Would you like to meet “the girl of your screams” this Halloween? Look no further than the title character in Chainsaw Sally (2004)!
In this lower-than-low-budget indie horror film — made with a budget of $40,000, at least half of which must have gone toward purchasing gallons of fake blood — Sally Diamon (played with red-lipped relish by April Monique Burril) plays a buttoned-up librarian by day and serial killer by night. The ultimate Naughty Librarian.
I first wrote about this Class I film last Halloween in this round-up of killer librarians. I had also bought a DVD copy of the film, but didn’t get around to watching it until this Halloween. This low-rent film seems to have achieved a kind of cult status, even inspiring two seasons of web series, entitled “The Chainsaw Sally Show,” both starring April Monique Burril as the titular character (in more ways than one). It should come of no surprise that the director of all things Chainsaw Sally, Jimmyo Burril, is also the husband of the main star. In fact, April Monique Burril was pregnant during the filming of this first film!
Even though it seems to be a minor cult film, is it any good? The film seems to have inspired an either love-it-or-hate-it kind of reaction. Some find the purposefully over-the-top gore and camp refreshing, like in the DVD Verdict review here, whose reviewer proclaimed it as a “nifty little indie horror-comedy,” while others dislike the trashy, low-rent look and feel. It is decidedly trashy, but also very self-aware of being so. The overall acting talent, as well as the production values and sets, are really bad, be warned. Really bad. And the ending is ludicrous. Throughout the film, I was also distracted by the main star because she kept reminding me of someone. Toward the end, I figured it out: April Monique Burril looks like a cross between Shelley Duvall and Kristen Stewart!
Ok, so what’s the film all about? No spoilers that Little Miss Chainsaw Sally is a serial killer, sawing off victims left and right in a small Maryland town called Porterville. But how did she become a serial killer? The film has an easy answer for that: Sally and her brother, Ruby (who grows up to be a stay-at-home transvestite), witnessed their parents’ murders years earlier when they were kids. Flashbacks reveal that they witnessed three escaped mental patients shoot their father before raping and killing their mother. But lo and behold, their father managed to kill the killers with a chainsaw before dying of the gunshot wound. And just to MAKE SURE we pieced together all the bits of symbolism, we see that Sally also wore her hair in braided pigtails during the traumatic event, as seen below; no wonder she does the same when she straps on the chainsaw as an adult.
The film also has a few scenes set in the home that Sally and Ruby share together. It is a rarity to see any kind of home life for a reel librarian. And this reel librarian’s home is definitely a house of horrors.
We’ve covered the why, now on to the who. Because her daddy’s dying words were that he killed the men because they were bad, Sally sticks to killing people she decides are bad. And because she’s a librarian … that’s right, she goes after people who disrespect librarians and the library! She and “Conan the Librarian” in UHF would probably have a lot to talk about.
What counts as a killable offense in Sally’s book? Let’s take a look at some of her victims in this film (SPOILERS):
- A man who talks loudly in the library, spouting off curse words and heckling his girlfriend for needing to finish a school report. He also sasses Miss Sally, calling her “Miss Frosted Flake and “frigid little freak.” He gets sliced in the library bathroom, with Sally’s words ringings in his ears, “I said, be quiet in the library.” Should have paid attention to the sign, dude.
- A young woman named Tina never returns a book she checked out. Sally hunts her down in the woods, yelling, “Is it not true that in June of last year you checked out a book from the public library? … And is it not true that since then that book has not been able to be checked out by any other patron of the Porterville Public Library? Is it?!”
- A young woman who works at the local ice cream truck misspells “malt” on an order form and also makes fun of Sally when she tries to correct her misspelling. Later, after seducing the Ice Cream Girl at a nightclub one night and taking her home, Sally gets revenge by carving out the correctly spelled word on the girl’s belly.
I get that the film’s tone is firmly tongue-in-bloodied-cheek. The ultimate message? Don’t mess with a librarian! (And return books on time. Seriously. You really are depriving others if you don’t bother to return items you’ve checked out. Golden rule, y’all.) But the film also wants it both ways. It wants to make fun of librarian stereotypes and all those library rules, but it also wants to give Sally an easy out with her family’s tragic backstory.
And even though Sally uses library rule-breaking as an excuse to kill, they are just that — excuses. Every person Sally kills has insulted her personally, or insulted other women in her presence. And each of those insults earns a look that could kill. Literally.
There are also lots of fun nods to scary movies or memorabilia throughout the film:
- The film opens with a closeup of a “Miss Sally” nameplate, as well as a closeup of the book Sally’s reading, The Big Book of Serial Killers
- The calendar on the wall by Sally’s desk reads October
- Sally and her brother reenact scenes from scary movies, like The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, but her brother keeps confusing scary movie villains and plotlines
- The bumbling cops who show up off and on also throw out nods to scary movies and characters, like Kolchak (see my post here on The Night Strangler)
In the midst of all the killing, does Sally do any work during her day job? Yes … to a degree. She helps a local real estate owner, Steve Kellerman, locate articles about her parents’ murders (after first cutting out any mention of herself, of course, in old newspaper clippings, of course). And upon discovery of the (self-)mutilated clippings, she complains, “Why do some people have to destroy everything?”
We also see her interact briefly with a blind library assistant, George (Kit Bateman), an Information Provider there to reinforce the library setting. In a scene late in the film, she asks him if he minds “watching things out here” while she makes a private phone call. He responds, “No problem, hon.” Awkward.
Last, but not least, I’ll finish with some choice quotes about our resident serial killer librarian:
Guy at pool hall (talking about ex-girlfriend): She’s a mental case.
Sally: And how do you know I’m not a mental case?
Guy: I can tell, babes. You got your shit together. There ain’t nothing wrong with a girl like you.
Bumbling cop: Librarians. It’s always the quiet ones. Hey, did I ever tell you about the time I dated a mime?
Steve Kellerman: There is more strangeness here than you may be aware of. You just might be the most normal person in this town.
Sally: That’s funny.
Funny, indeed. Of course, Steve is wrong about our Chainsaw Sally. Dead wrong.