We've all had neighbors/roommates from hell. I had to deal with shitty roommates in College, as well as neighbors. Said roommates drank heavily and streaked, destroyed things, and stole my food. Said neighbors blared their televisions at night while they were gone and played the same songs on repeat. We've all wanted to do something about that, but we can't. Well, somebody up and goes too far with that in Abel Ferrara's debut "The Driller Killer."
Reno Miller (Ferrara, under the pseudonym Jimmy Laine-I knew a guy in high-school named that!) has a shitty life. His girlfriend Carol Slaughter (Carolyn Marz) doesn't like him much. He's a struggling artist. A terrible punk rock band called The Roosters rehearse and play non-stop upstairs. His landlord is a dick. Homelessness and poverty is driving him crazy. The cops or the dealers, who's got the juice? The street bender's peddling their boiled goose! Well, this is a movie called "The Driller Killer", not a Saturday Night Live Digital Short with a song I can't get out of my head at the moment, so he doesn't have a boombox. Nope, he buys a certain power tool to "relieve stress", if you catch my drift.
"The Driller Killer" is an interesting case in the fact that it gained notoriety in England in the 1980's due to it landing on the infamous "video nasties" list, or horror movies that certain people (Mary Whitehouse and Margret Thatcher) felt were destroying the youth. I'd go in length about it, but I won't. So, having that kind of notority, horror fans were most likely intrigued as to what kind of unbridled sadism and evil awaited them, only for some to be disappointed that it wasn't the kind of psycho-killer-chasing-a-naked-girl style depravity they were expecting (we don't see any girls die in the movie in fact.) Nope, "The Driller Killer" is an attempt at mixing art house/indie sensibilities with horror. Sure, there's plenty of power drill related mayhem (some of it is memorably vicious), but it's not interested in satiating gore-hounds.
If anything, it's an interesting if not always successful take on "Taxi Driver" and it's theme of Urban Malaise taking it's toll on the protagonists psyche. On that level it succeeds to a degree, as it perfectly captures the decay and rot of late 70's New York to a T. Here, the Big Apple is depicted almost like a modern day Sodom, with cheap sex, junkies and really bad punk rock populating the air. It's a disgusting place, and you almost can't blame him for snapping. Also, as I mentioned, the kills are plentiful, and at times outright ugly and memorable. Also, the score by Joe Delia is a fitting, low rent electronic score that perfectly fits the dour atmosphere, with brief blasts of free jazz style saxophone.
Ferrara does a fine job as the protagonist, but everyone else involved is rather unconvincing and flat, making you wish for something better than community theater level acting. The biggest problem though is that it doesn't really succeed as an art-house film, feeling a bit too much like a student film. In fact, apart from the obligatory power drill murders, there isn't a whole lot to appeal to horror fans, and art-house aficionados will be left scratching their heads.
As a whole, "The Driller Killer" is an interesting but in the end not completely satisfying attempt at mixing art-house ambitions with slasher movie gore. It's a movie that's easier to appreciate than enjoy.
Abel Ferrara would go on to direct the rape-revenge classic "Ms. 45" and several straight to video movies, as well as episodes of "Miami Vice." Then in the 90's, he finally found credibility from critics and the like with movies such as "The King of New York" (starring Christopher Walken, Laurence Fishburne and Wesley Snipes), "The Bad Lieutenant" (staring Harvey Keitel in one of his finest performances) and "The Funeral" (starring Walken, Chris Penn Vincent Gallo,Isabella Rossellini, Gretchen Mol and Benicio Del Toro.)