Deliciously Bad Yet Surprisingly Good, Baltimore-Made Chainsaw Sally is Cutting its Way Into The Late-Night Horror Scene
Characters who say “Hon” or sport a mullet: 4.
Frozen phalluses: 2.
Welcome to the fictional Charm City suburb of Porterville, the latest entrant into the unofficial wackiest-Baltimore-neighborhood-on-film contest, and the setting for Chainsaw Sally.
A randy romp of power-tool sex and violence peppered with tales of cannibalism, traces of semen, three escaped lunatics from a mental asylum, and a gleaming, 75-foot-tall silver cock, Chainsaw Sally is the latest installment from Baltimore-based production house Redfield Arts Studios. In partnership with Planet X Productions—aka the husband-and-wife team of writer/director JimmyO Burril and designer/actress April Monique Burril—Redfield Arts producers Mark Redfield and Stuart Voytilla have approached Chainsaw Sally as a departure from their traditional period-horror pieces (like their 2002 Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde), delivering a slasher-flick feast that is both homage to, and entry into, the esteemed canon of sexploitation B movie horror.
With a rev of the saw, the film opens on a Christmas Eve past, when a little girl named Sally bears witness to the brutal murder of her parents by the aforementioned escaped lunatics, but not before her father—played by Gunnar Hansen, “Leatherface” of the original Texas Chainsaw Massacre—dispatches the killers with some deft swipes of his MAC 3200 chain saw. As the Christmas lights twinkle on scattered presents and blood-spattered stockings, Sally pledges to continue Dad’s defense of hearth and family, spiriting herself and baby brother Ruby (Alec Joseph) away to—where else—a dilapidated trailer out in the woods.
Flash-forward to the present, where, in the name of a “better community,” Porterville developer Harvey Benton—whose conquest targets are, in order: Porterville, those bastards from high school, and the world—is converting 200 acres of pristine shoreline property into four miles of waterfront condos, movie theaters, and shopping centers. His only obstacle: the Kellerman property, which bisects Phase 1 and Phase 2 of his project. Not merely an economic hurdle, the Kellerman tract also hides Chainsaw Sally’s trailer deep within its woods, and Sally isn’t about to give up the homestead without a fight.
Complicating matters is the arrival of the mysterious Steve Kellerman, the rightful owner to the Kellerman deed, played with secret-agent panache by Redfield himself. As Kellerman begins researching the bloody history of the property, and Benton maneuvers through Maryland politics with capitalist zeal, the bodies and body parts begin to pile up. Accompanying the creative death-by-razor and death-by-poison-filled-beer-funnel scenes are sexy come-ons from girls at the ice-cream parlor, quickies in the back of Sally’s car, and plenty of girl-on-girl club-dancing action.
But for all of its big-tittied pole dancers and dialogue about pity sex, Chainsaw Sally isn’t about cheap nudity. Sure, there’s plenty of cleavage and even a four-minute long lesbo make-out scene between Sally and the lead Ice Cream Girl, but there’s no baring of flesh.
“April has no problem doing a nude scene, and I have no problem with filming it,” explains JimmyO. “But for this project our intent was to make it more psychological than exploitive, clearly an inspiration from the original Texas Chainsaw Massacre in which there is no nudity or gore. If you’re going to take a lesson in horror from a movie... you could do a lot worse.”
So far that logic looks like it is right on—of the 220 people who previewed the movie in early October at the Cinema Wasteland horrorfest in Ohio, only one preview card came back looking for a little more T&A.
Still, this isn’t to say that Chainsaw Sally doesn’t titillate. With heaving bosom and Dorothy Strattonesque line delivery, April Monique Burril turns up the scream-queen heat in the dual leads of Chainsaw Sally and her town librarian alter ego in a way that belies her stage experience, which includes several years with Harford Dance Theater. Complementing Sally in supporting vixen roles are Baltimore natives Jennifer Rouse (who also co-produces) as the provocative and bitchy Ice Cream Girl and Kristen Hudson as Cynthia Prescott, Harvey Benton’s corporate slut-in-tow with a miniskirt wardrobe that puts Melrose Place’s Amanda Woodward to shame.
It is Sally, however, in all of her power-tool wielding, fishnet-and-eyeliner glory, that steals the cheesecake show. Whether stroking the end of a pool cue, fondling her librarian’s spectacles, or pulling the rip cord on Sally’s two-stroke Poulan Wild Thing chain saw, Burril delivers a quintessential B-movie lead performance.
“There is a very big difference in the rhythm of celluloid as opposed to the rhythm of live theater, but Alec [Joseph] and I were really just playing ourselves with the volume turned way up,” the actress says. “But it was a little nerve-wracking at first just because I was about to be working with more experienced actors whom I’d never met before, but who were all familiar with the moviemaking scene. I was the newbie.”
Indeed, Chainsaw Sally is more than just a local ensemble of Baltimoreans cutting things up. Lending heft to the picture are appearances by legendary “Godfather of Gore” director Herschell Gordon Lewis—of Blood Feast and She-Devils on Wheels fame, playing a helpful hardware man—and, of course, Gunnar Hansen.
“I’ve thought Sally’s look was cool since stumbling across her web site,” Hansen says, who agreed to join the cast in response to an e-mail from JimmyO. “And I’m always glad to pick up the chain saw now and then, especially for a fun project like this. Sally gives a great new look for the saw and what it can do.”
In spite of the B-movie A-list appearances, Chainsaw Sally still faces the ultimate challenge of walking the late-night slasher-flick line without falling completely into cliché. Answering that call is the smart writing and directorial talent of JimmyO, who manages to keep things fresh and original even while paying homage to a litany of film icons, both horror specialists and not, including John Waters, Quentin Tarantino, Clint Eastwood, and Julie Newmar, as well as classic titles such as Friday the 13th, Halloween, Psycho, Angel Heart, and Jaws.
“My favorite movies are the ones that cross the line between comedy and tragedy,” the director says. “But I’m [fundamentally] a horror fan. I have been since I can remember.”
In an early scene, in which Porterville challenges Harvey Benton’s development plans, JimmyO re-creates the Robert Shaw town council scene from Jaws to great comedic effect. A philosophical rant on the sexuality of Batman recalls Tarantino’s Kill Bill: Vol. 2 Superman monologue, and Alec Joseph in full drag as Ruby puts a hilarious spin on Norman Bates’ peeping in Psycho. Stylistically, Chainsaw Sally is even filled with rich colors and bright contrasts reminiscent of the work of Dawn of the Dead director George A. Romero.
But let’s not get totally carried away with the artistry. Yeah, Chainsaw Sally looks great and has some deft strokes of dialogue, but much of the movie stays true to its B movie roots, which is to say that it is, at times, intentionally bad—a device that Redfield, for one, says is tough to master.
“There’s any number of movies where it’s ‘Ha, ha, ha, all of the actors are talking bad,’” he says. “And you want to capture that, but that means paying extreme attention to other details. You have to sort out the story logic for the audience to get them into the dream-logic of the movie.”
While Redfield laments that much of the angst in writing the script went into making sure things in Porterville “made sense,” the magic of Chainsaw Sally lies in its amateur slant—if the movie ever stutters, it only adds to the overall midnight-madness coloring the film.
“I guess much of the success of the movie owes to the lack of money and time that went into filming,” Redfield half-jokes, adding that promotion costs are “keeping the meter running” on a budget that was originally just below $100,000. Redfield says a September screening for distributors in Hollywood generated some interest, but as of now the film is still “courting distributors while being courted.”
After appearances at several horror film fests this fall, the entire Sally crew is happy to be coming back to Baltimore for the film’s East Coast premiere at the Charles Theatre on Wednesday, December 1.
“It really is a party for the cast, crew, family, and friends, and the first time many of them actually get to see the movie,” JimmyO says.
And even as the curtain rises to show Chainsaw Sally in all of its sexy slasher glory, the filmmaking team is staying genre-true, with sequel plans already in the works.
“I’ve already penned a couple of treatments that Redfield and I are batting around,” JimmyO says. “I don’t want to give away too much, but I will say that Gunnar will be back, as I hope Herschell will. We also have lined up a few more horror heroes who will be making a visit to Sally’s town of Porterville.
“As for Sally, she’ll be getting a little crazier with each movie,” the director concludes. “As long as the audience keeps liking her the way they seem to, we will keep bringing her back for more playtime.”
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