Bad Girls We Love: Helga from Tammy and the T-Rex

Tammy and the T-Rex (1994) is one of my favorite examples of a lost cult classic rediscovered decades later by B-movie aficionados thanks to a boutique label restoring it for a Blu-ray release. I do not remember this movie from the nineties, but that’s probably because it came and went in a flash and barely played anywhere. I found it, like many did, in 2019 when Vinegar Syndrome released the gorier uncut version, which hadn’t been seen in the United States previously. I immediately fell in love with this wacky, slapstick, sweet, and bloody science fiction-horror-comedy about a teenager whose brain is transplanted into the body of a robotic Tyrannosaurus Rex by a mad scientist. Hilarity and all manner of bodily fluid splatter ensue!

As you might imagine by that plot synopsis, Tammy and the T-Rex does not take itself even remotely seriously. It’s a freewheeling, absurdist delight. Denise Richards stars as Tammy, the girlfriend of the boy (the late Paul Walker) whose brain is put inside a robot dinosaur. It’s my favorite Denise Richards performance, edging out Wild Things (1998). Terry Kiser (Weekend at Bernie’s) is the mad scientist Dr. Wachenstein, and boy does he have a blast with the role. Finally, Canadian actress Ellen Dubin (Napoleon Dynamite) is the reason this post exists. Her performance as Helga, Wachenstein’s sexy lab assistant with benefits (if you know what I mean, and I think you do), is a bad girl we love despite her propensity for gleefully enabling the evil Wachenstein in his unethical schemes.

Helga is a memorable, and lovable, villain for a number of reasons. Despite her sociopathic leanings, she goes about her work with an infectious enthusiasm that’s impossible not to love. Helga’s eagerness to dive headfirst into Wachenstein’s demented work is misguided, of course, but also hilarious. Everything about the two of them is hilarious, in fact. Kiser and Dubin go for broke with broad comedic performances that make spending time with their characters an utter delight.

Helga also happens be a knockout, a statuesque beauty with a fashion sense as tacky as it is eye-catching. Dubin’s IMDb page lists her trademark as “Longest Legs in Showbiz” and that definitely seems like a worthy title based on this movie. With a wardrobe consisting of dangerously plunging necklines, micro-miniskirts, and towering heels, Helga dresses like no other lab assistant ever would—but she’s an evil lab assistant so of course she dresses this way! At 5’11”, Dubin is like the funniest super model you’ve ever known, and her commitment to the role transcends Helga’s secondary character status.

I don’t know if Helga’s oral fixation was in the script or if it was a brilliant acting choice by Dubin, but either way it’s a riot. Nearly every time she’s onscreen, Helga is voraciously sticking food or gum in her mouth, zealously licking crumbs or blood off her fingers, or taking a deep drag from a cigarette. Being evil with Dr. Wachenstein makes Helga very hungry. It’s little character details like this that make Dubin’s performance so enjoyable. She gives us so many funny little tidbits to process that it brings a depth to Helga that might not have been there if a lesser performer played the part.

Tammy and her T-Rex boyfriend eventually overcome the dastardly duo of Dr. Wachenstein and Helga, but not before our villains chew the scenery where chance they get. In many ways, Helga reminds me of the endless parade of mini-skirted gun molls that assisted villains like the Joker, the Penguin, and the Riddler in the camp 1960s Batman television series. She’s cartoonishly evil, fabulously dressed, and sexy enough to almost get away with murder. Even a stalwart do-gooder like Batman would have a hard time not loving this bad girl.

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