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Stanny And The T-Rex: An Interview With Stewart Raffill

Stanny And The T-Rex: An Interview With Stewart Raffill

June 09, 2020
Sam Wineman

It’s no secret I am a Stanny (that’s “Tanny + stan” for the uninitiated). Even before I saw the gore cut of Tammy and the T-Rex (1994) — or as the title card inexplicably reads, Tanny and the Teenage Rex — I was hooked. Not only is it my particular flavor of bonkers, but it’s also an important entry in the queer horror canon as it features a gay, black character named Byron (played by Theo Forsett). That kind of representation is rare in the genre, even by today’s standards.

I reached out to the film’s director, Stewart Raffill, to find out more about Tammy. Because it was our first meeting, I sent him a selfie so he could find me. He replied with a photo of himself with a tiger … from 1962. He later explained that it was from his days as an animal trainer. 

Raffill is a delightful blend of charm and eccentricity, and his films reflect that. By the time he was approached by producer Etka Sarlui to direct Tammy and the T-Rex, he already had 11 features under his belt, including the notorious ET-inspired Mac and Me (1988).

This interview has been condensed for length and clarity.

Stewart Raffill: [Etka Sarlui] says, “I have a T-Rex. And I have it for two weeks…you want to make a movie with it?” I said, “Yeah, is it trained?” [laughter]

Sam Wineman: What was the timeline between when he told you he had the T-Rex and when you started shooting?

SR: Three weeks.

SW: What? No.

SR: Yeah. It’s happened to me two or three times [with movies]. I thought to myself, obviously Sarlui was inspired by Jurassic Park. He wanted to cash in on that to a degree. But the dinosaurs were amazing in that film. You’re going to make a sci-fi movie about a movie that costs Universal over a hundred million dollars to make and I’m going to make it for under a million?

So here you go: you’re me. And you have three weeks to write a script, find the cast, find the locations, hire the crew, get the permits, and live with whatever you go for. You see the dinosaur and it’s really bad. It’s corny. It can hardly move. No budget in there to do CGI. So how do you save yourself? You’re doing a movie now that could be the worst movie ever, so the only way to go is to accept that fact and go for camp.

Once you decide that, anything goes. Any innuendo, any acceptable crudeness, we’re going to go for it. We’re just going to put it all in. So we finish the movie, Sarlui sees it and he’s furious. 

He brings in his own editor and recuts the movie, takes all the gore out and half of the jokes because he didn’t understand them. “I want to make a family film with this dinosaur.” And he just recut the movie so I walked away. I said, “You’re crazy. It’s not going to work and this is the only thing that will.”

SW: So you never saw the cut that he did?

SR: No. People told me about it. I didn’t go and see it. I didn’t want to see it.

SW: I feel like your characters are people I don’t expect to see or haven’t seen a lot of. How do you choose them?

SR: I just choose people that I think are interesting and most people are so boring. Do you know what I mean? I want colorful characters in a movie. So that’s what I try to do.

Theo, right from the beginning, had his character down. If you see the opening scene when they go in the door and she introduces him to Paul, they’re laughing. They laughed all the time because Theo was so funny. 

SW: When I first saw it, I wondered if maybe they were just laughing because he’s gay.

SR: No, they’re just laughing because he was a smart comedian. He had comments about them that were insightful. I kind of gave people [freedom]; I said, this is the dialogue I wrote. Do it any way you want to do it. Have fun with it.

When you write a script, the two main characters get all the attention. You never have time for all the others. And you fence yourself in if you’re not careful because people will bring their own thing if you give them the space to do it. You have to cast in a certain spectrum of people but the humanness that they bring…you can’t come up with what Theo came up with.

SW: Is there anything that Theo brought to that character that you didn’t expect or that was that added to it?

SR: His relationship with Denise. Because she loved him. Everybody loved him.

SW: The two of them are a team.

SR: It’s something that’s very personal. It’s very natural. But there’s space for each of their sexualities and they still blend.

SW: Did you get any pushback for having a gay character?

SR: No.

SW: I think that there’s a lot of fear about what will happen if we put characters in films that are different from the norm.

SR: They’re happy to see it. We all sit for six hours a day watching television, looking for something new. It’s all this stuff that’s human and makes us all the way we are. We are hardly that different in the end if you think about it.

SW: I heard there were wildfires during filming, and that in some scenes you can actually see the smoke.

SR: Over the hill come these huge black clouds. And then the flames, and I’m going, holy shit. And then the fire department comes. I had this old AD who’d done some of these movies with Pekinpaw and people like that…and he says, “They want us to leave now.” And I say, I haven’t got this and we’ve all set it up all morning. And he says, “Give me $500, cash.” I ask why and he says, “Give me the $500 cash, I’ll deal with it.” He’s like an old cowboy. So he goes over the park official and I see them talking. He leaves and then [my AD] gives me a thumbs-up. That’s the way these movies get made.

SW: I don’t know if you saw, but the title card says: “Tanny and the Teenage T-Rex.”

SR: I don’t know what that was.

SW: They never say Tanny right in the script?

SR: No. It’s Tammy, so it’s just a mistake. It’s just like, “This is campy. They got the wrong title up there as well.”

SW: I love it. I hope they keep it.

SR: Well, eventually in this business, you give up. [laughter]

Sam Wineman is the writer and director of multiple short films including the award-winning The Quiet Room and the segment “Milk and Cookies” in the Christmas horror anthology Deathcember. He’s directing the upcoming Shudder original documentary on queer representation in horror.

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