UNITED STATES—It seemed like a cool thing to do: to go to a reenactment of scenes from a schlock horror movie meister in a gallery on the West Side. Brick walls and minimalistic setting. The event was a belated wake was organized to celebrate the passing of bargain-basement Ed Wood, Samuel X. Argos, who died last month, a day before his 97th birthday.
Argos was a reel pioneer who operated from the principle that Hollywood could be wherever you wanted it to be. Born in Cleveland in 1913, Argos found himself flipping burgers in a Tuscaloosa, Arkansas diner, daydreaming, “What am I doing here?” when he looked out the window at a shadow of the roadside stucco dinosaur that housed Dino’s burgers.
“Hell, I thought. Hollywood is right here,” he later recounted, “I’m in the belly of Hollywood.
Though frequently out of focus and captured from bizarre angles, the stucco dinosaur would be the star of the lauded debut dud, “And They Came Running from Cleveland.”
In an interview given only minutes before being crushed to death after a window-washers’ basked plunged six stories below the Knickerbocker Hotel, Argos showed no regrets about being snubbed by Oscar. He declared to film historian, Pete Boggs, “You notice how the best films, the ones that stand the test of time, lose out. I am honored, as a matter of fact, to have never, ever received a nomination.”
A lot of big names turned out for this event, a tribute to Pete Boggs groundbreaking scholarship on the Argus oeuvre. There was Tarantino and Alexander Payne, still smarting over “Downsizing” and Jules Kaminsky, the elder statesman of pariah directors, who consoled, “They’ll come around, just like they did for Sammy Argos.” Meanwhile, neo-Western star, Hod Childers was at the mic, playing Rex, the clueless male lead and the platinum blond played by Tuesday Weld (in a remarkable comeback).
“What’s going on inside the bubble void of your brain?”
“Would you like to know, big boy? I’m toying with an algorithmic breakdown of the creature’s vulnerabilities.”
“Vul-vulnerabiities,” mouthed Rex. “What’s that?”
“Go look it up in a thesaurus.”
In a pitch-perfect recreation of young Burt Reynolds’ Rex, Hod Childer’s says, “Dinosaurs are dead.”
Now, behind the howling crowd, an elder gent was pushed in a wheelchair by his burly caregiver. He laughed harder than anybody at the wooden acting. He laughed so hard, at one point the caregiver had to bend down and retrieve the elder’s dental bridge.
Then came the evening’s piece d’ resistance, the scene where the platinum blondshell turns out to be a paleontologist. She and Rex descend in a diving bell made vivid by bubbling sound effects and a school of fish projected on the wall. When the hit lake bottom, they come face-to-face with the amphibious creature that has been gobbling fishermen on dinghies. (Legend has it that Argos cleverly staged those violent scenes using clay miniature figures and toy boats in his own toilet tank).
Evelyn is about to save the world, and put Rex in his place in an ending lauded pre-femenist by Olympia Dukakis. There is a Sensurround rumble in the gallery which jolts few from their laughter. Squeals rise from the audience, a tingling, pleasurable fusion of terror and laughter.
Then it keeps coming. A gaping crack opens in the floor of the art gallery. Out fly pterodactyls and bats. There are screams, panic at the Big One. The strongman grips the wheelchair teetering on the edge of the widening precipice.
The elderly gent stands on rusty knees and bellows as the assembled scream and flee, “I am Zeus, I am Samuel X. Argos. I brought you here. You have the effrontery to laugh at my tragedies. Well, I give you this added treat. The dinosaurs came back and you’ll be living underground like cavemen.”
“Muh ha haha ha!,” Argos laughs and, before stumbling over the precipice into the orange glow radiating from the Earth’s deep core, he opens a tattered umbrella and says, “Be kind to one another.” Then the shaking stops, the jagged sides of the precipice seal back together, leaving those gathered dumbstruck and many paintings in the gallery left to be straightened.
Graydon Miller is the Wizard of Fiction.