The Driller Killer
The blood runs in rivers... and the drill keeps tearing through flesh and bone.
Year of Release: 1979
Rated: Not Rated
Running Time: 96 minutes (1:36)
Director: Abel Ferrara
Abel Ferrara ... Reno Miller
Carolyn Marz ... Carol Slaughter
Baybi Day ... Pamela
Reno Miller is a young Manhattan artist whose life is in a constant state of turmoil. Between his art, his live-in lovers, and his enormous debts, Reno finds it increasingly difficult to maintain his sanity in the big city. Murder stories begin to fascinate him, and as he falls deeper and deeper into his grisly obsession, he begins to lose touch with reality altogether. With an electric drill and a portable battery pack, Reno begins his bloody reign of terror over the helpless citizens of New York City. Killing does not help to solve his problem, however; it only serves to fuel the fire of his murderous compulsions. Drifting further and further from reality, Reno finally takes the big step into complete and utter madness, never to return...
The Driller Killer, remindin' us that New Yorkers take their pizza (or "za," if you will) very seriously. So don't just go thinkin' you can get off scot-free after makin' jokes about peppers, cause right about then some loon hits your eye with a big pizza pie. That's a Maur-ay Povich episode in the makin' right there; "Skanks who scald their boyfriends with searin' hot marinara, an the domestic violence that follows. Next Maury." An speakin' of people with no class, before I get into the movie, I feel obligated to let everybody know that I'm just a little bit P.O.'d tonight. I'ma hafta let off some steam right here an now cause otherwise I might not be able to perform my job functions with the high level of professionalism you've come to expect. See, I was over at the Videodome tape rental center last night tryin' to find somethin' new, an suffice to say, I was treated with a level of disrespect seldom witnessed outside Cellulite Nite at Walleye's Topless Dancin' and Bait Shop. All I wanted was for that three-chinned sloth, Edgar Mastrude, to get me a copy of The Abomination offa Ebay so I could pair it with Parasite an host a gut monster double feature this week, but he flat refused to come up with the goods. I mean, yeah, okay, so maybe findin' even a beat up copy that's been sittin' in some guy's garage next to a trunk fulla old Hustlers an Chilton auto repair manuals since 1989 runs in the three figures, big deal. I tried calmly an rationally explainin' that I'd spent that much on rental fees in 1992 alone, an that he was single-handedly reshapin' our quaint little town into a suburb of San Francisco by forcin' everybody to walk past three copies of Footloose just to get to the horror section to begin with. It's prolly a good thing Cleave Furguson happened to be in there rentin' Grizzly to screen for the huntin' lodge, cause if he hadn't splashed me in the face with that 64oz Suicide he'd just gotten outta the fountain an purt'near poisoned me to death I mighta grabbed Edgar by his neck fold an rearranged his Copenhagen bulge for 'im. How the heck did we let things get this bad? When exactly did we turn into a society of wine cooler guzzling weenies who sit around the break room gettin' giddy about the next Angelina Jolie movie? I dunno how much more of this I can stand. It takes everything I've got to hold down my deer jerky breakfast burrito just thinkin' about it. First thing I'm doin' once those egg-headed scientists get their time travel paradoxes ironed out an build a machine is high-tailin' it back to 1980, so if somebody'd please forward my mail I'd appreciate it.
"We've got The Beast Within, why not just grab that?" Edgar suggested. You see the level of incompetence I'm dealin' with here? Totally different interior torso monster concept, now how would it look if I paired *that* with Parasite? Friggin' amateurs. Fortunately, a lotta times when you're dealin' with amateurs in the movies (unlike video stores), the results can add up to somethin' pretty darn entertainin', cause in the movie business, "amateur" is synonymous with "flat broke nobody." An when you're flat broke you tend to show people the scummier shootin' locations that a Steven Spielberg wouldn't step offa his 500' yacht to blanch at. So I'd like to expand on some of the things I talked about in that other great NYC sleazeball classic, C.H.U.D. First, gay guys're so desperate that they'll drop everything just to head over to some destitute anorexic mural painter's apartment to get their brush dipped. Second, upside down inside out rabbits belong in a display window in Chinatown, not the linen closet. I mean, unless you've rigged it up as a smoker. You can't begin to understand how seriously weirded out city folk get about little things like that. An third, spikin' your telephone out of a 9th story window may cause a disruption in service.
Now, before I say what has at one point or another been on the mind of just about everyone that's ever seen this flick, let me just say that I don't mean no disrespect towards Abel Ferrara, cause the man made both Ms. .45 an Body Snatchers. But the fact of the matter is that he shoulda called this thing The Filler Killer, cause there's a very real possibility of dyin' from exposure to hazardous pace while watchin' this one, since for some reason this flick can't go more'n about ten minutes without cuttin' to footage of Barry Maniloaded an the Cootie Queens. They're the kinda band who's constantly playin' some tune that Chuck Berry got halfway through composin' before tossin' it into his trash can. But let's be clear here, cause I don't wanna give the impression that this's some kind of unforgivable sin, after all, we got complete musical numbers in flicks like Neon Maniacs, Track of the Moon Beast, Zaat, an the immortal Night Fright. But those movies only had one, maybe two songs played in their entirely while we're waitin' patiently for our daily recommended doses of Monster Mashin'. Driller Killer has over TWENTY FOUR minutes of band footage that we get shunted over to anytime Abel runs outta weirdo, drug-headed, artistic philosophy to force feed us, with each song somehow managin' to be even more terrible'n the one before. Again, I don't wanna knock Abel, but the man's tryin' to dunk an exploitation donut into a cup of imported South African limited edition yuppie's choice decaffeinated arthouse coffee, an not only does it not work so good, but the guy still got to have a career afterwards. Poor Stephen King makes Maximum Overdrive, a movie that's at least twice as watchable as Driller Killer, while comin' to the set everyday with more coke in his system than the little league coach who got attacked by the soda machine, an he's history. "Get back on that typewriter an whip up somethin' that'll earn back that cash you went over budget," they said. Steve's movie at least never fell into the public domain, an when HE piped in some music we got AC/DC for cryin' out loud. Abel, on the other hand, puts out a movie featurin' more band footage than MTV runs over the course of six months, an he gets a second directin' gig just three years later an comes up with a certified hit. Politics, man, that's the only explanation here; politics.
The movie begins with this bushy-headed guy who's got lips like a largemouth bass (Reno) goin' into a church, invadin' the personal space of Gandalf the wizard, an then gettin' freaked out when Gandalf tries holdin' his hand after hearin' Reno was the biggest little sissy in the world. This apparently gives Reno such an odd sensation in his 501s that he hasta run outside an make out with his girlfriend (Carol) in a taxi cab so he can get 'imself straightened out, after which he sends 'er into this punk rock mime concert to pick up his other girlfriend (Pamela) who's got hair just like David Bowie when he played the Goblin King in Labyrinth. I'ma just come out an say this; Reno's so deep in the closet that he's got a standin' reservation at the Narnia Tofu Palace. Unfortunately, when Reno wakes up the next mornin' an opens the mail, he finds this phone bill that's so big that the only way to tell which figure's the amount due an which one's his phone number is to look for the dollar sign, an that gets 'im so P.O.'d that he hasta spike the sucker outta his 9th story window like a bag fulla dope durin' a drug raid. This makes Reno feel a whole lot better, so he sits down with his women an promises that once his gigantic buffalo mural sells they'll be rich enough to buy motorcycles an ride down to Jamaica to score some great barrier reefer. Then Reno goes to see some gay museum curator to mooch rent money, only he hasn't paid the guy the previous account balance accrued from his life of debauchery an he can't get diddly squat. So now he's gotta slink home with his easel tucked between his legs to work on his buffalo, cept when he tries that Carol asks 'im if his paintin's done yet an he hasta let loose this epic run-on sentence about how bitches can't be rushin' the artistic process an that Bob Ross didn't get where he is by lettin' no dirty skanks tell 'im where to put the happy trees. As if that ain't obnoxious enough, then The Rolling Stoners who open at The Cracktory every night move in next door an start rehearsin' 22 hours a day so he can't get nothin' done. Which, to be fair, makes sense, cause the lesbian bouncers down the hall know more about licks than these goofs, so they can use all the practice they can get.
Meanwhile, Carol's trollin' for tunafish in the shower with Pam til they both bag their limit, an then Carol gets out an reads this sappy letter from 'er ex-husband talkin' about how much he misses 'er. Carol's ex-husband is the kinda guy who says things like "I'll take the tea into the bedroom," an is basically in denial about Carol's decision to live in a crack den with the poorman's David Hess. Then Reno goes downstairs to complain to the super about the noise pollution upstairs an gets told that if he don't like it he can go down to the concert hall an whip tomatoes at 'em like everybody else. So Reno goes back to his buffalo to express existential angst, or whatever it is these guys think they're doin' when they "create," only he starts hearin' the ghost of art critics past tellin' 'im about how he used fire engine red when any idiot can see the paintin' was cryin' out for candy apple red, til he hallucinates Carol sportin' bloody eyeballs like the electric chair scene in Faces of Death. This kinda external stimulus ain't good for the creative process, so Reno hasta run outside with his power drill an get this hobo right in the nipple while he sits on the poor guy's sternum an rides the mechanical bum. Which is just as well, cause sooner or later the C.H.U.D.s woulda eaten the guy anyway. Unfortunately, this is little consolation for Reno since the neighbors're now singin' like the guy who did Wooly Bully, an plus Pam's whinin' about how the transvestite who does 'er press on nails has better lingerie than she does. Carol thinks that goin' down to the club'll make Reno feel better, even though the musicians from next door'll be there an he's gettin' so fed up with 'em that he's thinkin' about reportin' their whereabouts to all the pregnant concert groupies so the band'll hafta skip town. As anticipated, Reno's able to withstand the band's shameless theft of the Peter Gunn theme song for all of three minutes before he goes full gonzo an runs out into the gutter to drill more transients through the skull an free the evil spirits trapped within. One of 'em tries offerin' 'im some bum rum so he won't turn 'im into a used Light Brite sheet, cept Reno easily identifies the man as the notorious 42nd Street backwasher an pretty well cleans his spleen.
None of this really cheers Reno up, but he heads home anyway cause his drill battery's dyin' an all the brain goo on his bit is startin' to remind 'im of street vendor hot dogs. The next mornin', Carol starts readin' about all the succumbed bums in the newspaper, which ultimately causes Reno to come unglued faster'n a rear bumper from Bondo's Auto Repair and Salvage Yard. The only thing that can calm his shattered nerves is this real disgustin' pizza that looks like the inside of somebody's heart after packin' away a coupla hundred Big Macs, but even that serenity is shattered when he gets the fool idea to offer Carol a piece despite knowin' perfectly well that 'er parents were killed in a tragic anchovy accident when she was a child. Carol's so P.O.'d that she just about turns Reno into the Phantom of the Opera by slingin' molten hot marinara onto his face, an then promptly exits the apartment to go beg 'er pantywaist ex-husband to take 'er back even though she's prolly got a whole nest of crotch cooties by now. Then the Joe Camel lookin' lead singer from Stink Floyd comes over an asks Reno to paint his portrait, only Reno can't keep his brush hand steady cause Joe's rootin' around on the floor with some middle school drop out an peelin' the Thompson's water sealer offa the hardwood with their genital juices, so he heads outside an drills Ralph Macchio to a brick wall to pass the time. On the plus side, he's at least decided he's done with his masterpiece, cept when Big Gay Al Borland from the art gallery comes by to scope it out he tells Reno that he's lost all his artistic vision an that his buffalo ain't good enough to stick on a placemat at the Sizzler. Then we gotta sit through this cheesy In Search Of Casio keyboard symphony while Reno melts into a blubberin' mound of wimped cream an talks to the dial tone on his phone like it's Carol callin' to take 'im back. By this point, the only reasonable course of action is to get dressed up like Tim Curry in Rocky Horror, call the art buyer back, an invite 'im over to critique his prique. Think I'll cut the summary off here, cause it'd be a real crime to spoil the big drill or be drilled finale with the dainty art critic. This one's in the public domain though, so you can check it out on Youtube at the following link if you really wanna.
Doesn't exactly sound like something that was in imminent danger of causing the youth of Britain to devolve into slobbering murder monkeys, does it? Entire movie's got all of one scene that's even remotely graphic. Unfortunately, that one scene is what made its way onto the VHS cover, so guess how that worked out. Driller Killer is one of just three movies on the Video Nasties list that found their way into the public domain, and it's no great mystery as to why. I dunno if Abel had some kind of agreement with the band in this thing, or whether he legitimately thought including 24 minutes of band footage with only minor tie-ins to the main characters would make it seem artistic, but it sure gets old quick. He could've very easily accomplished what he needed to with three minutes worth, but that isn't what happened, and I'm not gonna claim to pretend I understand why he did what he did. Trim 20 minutes off of this movie and the score could easily improve by about 12%, but the pacing of this thing is just unrelenting in its drudgery. I think it's just a little too weird to look at in the same light as a standard '70s exploitation flick, but not weird enough to appeal to the film school professors the way a flick like Eraserhead does, and for that reason, nobody knows what to do with it. In all honesty, if you take that one particularly graphic skull drilling scene out, you could probably classify this thing as a drama, since the crux of the movie is watching Reno's slow (and I do mean slow) descent into madness. You can certainly see the directing ability Abel Ferrara has in certain scenes, but he was only 27 years old, this was his first feature film (other than a porno he shot a couple years before), he had to shoot it over the course of two years (which becomes noticeable when hair styles and other things change back and forth throughout the movie), he was also starring in the film (which was probably a budgetary decision more than ego, but it will have made it difficult to manage what's going on when you're spending so much more time in front of the camera than you are behind it), and perhaps most debilitating of all: his budget was barely over half of what Frank Henenlotter spent on Basket Case. So we're talking super low budget movie here, and I still think it would be close to passable if not for the awful decision to include so much footage of the musicians. The guy just got trapped halfway between an art film and an exploitation flick and never could decide what it was supposed to be, which ultimately alienates just about everybody in your audience. So basically, the guy had a whole lot going against him, and made one really, really bad decision.
Okay then, let's drill a hole into this thing's head and see how effectively the gore staves off the bore. The plot isn't what you'd call complex, but with a movie titled The Driller Killer, nobody who watches it wants to see 90 minutes of undertones or subtle homages to Hitchcock; we wanna see torso ventilation, and we get an acceptable amount of it. And while I hate to keep harping on it, I think the overabundance of band footage causes the audience to disengage itself from what might otherwise be an interesting downward spiral. The worst thing about it is that by the end of the movie you're so primed for Abel to grab his drill and do some serious gore boring into the band (who've been the driving force behind his slip into insanity), and they all escape completely unharmed. I couldn't hardly believe it. The acting is... different. For the most part, everyone in the cast is unpolished, but not what you'd necessarily call bad. Everybody except Baybi Day, who has such an unusual acting style that I can't decide if she's exceptional or terrible; really weird performance on her part. She delivers her dialog in a way that comes off rather amateurish, but that also seems like it's just part of the character's personality. "Out of it," I think is the best way to describe her character. I kinda liked it. There really isn't much in the way of additional acting credits for the cast here, as it was the only movie that many of them ever did, but here's who matters and why: Abel Ferrara (Ms. .45), James O'Hara (Batman: The Movie 1966), Peter Yellen (Ms. .45), Stephen Singer (The Happening 2008, Ms. .45), Anthony Picciano (Ms. .45), Jack O' Connell (Men in Black 3). The special effects are few and far between for a movie called The Driller Killer, and as you might expect from the title, our killer does tend to focus on just one method of killing people. Only in three of the drillings do we really see much, and as was the fashion at the time, all the blood is really vibrant and resembles paint. The best scene is the one featured on the old UK Vipco VHS release, which shows a bum getting drilled in the forehead. Of course, there was no budget for a fake head/drill penetration of the skull, but Abel still spends about ten seconds or so drilling that guy, and there's no shortage of blood throughout the process. So basically, we're talkin' poor on total volume, but fair on execution.
The shooting locations are easily the best thing about the movie, and that's not just because the other aspects are lackluster. I always enjoy these gritty low budget flicks that take place in NYC and show off the grimy, run-down areas that your big budget movies wouldn't touch with a Donald Trump foam finger. Movies like C.H.U.D., Basket Case, and HENRY: Portrait of a Serial Killer (although that one's actually Chicago) always show you the areas that you're not used to seeing and do an excellent job at depicting the bleak reality of the characters' situations. These types of locations often lend themselves to good cinematography, and this flick is no exception, as the cinematographer went on to become one of the most successful guys to work on the movie. So ultimately, the setting brings a much needed authenticity that grounds the movie in reality, and pretty much saves it from being completely dull. Even the interiors are scummy most of the time, so an excellent job on this front. The soundtrack you'd have to divide up into two parts; the music performed by the band, and the instrumental music. The songs performed by the band are typical '70s punk rock, with some pretty obvious parallels to other bands of the time, and aren't particularly memorable. That's about as polite as I can be after being subjected to 24 minutes worth of mostly gratuitous music. The instrumental stuff isn't all that bad, and features a lot of Casio keyboard style music, with an interesting opening title that vaguely reminds one of Phantasm. It's also got this odd little synthesized Jaws theme that they use anytime Abel gets P.O.'d enough to rev up the ole Makita. Basically, the instrumental soundtrack is a little strange, but somewhat effective in creating a little atmosphere. It's a shame that it isn't a bit better though, because a good soundtrack, when paired with these sorts of grim shooting locations, can create an excellent one-two punch. Overall, a gallant early effort by Abel Ferrara, but it's a real slog at 96 minutes. The only reason to see this one is if you're an obsessed fan of the director, or you're wanting to check out all the Video Nasty titles. Otherwise, I'd skip it.