“The $10,000 John Wayne Magnum Opus”


by Andy Rausch

Edison Mayhew was sitting in a corner booth in Bob’s Pizza Palace, chatting up an actor over all-you-can-eat pizza buffet. He was paying for the meal, so he got to explain the project to the actor, Jimmy Donovan. Jimmy was hot shit at the moment as he had just appeared in the TV movie B-Lizzard, about giant reptiles who attacked and ate people during a snowstorm.

“This movie’s gonna be the fourth installment in my Titty Zombies series,” said Edison. “Have you seen the other three?”

“Well, I’ve seen one of them,” Jimmy said. “I think it was Titty Zombies 2.”

“Ah, yes; A Tale of Two Titties. That’s my favorite in the series,” said Edison. “Until now.”

“Why now?”

Edison smiled proudly. “Because this one’s gonna be my greatest film ever. My magnum opus.”

“What’s the budget?”

“We got $10,000.”

“What would my role be?”

“Your role would be Miles Macklemore, a private eye with a taste for broads.”

“So this is noir?”

“Not really, but it’s going to have some noir flavor to it.”

“And the film, it’s guaranteed distribution?”

“Yes, sir,” said Edison. “Bloody Mess Pictures made a fortune off the first three, and they’ve committed to putting out a fourth one.”

Jimmy nodded. “What would I get paid?”

“Two hundred and fifty dollars.”

“How many days?”

“We would shoot you out in two days.”

“And the role, is it a lead?”

Edison squirmed. “Not exactly. But here comes the reason you’re gonna wanna make this movie…”


“You’ll be the second lead.”

“Who’s gonna be first?”

“I’m getting to that,” said Edison. “Rule number one of no-budget filmmaking is to either have a ‘name’ actor in the lead or to have something to exploit. Well, I’ve got both.”

“Who is it?”

“John Wayne.”

“John Wayne?” Jimmy didn’t understand. You’re gonna have to explain this to me, because first of all, John Wayne’s deader than disco. In fact, I think they both died at about the same time. Second, I’m pretty sure John Wayne was making more to appear in a picture back in the Seventies than your entire movie’s got for a budget.”

Edison laughed, pointing to his temple. “I’ve got all the bases covered.”

Jimmy just stared at him, cutting off a corner of pepperoni and anchovy pizza with his fork.

“My girlfriend, Bree, practices witchcraft,” Edison said. “She’s got a spell book that’s supposed to raise the dead and make them do your bidding. Well, we’re gonna use that spell to raise John Wayne and make him appear in our movie.”

“You’re crazy,” said Jimmy.

“Like a fox.”

“Okay, so why John Wayne?”

“Why not John Wayne?” Edison asked. “He’s my favorite actor. I’d love to be able to say I directed him in a movie. The man’s a friggin’ icon.”

“Will he be able to speak? I mean, he’s been dead for almost forty years.”

“We’re not sure yet.”

“Your girlfriend has never used this spell before?”

“No,” Edison said. “That kind of thing doesn’t come up every day.”

“He probably looks pretty rough these days.”

“Which will be just fine since it’s a zombie movie. So whaddaya think?”

“Well,” Jimmy said, “It would look good on my resume to have made a movie with John Wayne.”

Edison nodded. “Now you’re talking.”

At that point the waitress came over and asked if they needed anything.

“I’ll have orange juice,” Edison said.

“I’m sorry, but we don’t have orange juice.”

Edison grinned. “Why don’t you go in the back and see if you can find some. After all, I’m a famous movie director, and you’re gonna want my business.”

The woman grimaced and walked off towards the kitchen.

“That was kind of a dick thing to do,” Jimmy said.

“Hey,” Edison said, “all the big directors do it. So are you on board?”

“It looks like I am. But I’d like to talk about my financial package.”

“How so?”

“I’m gonna need three hundred dollars to make the movie.”

Edison raised his hand and they shook on it.

Two weeks later, Edison, his buddy and producer Parker, and his girlfriend, Bree, were standing over John Wayne’s grave at the Pacific View Memorial Park Cemetery in Corona del Mar. There was a full moon out, which Bree said was a must for such an occasion. It was dark outside otherwise, and there was a cool breeze blowing. Bree had used sidewalk chalk to draw a humongous pink pentagram over the grave, as well as some words in a dead language around the grave.

“You think this’ll work?” asked Parker.

“I do,” said Bree. “I’ve used several other spells from this book and they all work.”

Bree opened the book and started reading from the dead language of Akkadian. “Cheepa, cheepa, burga, cheep,” she said. Edison and Parker repeated the words, and Bree continued. Finally, after about ten minutes of this, the wind picked up and it started to rain.

“What the fuck?” asked Edison.

“We’re upsetting the gods,” said Bree.

“Does that mean it’s working?”

“Yeah,” she said. “I think so.”

She read more Akkadian. “Beygo, teehum, daydo, bohah…”

After several minutes of this, she closed the book and stood silently. Suddenly the rain stopped.

“What is it?” asked Parker.

“The spell is complete,” she said.

“But I don’t see John Wayne,” said Edison.

Bree pointed down at the grave. “He’s reanimated, but he’s down there, in his coffin, unable to get out.”

“So now what?” asked Parker.

Edison shrugged. “We go to the car and get the shovels and we dig.”

And they did just that. Edison and Parker dug for two hours. Bree sat on a nearby grave and painted her fingernails and toes.

Chunk! came the sound from inside the grave.

“Hey, I’ve hit the coffin,” Edison said. “We’re almost there.”

Once they had the coffin fully excavated, they found great difficulty in getting it open inside the hole they had dug. But finally they did just that. When Edison opened the coffin, a wickedly rotten stench emerged. With the moon behind the clouds and the flashlight lying on the ground, they could barely see inside the box.

And then, suddenly, the reanimated corpse lunged out of its coffin and seized Parker, chewing on his face.

“Arrrgggghhhh!” screamed Parker.

The corpse was gnawing off Parker’s nose.

Edison backed away, watching his friend being eaten.

“Should we help him?” asked Bree.

“By ‘we’ you mean ‘me,’” remarked Edison, still watching the gruesome sight.

The reanimated corpse of John Wayne was grotesque, like something out of an Italian horror movie. He was missing an ear, his skull was exposed under rotten, leathery flesh, he smelled terrible, and there were tiny maggots falling out of his ear holes and empty eye sockets. And now what was left of his face was covered in Parker’s fresh blood.

“What do I do?” asked Edison nervously.

“You command him to stop eating Parker.”

“John Wayne,” Edison said. “Stop eating that man—now!”

And the reanimated corpse of John Wayne stopped feasting on Edison’s dead friend and producer. Through the power of command, Edison was able to subdue the corpse while he filled in the grave over Parker’s half-eaten body. Although Bree wasn’t fond of having maggots falling all over the back seat of her Honda Civic, the three of them drove back to Edison’s house in silence.

They were two days into shooting, and Edison and his two-man crew were filming on a hand-held digital camera inside an apartment in Silver Lake. The reanimated corpse of John Wayne was hitting his marks. Of course he couldn’t talk, but Edison filmed him staggering around and waving his arms just the same.

“Unnnnggghhhhh!” growled John Wayne.

It was a scene between John Wayne and Sarah Newsom, one of Edison’s regulars. Sarah was topless and in the middle of a lengthy monologue when John Wayne reached out and grabbed her head at both sides, twisting it hard. Her neck made a sickening crunching sound as he did this.

“Dammit, John Wayne!” Edison said.

But John Wayne didn’t give a damn. He was leaned forward and was chewing into the dead actress’s skull.

“John Wayne, stop that!” Edison said. John Wayne just looked up with a mouth full of brains, chewing. The bottom part of his jaw fell off as he did this, and a bunch of maggots fell out of his mouth into Sarah’s skull.

“Phil,” Edison said. “Can you please find a way to reattach John Wayne’s lower jaw?”

Phil, the film’s P.A., nervously walked towards John Wayne, still trying to feast on the dead Sarah with his bottom jaw missing. Phil turned his head, sizing up the damage. “I think I can reattach it with some putty,” Phil said. But just then, John Wayne reached out and grabbed Phil’s hand, pulling it to his face. He attempted to chew off Phil’s fingers, but got nowhere without his bottom jaw. Phil tried to pull his maggot-covered hand away, but John Wayne dropped Sarah’s body and grabbed Phil’s arm with both of his own, tearing it out of the socket.

Phil screamed in agony.

“Goddammit, John Wayne!” Edison said, turning to his crew. “This is why I don’t like using ‘name’ talent. They’re all primadonnas. If they’re not rewriting the dialogue on set, they’re eating the cast and crew!”

Edison sat down the camera and turned to go and grab a tuna fish sandwich from the craft service table. He exhaled heavily as he walked, now fully irritated. He heard more screams behind him, but he didn’t turn around. He was now second-guessing his decision to reanimate John Wayne. This was gonna be one hell of a long shoot. They were only two days in and already way behind schedule.

If you liked this story, it and many others are available in Andy Rausch’s short story collection Death Rattles, available in both physical and Kindle formats.

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