In 1969 special effects master Ray Harryhausen gave us The Valley of Gwangi, a tale of cowboys squaring off against a stop motion dinosaur. In 2021 writer/director Joshua Kennedy (The Alpha Omega Man, The Night of Medusa) gives us Cowgirls vs. Pterodactyls, a tale of cowgirls squaring off against stop motion flying lizards. Harryhausen’s film has become a classic of its kind. Can Kennedy’s film aspire to a similar status, or at least be a decent tribute?
Cowgirls vs. Pterodactyls opens with narrator Martine Beswick (One Million Years B.C., Dr. Jekyll & Sister Hyde) telling us how pterodactyls once terrorized settlers out on the frontier. Settlers like schoolmarm Rebecca Crawford (Madelyn Wiley, Dracula A.D. 2015) whose husband Robert (Jonathan Tamez) has just been carried off by one of them.
Of course, Sheriff Winslow (Tom Pearson, Theseus and the Minotaur) doesn’t believe her. So she recruits the madam of the local cathouse Debbie Dukes Riley Masterson III (Haley Zega, Two Sticks) and gunslinger on the skids Bunny Parker (Carmen Vienhage, The Vesuvius Xperiment) and sets out to rescue him.
Cowgirls vs. Pterodactyls was obviously made on a bare-bones budget by people who love the genre and their enthusiasm shows. Most of the cast have appeared in the director’s previous films and obviously enjoy what he does and they’re doing How much you’ll enjoy the film depends on how well you can deal with the lack of budget. And if you have a sense of humour.
Kennedy does his best to create a convincing Old West setting but the details trip him up. Things like obviously modern eyeglasses, a character with a nose piercing, and the sheriff’s clothes stand right out. As do several guns that look like they came from a toy store rather than the factories of Colt or Winchester.
More of a concern is the film’s pacing. We get a look at the pterodactyls at around the fifteen-minute mark, but then, apart from a cute little hatchling, they almost entirely disappear until around the fifty-minute mark. Since the film only runs seventy minutes that means a lot of it is people wandering around.
That wandering also includes a subplot involving escaped outlaw Doris Yates (Dani Thompson, I Scream on the Beach!, Cute Little Buggers). Her scenes look like they were shot on a beach in her English homeland and edited into the film. She never appears in the same shot as the main cast, although an unconvincing double does in a Game of Death style joke.
The stop motion pterodactyls by Ryan Lengyel aren’t the most convincing things I’ve seen lately. They are, however, better than cheap CGI. The full-size prop head used in some scenes is very rubbery looking, like something out of a 1950s film.
Cowgirls vs. Pterodactyls isn’t a SyFy styled creature feature. It’s more of a somewhat silly tribute to Harryhausen’s films with scenes that reference them. For example, Robert’s abduction was inspired by the harpies tormenting the blind man in Jason and the Argonauts. The baby Pterodactyl hatching recalls the Ymir hatching from its egg in 20 Million Miles to Earth.
If you grew up on his films, or are a fan of them you may enjoy Cowgirls vs. Pterodactyls if its slower pace rather family-friendly tone doesn’t put you off. As somebody who did watch them growing up, I thought it was enjoyably nostalgic. But I wouldn’t have minded a bit more action either.
Cowgirls vs. Pterodactyls is available to stream. A Blu Ray is available here. You can check the director’s Facebook page for more details. He also has a YouTube channel with several of his older features.