Only one standing ovation?
Theo Hauser waved to the crowd and took a seat on the sticky stage. The freezing Santa Monica theatre was at full capacity.
He crossed his right leg over his left and settled in for another night with fans remembering his 1975 slasher classic, the only film on his resume that was still being shown anywhere in the new century. It would be his third Q&A of the month, following his appearances in Hollywood and Century City. It was a busy time for the horror director. . It was October, after all.
The moderator for the evening wasn’t a significant film director or personality; the young man before him looked like he belonged at the concession stand.
“Mr. Hauser,” the moderator began, “we are so happy to welcome you to our screening tonight and to give the audience an opportunity to meet one of their favorite filmmakers. How does it feel to be here talking about a film you made thirty-five years ago?”
Theo laughed and started scratching his bald head. He was close to seventy. “It makes me feel old.”
Most of the audience laughed too. The crowd was a mix of all ages, from pre-teens to centenarians.
“No, honestly, it’s a joy and a privilege,” Theo said. “When we made Chainsaw Murders back in ’75, we shot it in sixteen days. We had no money, no experience. The enthusiasm got us through.”
“And the film wasn’t a success right away, is that correct?”
“Yes. It took a couple years for the film to develop a cult following. It wasn’t until it started playing in drive-ins that people started talking about it, and it wasn’t until critics started praising it in the early 1980’s that people started approaching me about it…”
And on and on they went, Theo trying not to bore himself with the same old stories, jokes, and life lessons concerning his ancient horror masterpiece. He went on to make five more movies after Chainsaw Murders, but nothing had made a dent at the box office. When his controversial 2002 feature about the Columbine massacre went straight-to-DVD, only to be pulled from shelves days later due to customer complaints, he knew his days as a horror director were numbered. The older he became, the more he wondered if he’d ever be able to get another film off the ground.
And so he spent the latter part of his career traveling the country attending horror conventions, film festivals, and small town screenings. And everywhere he went, nobody ever wanted to talk about his other movies. They all wanted to talk about Chainsaw Murders. Sometimes he felt like a one-trick pony, a creative visionary who once had a shot at a memorable career but failed miserably.
But then he remembered that it could be worse.
Better one classic than nothing.
“OK, then,” the moderator said. “Now we’re going to open up the floor to questions. If anyone with a question would just raise their hand…”
At least twenty hands shot up in the air.
“Yes,” the moderator said. “You, with the orange shirt.”
The first fan sat in the second row. He was so fat the director wondered how he had managed to physically enter the theatre.
“Yes, hi, Mr. Hauser, this is a real honor,” he said. “I’m sure you get this question a lot, but I was wondering if you are ever going to make a sequel to The Chainsaw Murders.”
Theo had gotten this question so many times that he had exhausted his toolbox of answers. Sometimes he would respond with something funny and witty; sometimes, cold and bitter. Occasionally he would delve into a long story regarding the years he spent writing a second installment that in the end proved to have too high a budget for any studio head to sign off on.
“No,” he said.
The second question concerned the casting, the third concentrated on his use of music, and the fourth dealt with his rumored romantic relationship with the film’s leading lady.
“We slept together once,” he said.
There was some mild laughter scattered throughout the audience.
“OK, fine, twice. What can I say? She was hot.”
A lot of the younger boys in the audience applauded. Even the moderator shared in their enthusiasm.
“Thanks for clearing that up, Mr. Hauser,” he said. “Another question?”
A few timid hands popped up, but it was a man in the center of the room who raised his hand highest of all.
“Yes, you,” the moderator said. “The one with the black jacket.”
The man nodded and got up on his feet. He had short black hair and a pale, pedestrian face. He flaunted a prominent smile that would’ve been more noticeable if it weren’t for the tears in his eyes.
“Mr. Hauser, I just wanted to thank you so much for gracing us with your presence this evening and I wanted to congratulate you on the thirty-fifth anniversary of not just one of the finest horror films ever made but one of the greatest motion pictures of all time…”
This fan had a weird voice and an even weirder rhythm to his speech , enunciating specific words and phrases, that gave the room an instant aura of awkwardness, so much so that Theo wanted to bolt for the emergency exit right then and there.
“…I have seen this film well over fifty times and every time I see it I find myself just glued to the screen and captivated by every single shot and moment that resulted from the creative wonderland that is your brain…”
The guy wasn’t stopping. Worse, there didn’t seem to be a question in sight.
Theo glanced briefly at the moderator, who seemed at a loss for what to do.
“…and you are so well-regarded for The Chainsaw Murders that many neglect your other truly terrific films including Row Boat, The Millennium Killers, Sick Sassafras, and Columbine: A Day in History, the latter of which may be one of the most underrated films in the history of the cinema…”
“Question!” a young woman coughed from behind the man.
“Ask a question!” an older guy screamed from the back of the theatre.
The moderator forced a smile and turned to his left. “All right, let’s open the floor to some other people…”
“…And in conclusion,” the man continued, “I think I speak for everyone in this room in saying that we could not have been treated tonight to a more talented, spectacular genius of a filmmaker than our very own Theo Hauser, a man who will continue to make incredible motion pictures for many more decades to come. Mr. Hauser, I would like to take this opportunity to consider you my friend. Thank you and God bless.”
The man finally took a seat, causing much applause in the room.
The moderator immediately took the next available question, but Theo couldn’t keep his eyes off the strange man. The guy had a giant brown briefcase resting on his knees, as well as what looked to be a guitar case on the aisle next to his seat. Theo wondered if this bizarre individual expressed his brand of irrational behavior with lots of directors at a multitude of venues, or just with him.
“Mr. Hauser? Did you get that?”
He glanced at the moderator. “Hmm?”
“This young woman in the front here just asked if you had any projects in development.”
He looked down to see a pretty girl no older than twenty waving at him.
“Oh, yes, hi there,” he said, trying to blink himself out of his daze. “I’ve been doing a lot of writing lately. Currently I’m working on a new screenplay.”
“So we’ll be seeing a new film of yours soon?” the girl asked in a genuinely hopeful tone.
“Honey, as soon as I can find my ending.”
Laughter erupted from the entire audience, clearly from some jaded screenwriters.
“Well, on that note,” the moderator said, “I wanted to thank you all for coming out tonight for this thirty-fifth anniversary screening of The Chainsaw Murders!”
Everyone started clapping, and Theo began the arduous process of waving and nodding to everyone.
“And I especially wanted to thank Mr. Hauser for making his way out to Santa Monica tonight,” the moderator concluded. “Sir, this was a real treat.”
The director shook the moderator’s sweaty hand and darted his eyes to the side exit where a limousine awaited him.
He was about halfway to the door when a group of fans charged up to him so ferociously he momentarily feared for his life.
“One at a time, please,” he said.
Fans were pushing items at him to sign that were mostly related to The Chainsaw Murders, but a VHS of Row Boat happily surprised him and one of the masks from The Millennium Killers made him smile.
After a few minutes, the group in front of him receded into just two or three people. He wanted to get out of there. He wanted to get home to work on his new script.
“Mr. Hauser, Sir.”
Somebody pushed an old laserdisc box set of Chainsaw Murders in the director’s face. He did a double take.
“Oh, wow,” the director said. “The three-disc set! Where did you find this—”
He looked up to see the man with the briefcase. He was standing completely still, a dopey grin on his face, his eyes staring into the director’s. “I’ve had it for years, Mr. Hauser. Still in its original wrapping. I’ve never allowed myself to open it.”
Theo politely nodded and glanced behind the man to see that he was the last of the autograph hounds.
He signed his name in the center of the box and started making his way to the exit.
“Oh, Mr. Hauser! Can you sign another?”
“No, sorry, I can’t,” he said. “I’m late for another function.”
“Please.” The man rushed up to him just a few feet away from the exit.
Theo turned around, trying to hide a sigh. “OK. One more.”
The man opened up his briefcase and handed him a screenplay. But it wasn’t just any screenplay.
“You must be joking,” he said, flipping through the eighty-six pages, which were covered in lots of ineligible writing. “These are my notes.”
“Yes, Sir. That’s your personal script from the 1975 shoot. Some guy in New York auctioned it off in the 1990’s. I paid top dollar for it.”
Theo nodded and signed his name above the title on the script’s cover. “Well, thanks for the support.”
He started walking out the door.
“But wait,” the man said. “I just have one more thing.”
Theo turned the corner outside to find his limo driver enjoying a cigarette. “Please get in the car,” he said, pushing past him. “I need to get out of here.”
The driver started making his way to the left side of the limo. Theo pulled on the door handle, but the door was locked.
“Mr. Hauser! Theo!”
The man with the briefcase skipped up to him in a droll manner that suggested he was a child in a grown man’s body.
“I’m sorry,” Theo said. “I have to go. Good night.”
“I just have one more thing for you to sign, I promise.”
He put his briefcase down and pulled up the guitar case. He started to open it when the side door of the limo unlocked.
“Good bye,” Theo said.
He opened and shut his door before the man could stop him.
“Go!” Theo shouted at his driver.
As the limousine started forward, the man started chasing after it. He pressed the palm of his left hand against the side window and dragged his heavy guitar case with the fingers of his right. He lost his grip when the limousine made a right on busy San Vicente and started speeding down the center lane.
Theo closed his eyes and didn’t open them again until he knew he was out of Santa Monica and back on the freeway, heading toward his home in the San Fernando Valley.
Another crazy fan evaded.
He arrived a half hour later to find his upscale Studio City home dark and abandoned. He tipped the driver and entered his six-digit code to get through the front gate. He entered the house and made his way to the kitchen.
Some whiskey on the rocks helped ease the pain. His third wife had just moved out on him, and his only child was studying political science in China. He was alone in the big house for the first time in years, and the loneliness was eating away at him.
Theo set the drink down and made his way to the study. He turned on his laptop to see a cursor blinking on a blank white page.
He tapped his fingers on his desk and rested his thumb against his chin. He cracked his knuckles and stretched out his stiff back. As usual, he had nothing.
Theo sighed and closed the laptop. He hadn’t been able to write a word in six months.
He returned to the kitchen to pour himself some special XO brandy. As he started opening the liquor cabinet, something black on the kitchen island caught his eye.
Theo took five slow steps forward and turned on the overhead lights.
He looked down confusedly to see the guitar case.
A loud roar came behind him. Before he could turn around, a shooting pain struck him in his back. Theo started screaming. What is it what is it what is it!
A chainsaw smashed through the front of his stomach where his belly button used to be. Theo looked down, horrified, before belting out another succession of violent screams.
As blood spilled toward the kitchen floor, the chainsaw turned off. He remained standing, near unconscious, the chainsaw balancing itself on his intestines.
That was no guitar case.
“Mr. Hauser, here’s my pen.”
Theo turned his head to the left to see the man with the briefcase.
“As I was trying to tell you at the theatre, I have in my possession the last known chainsaw used in your film. It appears at the end when the sadistic killer finally meets his match. Can you believe, Mr. Hauser, that the chainsaw still works after all these years?”
Theo slumped to the ground, the chainsaw still protruding through his stomach. As he started fading into nothingness, his final glimpse was of the man putting a black sharpie in his hand and assisting him with his signature.
Theo finished signing his name in the center of the chainsaw’s blade, and as he released his final breath, he felt the chainsaw roar to life again, this time moving up from his lower intestines toward his throat, ripping through his brain and out the top of his head.
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