JIMMYO BURRILL: THE SILVER SCREAM OF CHAINSAW SALLY

JimmyO Burrill is a horror-fan’s filmmaker. His first movie, “Silver Scream”, is a musical romp through horror history, from German Expressionism to modern-day slasher, with all stops in between. His second, Chainsaw Sally is a send-up of fun, gory revenge films, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and The Hills Have Eyes in particular. Before production had even begun on “Sally”, he’d already had interest from the likes of Gunnar Hansen and cult director H.G. Lewis.

The title character is played by JimmyO’s spouse, April Burrill, who imbues the wonderfully-psychotic Sally with a sense of playfulness and good humor—just what you want in someone hacking you to bits with her garden tool of choice. Ms. Burrill, as it turns out, was also the inspiration for the character, and it was only a matter of time before she got her own film. “April created our own ‘Elvira’ type of horror hostess to help promote my stage work. (The stage version of “Silver Scream” was) getting a deaf ear from our target audience because of the word “musical”. So, she and I came up with Chainsaw Sally… who is part Elvira, part “Tank Girl”, and very much April. We had put so much time into creating Sally that she was easy to move to a movie medium from the web. She already had fans—a lot of fans—so we knew she would be well received. (Producer and co-star) Mark Redfield and I made the deal to start shooting “Sally” and before you know it, a first draft of a script was banged out, and it just went from there. I work fast when I’m into a project.”

In “Chainsaw Sally”, the protagonist is a good old fashioned girl with a mother-bear protective eye for her family, which consists solely of her younger brother, Ruby, and her father’s land. When she sees the family spread threatened by a land developer, she reacts quite defensively… or offensively, depending on your point of view. From Sally’s pov, she’s Batman with power tools, taking out the villains with a little more “bang” and “pow”. By day, she’s a mild-mannered librarian. By night, a cannibal vigilante. Really, don’t be mean to her and Ruby and you’ll be perfectly fine.

As mentioned, veterans Hansen and Lewis make appearances in the film, as “Sally’s” father and a kindly hardware store owner, respectively. But they’re just two of the quirky, oddball characters to be found in “Sally’s” world. At the end of the day, you may find yourself thinking that “Sally” is the most normal person in the bunch, murder and mayhem aside.

“Chainsaw Sally” has played in select screenings to nearly-unanimous rave reviews. Which isn’t surprising, really, as it is a well-shot, well-performed movie. It lives in its own reality, crafted by the quirky characters and Burrill’s deft direction. “I am very happy with the film,” Burrill says. I would do most everything the same if I were to reshoot it… except it would be nice to have more money. Money buys time… and that’s the most valuable commodity on a movie set. More money would make it easier. Things like, locations falling through at the last minute—stupid shit like that. All stuff that if we had a bigger budget would not have been as big a deal. The cast and crew were great. No problems there or in the creative dept. Just outside forces that we had no control over. However, I don’t want to fall into the trap of taking the easy way out just because we have a bigger budget. I see that too much.”

In person, Burrill is a daunting figure in some respects. For one thing, he’s built like Wolverine, and looks like he could very easily hurt you. And would. On the other hand, at most conventions and events, such as the recent Halloween Chiller Convention and Expo, he is most often seen pushing around his infant daughter in a bright, frilly carriage. Images are wonderful things… At the Planet X/Redfield Arts table, where “Silver Scream” is sold alongside Redfield’s “Dr. Jeckyll and Mr. Hyde”, Burrill sits with April, who is generally decked out in her “Chainsaw Sally” costume: a seeming thrift-store explosion of feather boas, ripped and multicolored stockings, denim and bustier. If you let the appearances get to you, you’re missing out on a pair of very intelligent people. But artists shine through their art, and art, through its nature, tends to attract. Which is how Hansen and Lewis came into the picture.

“Gunnar had found the Chainsaw Sally site, and emailed her. So, a friendship grew… when it was time to shoot, I just asked him to take this part. He said let me read the script, I sent it to him and he said yes! That was that. Herschell I had hooked up with when I was doing some work for a horror con in Baltimore that fell on its ass. I called him trying to see if he would be a guest, and he was open to it. I then had to tell him that the guys running the thing didn’t know their assholes from a hornets nest, but we kept in touch after that. Later he was coming to Baltimore to give a talk with his marketing business and I asked if he would like to meet for supper. He said yes, and April and I went to his hotel and met him in the hotel restaurant. We had a nice dinner, and April and I left skipping through the parking lot singing, ‘We ate with Herschell- we ate with Herschell!’ So when the movie came up I called and asked, he said yes then and there, and that was it.”

Good working relationships are difficult to come by, as most filmmakers know. Sometimes adding a spouse to the mix is not necessarily a good thing. Thankfully, JimmyO and April found a perfect balance. “It was not difficult at all,” Burrill says. “April and I have worked together as actor and director for many years. When we are on a set or at a rehearsal for a stage show, we just do not act as husband and wife. She is treated no differently than an other cast member. We have a great working relationship as well as personal relationship. We just separate the two.”

Another helpful aspect of this business is not only having an instinct for making good movies but having a love for them as well. In Hollywood, there are far too many craftsmen making movies with no real feel for the art; in Indiewood, it’s just the opposite. Fortunately, Burrill is not only good at what he does, he truly loves movies.

“I was always a movie fan, but growing up in a trailer in Mississippi, I was as far away from being a film maker as you can get. I might as well had wanted to go to the moon. I actually got into making films after the digital media came into play. I wanted to get a good version of my live show “Silver Scream” on tape to promote it. I found that I loved making movies—far more than writing and directing for stage, so I just kept on. I read a lot to teach myself how to do things and I’m still very much a novice. But I do love it, and I hope that I’m doing it well on this learn-as-you-go kind of course I’ve put myself on.”

Oddly, as much fun as folks have found “Silver Scream” to be, it’s not Burrill’s favorite of his cinematic children. “I think it’s better on stage. Live black and white is surreal. And the point is that the movies have come to life… it just works better on stage.You can tell that it is written for stage. At the time I didn’t try to make it different because it was meant to sell the play. I wanted to make a musical haunted house.”

Still, there have been few complaints, either for “Scream” or “Sally”. While he’s still self-promoting “Silver Scream” through his “Planet X” company, “Sally” is being courted by a couple of bigger companies, thanks to a few high-profile film festivals, particularly the Los Angeles Screamfest this past year. “So far so good,” he says with a laugh. “More people are into ‘Sally’ than ‘Scream’, which I understand. If they saw it live, they would love it more. It’s very fun! As for ‘Sally’, people seem to love the humor, and the diverseness of the film. It’s not your standard slasher movie. I hope people like the fact that it’s not following a formula and that there is story and character development. I miss that in a lot of horror—if it’s all action and death all the time, it’s just a merry go round, not a roller coaster. I like the roller coaster better. ‘Sally’ was just a joy to do, and I am very happy with the reaction we have been getting. It’s always scary for me to show my work. I can’t even sit in the theater while it shows to an audience. But, as long as people keep liking the ‘Sally’ stories, we will keep making them. All I can say is Sally gets a little crazier with each (proposed) movie, and Gunnar does come back, as a different character. I have a great relationship with the producer, Mark Redfield, and even though his acting as ‘Steve Kellerman’ is done in the series, I hope to keep working with him to bring Sally to life in a twisted, little town called Porterville.”

Visit the official sites: www.chainsawsally.org and www.planetx.org.




Posted on November 10, 2004 in Interviews by

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