WE ALL SCREAM FOR ICE CREAM (GIRL): Talking With Jennifer Rouse by Owen Keehnen

Baltimore native actress/model/composer Jennifer Rouse is a force to contend with on the independent film scene, especially when it comes to flix made in Maryland.She played Ice Cream Girl (as well as associate producer) in the HOT soon-to-be cult-classic ‘Chainsaw Sally’, a vampire in the upcoming ‘BloodShadow’, a sex addict in John Waters’ latest exercise in bad taste ‘A Dirty Shame’, and Rosalind alongside Bela Lugosi, Boris Karloff, and Lon Chaney Jr. (via technology of course) in ‘Terror in the Tropics’. Additional roles include ‘The Last Ride of the Raven’ set against a backdrop of Baltimore’s famed hot rod cruising night (2005), a secret service agent on ‘The West Wing’, as well as parts on ‘The Wire’ and ‘The District’.Busy Jennifer took a few moments to chat with me about her flowering film career as a scream queen, Gunner “Leatherface” Hansen, Herschell Gordon Lewis a.k.a. “The Godfather for Gore”, the ‘Chainsaw Sally” experience, working with the incomparable John Waters, her upcoming project on the death of Edgar Allan Poe, and of course the allure of Baltimore.



Owen: Hey Jennifer, do you recall the first time you were scared by a movie?

When I was about 7 or 8, my mom and I were visiting some of her friends in upstate NY. Their house was in a wooded area by a lake, and didn’t have air conditioning so we had to sleep with the windows open. One of the night’s we were there, we all decided to stay in and watch movies. Well, the movies that they chose to watch were “Friday The 13th” and “Cat People”. I liked horror movies and I think I had even seen Friday the 13th, so I thought I could handle it. I was sleeping on the sofa bed on the first floor of the house with windows right beside the bed. OH MY GOD, I was so terrified that Jason or some other crazy killer was going to burst through the window during the night. I kept waking up my mom all night because I was so terrified. That’s the first memory I have of a movie really scaring the shit out of me.

As a costar (as 'Ice Cream Girl) and co producer of 'Chainsaw Sally', tell me how that cult hit came about? 

Jennifer: JimmyO and April Burril had done a stage play called “Silver Scream” and they decided to make a movie out of it as sort of a demo for the play. They came up with the character “Chainsaw Sally” to promote the movie, the stage play, and their website as a horror hostess. In 2003, the Burrils were showing “Silver Scream”, the movie, at a convention in Maryland called Balticon. “Sally” was introducing all of the films that were screened at the convention. One of the audience member’s was Mark Redfield of Redfield Arts. So, after “Silver Scream”, Mark approached Jimmy and April Burril to tell them that he enjoyed their film.  They traded contact information and a few days later Jimmy Burril called Mark Redfield to discuss a project that he was thinking about. (I think it had something to do with space vultures.) Then, Jimmy mentioned that horror hostess “Chainsaw Sally” was getting a lot of hits on the web and that maybe he could do a movie about her. Well, Mark was like “Come on over, that’s a great idea!” So that’s how it all started.

Owen: 'Chainsaw Sally' is receiving some great press for it's special brand of "outrageous horror".  How did you manage to get Gunnar "Leatherface" Hansen and Herschell Gordon Lewis (of 'Blood Feast' fame) in the cast?
Gunnar Hansen came across the www.chainsawsally.com site on the Internet and e-mailed April Burril to tell her how much he liked her character and the site. She said that she flipped when she got the e-mail and at first questioned whether or not it was really him writing to her. After she was convinced that it really was Gunnar they started chatting a bit on-line. JimmyO Burril had already started going over ideas for the “Chainsaw Sally” film and figured “Hey, you never know until you ask!” so he just flat out asked him if he would be in the movie and if he would play Sally’s dad.  He said yes! JimmyO immediately called Mark Redfield, who is the producer and plays “Steve” in the film, and said “OH MY GOD! YOU ARE NOT GOING TO BELIEVE THIS! WE HAVE GUNNAR HANSEN!”

As for Herschell, the Burrils had been huge fans of his for a long, long time. I think JimmyO said that the first movie he ever rented in a video store was a Herschell Gordon Lewis film.  Again, it was just a matter of contacting him and asking if he would do it. He also accepted!It’s funny because I think “Chainsaw Sally” was the first film that Herschell acted in. JimmyO was so nervous to direct this famous cult director that he grew up idolizing. On top of that, Herschell’s scenes were scheduled on the first day of shooting! The first day is always a bit nerve wrecking anyway because everyone is still kind of trying to get in synch with each other. But Herschell was great! Jimmy had nothing to worry about. Herschell took direction very well and really listened and understood what we were trying to accomplish with his character. He totally got it. He’s the quirky local hardware store owner who innocently sells “Sally” all of her “tools”.

Owen: Did they both have a big awareness of their cult status among horror fans?

I think both Gunnar and Herschell are aware of their cult status but neither of them plays on it. They are both very friendly, easy to get along with people.  Gunnar attends a lot of the horror conventions and always has a line to get his autograph. I think it’s great that he can have that many people idolize him and still be so down to earth. He really appreciates his fans.

Owen: Did you gush over them or restrain yourself?

Jennifer: I was very good. One of my jobs as associate producer was to pick Herschell and Gunnar up from the airport and take them to the hotel. So, we were able to chat on the drive back from the airport. We just talked about general things, not really about movies. It was very friendly and professional.

Owen: You have also been featured in John Waters' latest 'A Dirty Shame' --- was he aware of 'Chainsaw Sally'?

Jennifer: I believe he was aware of the project. We were shooting “Sally” at the same time he was shooting “A Dirty Shame”. Baltimore has a small but up-and-coming film community and just about everybody knows, or knows of everyone else. I was told that he knew of the project but I didn’t get to ask him about it because he was very busy directing everyone at the location.

Owen: What was it like working for him in the movie?  What's something unique he does as a director?
Jennifer: He was very funny in a perverse sort of way but was very professional at the same time. Most of the key crewmembers he had worked with for a long time so it was like a big family. I was a “sex addict’ so at one point I had to run up to Chris Isaac and attack him. Waters was like “just run over to him and feel him up”. I was fine with that direction! It just sounded funny coming out of his mouth that way. He really seems to be having a good time doing what he’s doing and he wants you to have a good time as well.

Owen: Tell me a little something about 'BloodShadow'

Jennifer: "BloodShadow" opens with a woman (my character) waking up not knowing who she is or what has happened to her. Soon after, she realizes that she is being chased but she doesn't know why. She comes to realize that she has been bitten and is a vampire. There is also this guy that she finds who is trying to protect her and lead her to the "safe place" for creatures like herself. Meanwhile, on her journey she has to constantly escape her pursuers. It takes place in sort of an alternate universe. It's not really the future or the past. Kind of like "Escape from New York". There are a lot of experimental elements and a lot of action sequences.

Owen: You also just finished your work as April in 'The Last Ride of the Raven' also filmed in Baltimore.  Do you plan on moving out of the city or can a substantial career be made there?

Jennifer: “The Last Ride Of The Raven” is a comedy set in Baltimore and Ocean City, MD directed by George Rivers. It’s about a guy who’s trying to get his older, slightly slow, but very talented brother out of trouble because he got roped up with the wrong crowd. So him and his friends steal his father’s prize possession, a car named “The Raven”, to go to Ocean City to rescue his brother. Along the way they meet a bunch of crazy characters and have to deal with them as they search for the brother. It should be a fun film to watch. To me it seems to be a cross between American Graffiti and a Waters film.

To answer the second part of the question, I want to get some really good experience before I move to LA or New York. In those cities, you are like a small fish in a big sea. There are so many people who want to be actors.  I figure that I might be a step ahead by gaining experience before moving to one of those cities.

Owen: I also see you are Rosalind in 'Terror in the Tropics' which "costars" Bela Lugosi, Boris Karloff, and Lon Chaney Jr.  What's the story there?  How does that work?

Jennifer: Modern technology. Gary and Sue Svehla of Midnight Marquee are allowed to use footage from some of these great actor’s films. Sue Svehla, who wrote and directed it thought it would be a cool idea to mix the old footage with new footage to create a whole new movie. A lot of it was shot with blue screen and sets that would match the scenes from the Lugosi, Chaney, and Karloff films. I recently saw a rough cut and it’s looking pretty cool.

Owen: What's next for you?

Jennifer: Right now I am working on a new film directed by Mark Redfield called “The Death Of Poe”. Again, I am helping with the production end as well as playing a role in it. It’s about the last week of Edgar Allan Poe’s life.  Very little is actually known about what happened to him but, it is known that a week before he died he traveled from Richmond, Virginia to Baltimore, Maryland. Several days later he was found, very ill, and taken to the hospital where he spent his final few days in a delirious state. The film sort of fills in the gaps touching on theories of what happened to him during those “missing’ days. I will be playing “Mrs. Moran”, the wife of the doctor who cared for him while he was in the hospital and who prepares him for burial. We have a really great cast and crew and the locations that we’ve chosen really capture the feel of the 1840’s. There are some wonderful old buildings from that era in downtown Baltimore. For this film, I know that Mark Redfield is very influenced by the styles of “The Elephant Man” and “In Cold Blood”. It should turn out to be a beautifully shot film.

Owen: What's something that makes you scream in real life?

Jennifer: Being tickled! It makes me scream like a banshee. I can’t take it. It’s torturous to me. I am the biggest puss when it comes to being tickled. Even the threat of it gets me tense.