinosaurs? Aren't they supposed to be the focus of the series? If their level of importance was tiny in the first two, it hits rock bottom in Prehysteria! 3 as they serve no purpose at all. They wandered onto the golf course to be pets for a day, and then were picked up by Mr. Cranston. They do aid Ella and the fam in rebuilding the mini-putt. Oh yes, Elvis and the gang saw through metal, paint, drag Tonka trucks filled with rocks, and even cook "Dino burgers." Yes, that is what they are called. They even wear chef hats for the grill. It gets worse. The dinosaurs suggest the climactic bet in a brief game of charades.
I began by describing the first film as "harmless", but now that I have reached the end, I have eaten my words. It's not just the acting or the clichés that hurt this installment, but the sloppy quality of the entire production. This is probably the most misguided entry of the trilogy. It's as if the Bands just made these movies to make them. I can detect nothing unique, funny, quirky, or interesting about any that would convince me to revisit them again. The thought is scary. When it's all set and done, all Ella needed to do to win the big game was extract the "Excalibur" putter from the stone and think happy thoughts like Peter Pan. Think I'm making it up? Watch and feel the pain yourself.
Final Rating = 1.0/10.0
Final Franchise Summary
In retrospect, looping all of these films into one column was a very wise idea. I can only imagine my mood if I extended it for three weeks. At the end of Prehysteria! 3, Mr. Cranston alludes to the possibility that he may lose the critters again. I guess that was the plan, but thank the merciful Heavens we did not receive another sequel. What boggles my mind is that the dinosaurs meant so little to each story. It would be like having Frodo's ring in The Lord of the Rings trilogy as just a random piece of jewelry he wears that is rarely mentioned and has no affect on the plot. In my opinion, these movies got progressively worse, but some may disagree. I realize many folks out there could have cherished these as children and will become angry after reading my comments. Watch them again and then choose your thoughts carefully. I could end with a lame line about these dinosaurs being extinct, but that's too easy. I'm not sure why this hasn't been released on DVD by Paramount. I would have assumed a Triple Feature or something similar that you could pick up at Wal-Mart would have been completed years ago. I doubt many petitions have been started for these. I hope I did not give anyone the idea.
After a hectic weekend of wedding-related stuff, I charge on to another week of work. I did listen to The Black Keys' new album Brothers, which was superb. I did get the chance to see some movies. One was David Cronenberg's M. Butterfly, which I found hugely disappointing. Luckily My Man Godfrey from 1938 cheered me up. The recent episode of Glee directed by Joss Whedon and featuring Neil Patrick Harris was terrific. I hope the show continues its streak of strong episodes. I have also started watching Man v. Food, which is now one of my favorite shows. It makes me hungry. I missed the WWE Over the Limit PPV on Sunday, but I can't say as I'm sorry about that. See you next week!