The Legend Of Marvin Drenk
By Chris Oakley
Once upon a time (the mid-1960s, to be more precise), in a picturesque little West Coast farming village known as Los Angeles, a man named Marvin Aloysius Drenk-- whose initials, fittingly enough, were ‘MAD’ --worked in the motion picture industry. He wasn’t an auteur like Eisenstein or Griffith, or a maker of gaudy epics like De Mille, or a seeker of higher truths like Truffaut, or even a lowbrow entertainer like Russ Meyer.
He did bug movies. Very bad bug movies. In fact, "bad" was a pathetic understatement of the truth: Drenk’s feature films insulted everything that was good and right about the cinematic arts. In some countries, they were banned outright as a threat to public safety, since they were so incompetently made that the filmgoers brave enough or crazy enough to sit through them felt cheated, and then angry; more than once that anger had led to full-scale riots.1 After Drenk went to that great backlot in the sky, his mutant bug films would be used by film school professors as a textbook example of how NOT to make movies. They were that awful.2 Even porno movie directors got more respect at the box office than Marvin Drenk’s monster bug flicks-- at least the porn directors knew which way to point the camera, while Drenk’s movies often looked like they’d been shot by an inebriated tree sloth.
And speaking of getting shot, Drenk had twice almost been gunned down by irate ex-producers who wanted to get back at him for trash- canning their professional prospects. Curiously enough the LAPD, who usually jump on Hollywood-related crimes like fleas on a dog, failed to take much interest in solving these two murder attempts; some of the department’s homicide detectives, in fact, secretly wished that one of the would-be killers had succeeded.
It didn’t help matters much that Marvin Drenk’s opinion of himself was higher than Abe Lincoln’s approval rating after the Gettysburg Address.3 Despite the fact that his pictures bombed more often than a B-52 squadron, he was convinced he was the greatest film director who’d ever walked the earth. He was so convinced of his own greatness that whenever a critic dared give his movies a negative review-- which, as you can probably guess, happened pretty often --he was quick to accuse said critic of being part of a vast international "smear campaign" bent on his personal destruction. The fact that no evidence of such a campaign had ever been found was little deterrent to him; in fact, he took it for granted that this evidence was being suppressed by the masterminds of this non-existent cabal. His theory about the alleged smear campaign was so bizarre and utterly lacking any shred of credibility it would have had Oliver Stone saying "Geez, this guy is wacko!"
The only reason he was making movies at all, and that he wasn’t locked up in jail or a mental hospital, was that he had inherited a rather sizable trust fund from his late father, one of the few people in human history dottier than Marvin himself. One day Drenk got the bright idea to use some of that money to finance a unique solution to his cinematic troubles; as you’re about to see, though, the cure would turn out to be even worse than the disease....
Of all the stupid ideas Marvin Drenk had come up with over his long and not-so-brilliant career, his concept of breeding actual giant roaches to appear in his monster movies had to be the worst. One of the biggest reasons his movies kept failing at the box office-- that is, aside from the fact he couldn’t direct a film to save his life -- was that his monster roaches never looked sufficiently menacing. They were either obviously bogus-looking plastic models or actual roaches that were too miniscule to cause more than a brief grimace of disgust when they appeared on-screen.
And real roaches didn’t always cooperate with what Drenk wanted when he was making his monster movies. In fact, in one particularly embarrassing instance during the shooting of Son of the Cockroach the head cameraman actually filmed a human hand pushing one of the stunt roaches in front of the camera lens.4 Drenk, who wasn’t exactly the brightest light on the soundstage, got the idea that it was another roach he was seeing behind the stunt roach and left the shot in the final print; when more sensible people tried to point out to him he was wrong, he quickly accused them of being agents of the non-existent smear campaign.
His quest for the perfect genuine monster roach would bring him to the laboratory of a scientist who shared his passion for bugs, Dr. Igor Reinhardt...
Dr. Reinhardt’s laboratory was located in what had once been an aircraft hangar way out in the California desert. It was in a sense inevitable that they would find each other sooner or later; they were both chubby and prematurely balding, they were both disgraces to their respective professions, and they both had high self-esteem completely unjustified by reality.
Dr. Reinhardt was a geneticist-- or at least he had been until the West German government shut down his laboratory after one of his experiments tried to eat Konrad Adenauer. He had left Munich lock, stock, and test tube and was now trying to re-establish his lab out on the American west coast. That, however, was proving easier said than done, since he was low on cash and nearly every reputable science agency in the country(and many of the disreputable ones too, for that matter) was avoiding him like he was carrying the plague.5 So when one day Reinhardt got Drenk’s letter asking what the not-so-good doctor could do to help him breed giant roaches, he was overjoyed; Drenk was known to be one of the richest men in America, and being connected to a major Hollywood player(Reinhardt thought) would be a valuable asset in boosting his public profile as he sought to regain his past glory.
"Velcome, Mr. Drenk!" Dr. Reinhardt gushed when Marvin Drenk strolled into his laboratory.
"Thank you, Dr. Reinhardt." said Drenk. "I’m told that you’re the man to see when it comes to insect breeding." Looking around at the seemingly endless rows of glass tanks full of larger-than-normal bugs, he added: "They say you’re especially talented when it comes to creating--" he paused for dramatic effect "--giant roaches." The wheels were already turning in his head....
Reinhardt led Drenk through a long tunnel that, for reasons Drenk couldn’t quite think of just then, vaguely reminded him of one of the dirt passageways from The Great Escape. Marvin Drenk had always wanted to make a World War II movie, but none of the actors he hoped to cast in that war movie were interested in working with him. In fact, the general consensus around Hollywood was that working with Marvin Drenk essentially constituted career suicide. Just about every entertainer who was anybody, had been anybody, or would one day be anybody flatly turned Drenk down cold when he tried to approach them about working on his war movie-- or any of his other projects for that matter.
"So what is it you want to show me?" he finally asked Reinhardt when they reached the end of the tunnel.
"Something I think you vill be impressed with, Mr. Drenk!" The doctor dashed over to a massive object draped in tarpaulins; a minute later, he pulled the tarpaulins off to reveal something that looked like it had been stolen off the set of Plan 9 From Outer Space. Drenk had seen some strange things in his day(especially after three or four martinis), but this...this took the cake.
Staring at the contraption with eyes as big as his ego, Drenk gasped: "What in the name of D.W. Griffith is that?!!"
"Ach, zat is ze invention that vill give you ze giant roaches you vant, Mr. Drenk!" Dr. Reinhardt said, beaming. "I call it ze Reinhardt 2000 Cosmic Matter Expander!" He motioned Drenk to stand back, then handed the hack film director a pair of darkened goggles while slipping a second pair over his own face; a moment later, he reached behind the massive ungainly contraption and threw a long switch...
....and the room lit up like a Vegas neon sign as the Cosmic Matter Expander spat a gaudy tongue of blue energy at a Japanese beetle on the floor in front of the huge machine. To Drenk’s utter amazement,6 the beetle actually seemed to grow right before his eyes until it was as big as a full-grown housecat. Once the bug had reached that size, Dr. Reinhardt turned the machine off and proudly gestured at the newly enlarged beetle. It was the first time Drenk had ever seen a bug that size outside of his studio’s special effects workshop or an alcoholic hallucination...
To be continued...
1Not to mention drunken brawls, knife fights, and the occasional coup attempt.
2Rumor has it that during the Six-Day War the Israeli army used Drenk’s movies to extract information from Egyptian POWs.
3And never mind if said high opinion was largely unjustified.
4One of the production assistants was overheard commenting that the roach looked reluctant to be doing the scene, to which another production assistant responded by saying if this were true, it would mean the roach was smarter than some of the people working on the set of that movie.
5And no one would have been particularly surprised if he were.
6And as anyone who knew him back in high school could attest, leaving Drenk utterly amazed wasn’t a very hard thing to do.