Have chainsaw, will make a slasher movie

JimmyO and April Burril are the cut-ups next door

December 01, 2004|By Chris Kaltenbach | Chris Kaltenbach,SUN MOVIE CRITIC

Here's probably the only fact you need to know about JimmyO and April Monique Burril: They were married on Halloween 1998 in costume. She was dressed as some sort of demented fairy-type thing, he as a werewolf.

Need another fact? Try this one: They've made a movie together, Chainsaw Sally, that has nothing to do with chopping wood.

Yep, they're one of those couples.

"In this neighborhood, we're definitely the weirdos on the corner," says April, 32, chatting amiably at the dining-room table of their Perryville home, an unassuming end-of-the-row duplex a stone's heave from where the Susquehanna River flows through town. "But most people are really nice about that."

With his long hair and muscular build, JimmyO, who turned 41 on Sunday, looks more like an outlaw biker (which he isn't) than a graphic designer and neophyte film director (which he is). "We don't have goat slayings or anything," he says, jokingly. "We're actually kind of boring people. We don't go out much. We stay home. We've usually got a project going, so it's not like we're gallivanting all over."

Their latest project, getting its East Coast premiere at 7 tonight at the Charles, features a central character exhibiting some seriously antisocial behavior. As a young girl, poor Sally watched from a darkened stairwell as her dad (played by Gunnar Hansen, Leatherface from the original Texas Chainsaw Massacre) was killed by three would-be burglars, but not before he was able to grab a handy chainsaw and ensure that his attackers met an even grislier end than his.

That sort of thing tends to leave a mark on a girl, and Sally (played as an adult by April) proves no exception, as she literally cuts herself a path through to adulthood. By day, Sally's a meek, mild-mannered librarian of the most ordinary order. But when riled, and there's a gas-powered power tool nearby ... let's just say you'd want to be as far away as possible.

`A fun character'

"She's a fun character to play," April says with a smile that's not wicked at all, but rather suggests a young woman who's in on the joke, and loves the fact that her fans seem to love playing along.

For while Chainsaw Sally, the movie, is brand-spanking new, Chainsaw Sally the character has been around for a few years. The Burrils created her a few years back, as a way of spreading the word about a musical play (and later movie) JimmyO had written, called Silver- scream. In it, two friends, Tobe and George, see a movie at an old theater and get sucked into what's happening onscreen. The result is a musical tour of horror-film genres from the 1930s Universal Studios classics (Dracula, Frankenstein, etc.) to the slasher films that dominate the scream scene today.

"It's more or less a musical haunted house," says JimmyO, who wrote the stage version with his friend James Taylor (decidedly not the one who sang "You've Got a Friend"), while living in Mississippi. "It was intended to kind of appease me for Halloween."

Silverscream the play came north with JimmyO when he moved to Maryland in 1996 and continued to haunt audiences - in a good way - through performances at Cecil Community College, local high schools, even a Baltimore church. It was successful enough to persuade JimmyO and some partners to make a filmed version, released last year. Still, the newly christened writer-director believed the film could attract a wider audience.

"We were having a really hard time getting the audience that we wanted," JimmyO says. "When you say `musical' to the audience that we were going for, they give you a deaf ear. 'Cause they're thinking Annie, and this isn't Annie."

What they needed, the Burrils decided, was an old-fashioned horror-film host, an appropriately ghoulish character they could design a Web site around, send on personal appearances, use to generate excitement and assure audiences that Silver- scream was about as far from The Sound of Music as cinematically possible.

They came up with the name first, Chainsaw Sally, as an homage to one of the female victims in The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, then brainstormed about where they wanted to take the character. "We knew that she lived in a trailer park," JimmyO says. "She was a white-trash kind of queen. She had pink flamingoes on her lawn, that sort of thing. And she's killing bad people, people who need to die, as far as she sees it. Talking in the library is a sentence of death for her."

One wicked woman

April, who had acted in Silverscream, would play Sally; JimmyO left it up to his wife to decide what she'd look like. What she came up with is a woman who looks like a bride from Hades, a newlywed fresh off an especially nasty bender: tattered clothes, stringy hair, with a feathery black-and-white boa that evokes high fashion reflected in a fun-house mirror.

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