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THE BALTIMORE SUN

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.

"The look actually is of a combination of Tank Girl [a sort-of post-Armageddon riot grrrrl] and Jason [the killer from the Friday the 13th movies], other slashers, things like that," says April. "We were trying to come up with a horror hostess, but a lot of them have the same Elvira, Vampiress look. We wanted something that would look very different, not the sleek, sexy vamp thing."

The character became an instant hit with horror fans. "Her popularity started surpassing the musical's," says JimmyO, whose screensaver is a picture of his wife in full Sally regalia. "She currently gets about 3,000 hits a day on the Web site (www.chain sawsally.com). It's just insane. She has a fan club, people write her and want to buy her underwear."

At a science-fiction convention a few years back, JimmyO met Mark Redfield, a local actor/writer/director whose Glen Burnie-based production company, Redfield Arts, has released several films, including an adaptation of Robert Louis Stevenson's Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. The two began talking about Sally as a character, and the possibility of using her as the centerpiece of a movie. Redfield ended up not only producing Chainsaw Sally, but also stars as a potential love interest for a girl you definitely don't want to cross.

"There was no second-guessing with Jimmy," says Redfield of JimmyO as a director. "I was able to step back and just be an actor. ... There was never a creative conflict, or anything like that. Jimmy always knew what he wanted."

The Burrils recruited several Silverscream veterans for the new film, including David Calhoun, who plays a shifty land developer looking to buy Sally's family home and tear it down.

"I knew it would be fun, working with Jimmy," Calhoun says. "It's interesting, going through the process of getting your head cut off. Jimmy's got a great sense of the macabre."

That sense, JimmyO says, dates to his junior high days. "That's when I saw Texas Chainsaw at a midnight movie. That changed a lot of stuff for me. I couldn't believe how insane it was. The final scene, where they're all sitting around the dinner table, and it's all just nuts - I really couldn't decide if they were acting, it was so insane. I was just sitting there going, 'Where do they find these people?' "

The Burrils hope some people in the audience might have similar epiphanies tonight.

Sally's fans, the Burrils acknowledge, may seem a little out there, like the Canadian wrestlers who decorate their bodies with her name, or the guy who showed up with a chainsaw just like Sally's for her to autograph. But they're harmless, and even endearing.

"The people I meet at horror conventions are all very sweet," says April. "They're all very nice lunatics. They wear their lunacy on their sleeves. It's the ones who try to act all nice and normal you've got to be careful of."

As for her view of the character, she finds Sally comfortably liberating, in a disturbingly cathartic sort of way.

"The only parts that were really hard to act in were the librarian, when she's all normal," April says. "That was kind of a stretch. The rest of it was just me, with the volume turned up. And allowed to kill people, instead of just having to sit there and fantasize about it."

Chainsaw Sally screens at 7 tonight at the Charles Theatre, 1711 N. Charles St.; tickets are $10. Call: 410-409-5465.

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