Dinosaurus! came on the tail end of the 1950s cycle of revived dinosaur films that began with The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms (1953). The revived dinosaur enjoyed a healthy life on the big screen throughout the 1950s in other films like Godzilla, King of the Monsters (1954), The Beast of Hollow Mountain (1956), The Giant Behemoth/Behemoth the Sea Monster (1958), Gorgo (1961) and Reptilicus (1961) to name but a handful. Most of these raised the good old spectre of atomic testing as the cause of the beasts rampage. However, as the early 1950s fears of the imminent fall of The Bomb began to dissipate, the genre began to lose interest in atomic themes. Other much cheaper variants such as Neanderthal Man (1953), Monster on the Campus (1958) and the notorious likes of Eegah (1962) and Trog (1970) dispensed with dinosaurs and costly special effects altogether and simply revived cavemen, allowing the monster to be cheaply played by a man in an animal skin. Dinosaurus! sits somewhere down around here it revives both dinosaurs and cavemen, although by now any notion of atomic testing has been forgotten.
Dinosaurus! has a fairly awful reputation but contrarily I rather liked it. Liked it in the way that one always lavishes encouragement on the slow-learner in a classroom when you see that they are trying their best if not entirely succeeding. The special effects come from Tim Baar, Wah Chang and Gene Warren who sometimes operated together under the company name Projects Unlimited and provided stop-motion effects that were usually cheap, sometimes better when the budget could afford, to a number of films of the era including The Time Machine (1960), Master of the World (1961), Jack the Giant Killer (1962), The Wonderful World of the Brothers Grimm (1962), 7 Faces of Dr Lao (1964) and tvs Land of the Lost (1974-7). The effects here are somewhat crude but at the same time one cannot fault that the group try their best and stage the scenes undeniably well. There is a battle between the T-Rex and the brontosaurus that holds something of the fight between Kong and the pterodactyl in King Kong (1933). The climax, even if the special effects are not up to it, does have the wonderfully imaginative notion of a T-Rex battling with a modern crane on the side of a cliff. There is even a scene where a T-Rex attacks a bus filled with people that is remarkably similar to the scene where the T-Rex attacks the tour party in Jurassic Park (1993), which almost certainly must have influenced Steven Spielberg.
What is also likeable about Dinosaurus! is the live-action scenes with the Neanderthal man loose in civilisation. There are some at-times amusing scenes where he encounters a woman with a mudpack on her face and flees in fright, attempts to eat books and plastic fruit, smashes up his reflection in a mirror and a ham radio that starts to squawk at him, or where the kid nonchalantly tries to introduce him to a refrigerator, a gas oven and sitting at a table and eating with a fork. It becomes even more amusing during the scenes where the caveman abducts Kristina Hanson and expects her to play housewife and cook a rabbit he has caught, while she tries to fend off his advances and sing him a lullaby to put him to sleep. You are not entirely sure during these scenes whether Irvin S. Yeaworth has his tongue planted in his cheek or not. One thing is certain that the actor playing the Neanderthal, Gregg Martell, does an extremely good job of doing so. You do get the real feeling of a primitive trying to make some sense of an entirely incomprehensible modern world rather than just an actor giving a comic performance. It is in these parts that Dinosaurus! does show some imaginative flair.
Elsewhere, the live-action scenes seem perfunctory. The leading man and woman, Ward Ramsey and Kristina Hanson, are stolid and undeveloped characters. While Fred Engelberg does put some effort into the role of the bullying corrupt island manager, the rest of the supporting cast are all played as caricatures the drunken Irish watchman, native Latinos who speak pidgin English, the cute kid and the comic-foil of the character of Dumpy who is forever forgetting not to light up while carrying a bag of Molotov cocktails.
(Review copy provided courtesy of Kathy Tipping)
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