One of the things that I’ve been forced to deal with recently is that I’m old. Old enough to remember summer nights at the drive-in with my sisters and parents watching questionably budgeted movies. This was in the 70’s. It was a simpler time, and by simpler, I mean dumber. No matter what was playing, we’d see it. Every weekend, my folks would load up the car with blankets, lemon-lime Fresca, Shasta Black Cherry and pretzels and we’d go to the drive-in in Danbury to see whatever new movie was out. My sisters recall this, but not in the detail I do. I was hooked. As a little kid, those special effects looked as good as Jurassic Park. They’d show three movies a night there! Between flicks, I would go and play on the playground in front of the screen while the projectionist changed reels in order to serve up the next helping of cinematic fare my parents had paid for. In this day and age, that seems a little risky, doesn’t it? I guess I was never cute enough to get kidnapped.
One of the first movies I remember seeing was Bug. It was the cautionary tale of “Beware of subterranean cockroaches that can write on walls and shoot fire out of their asses”.
The hero was Dr. Parminter, played by Bradford Dillman, a guy who looked like Tony Perkins older, butcher brother. Actually, he wasn’t really the “hero” per se, but he was the scientist who figured out how evil the cockroachus infernal were, and sacrificed his own life to rid the world of the problem. He achieved this by diving into a fiery ditch, if memory serves. Then an earthquake buried him and the bugs, so maybe God was the hero. I don’t know. I’m no theologian.
A year passes, summer arrives again and I get packed into the car to go see The Swarm. In case you’re not familiar with the movie, it’s about a swarm. Of bees. Killer bees. It also features Michael Caine delivering a performance with less gusto than he gave in Jaws:The Revenge.
At any rate, there’s Bradford Dillman again, albeit in a smaller role, but still doing his part in the good fight against the Africanized menace. Does that make him racist? I don’t know. I’m no activist.
Oh yeah. He died in The Swarm, too. Of bee-stings. Hope that’s not a spoiler!
This is where it gets sad. A couple years later, we go to see Piranha.
By this time, the Danbury Drive-In has fallen on hard times. Not so many cars there, the playground has been dismantled and they’re only showing one movie a night. But there he is again! Bradford Dillman, dealing with genetically enhanced piranha about to wreak havoc over a summer resort. In the climactic scene, he tells his female companion to count to 100 as he dives into waters infested with uber-fish. I remember holding my breath and trying to keep up, but that scene went on for about fifteen minutes. I almost died doing that, but Bradford Dillman didn’t! He still made it to the surface after flipping the underwater switch to pollute the lake and kill the piranhas. Actually, he was pretty bit up and swam through toxic water, so his chances of surviving after that were pretty slim. He probably got sepsis. I don’t know. I’m no doctor.
In summary, I’d just like to raise a glass and toast Bradford Dillman for his stalwart contributions to 70’s “Nature Runs Amok” cinema, and to his influence on my childhood and for helping me down a path of knowing a bunch of trivia that makes people look at me funny. But one thing I know for sure? When Nature runs amok, there’s only one man to call.
And here’s a quote from the man himself, reflecting on his career.
” I’ve had a wonderful life. I married the most beautiful woman in the world. Together we raised six children, each remarkable in his or her own way and every one a responsible citizen. I was fortunate to work in a profession where I looked forward to going to work every day. I was rewarded with modest success. The work sent me to places all over the world I’d never been able to afford visiting otherwise. I keep busy and I’m happy. And there are a few good films out there that I might be remembered for.”
And there you have it.