Friday, July 17, 2009

The Driller Killer (Abel Ferrara, 1979)

A gritty, murky, derelict filled affliction of a movie, The Driller Killer is one of the grimier power tool-based horror movies I've come across in recent years. However, whereas most films that centre around holes being bored where holes aren't usually bored seem to made by flavourless anti-intellectuals with no sense of style (you know, philistines who think crossing dressing is uncool), Abel Ferrara is a true visionary. Bringing a fresh, guileless perspective to the much maligned genre, the director, and actor (who is credited here as Jimmy Laine), paints a raw portrait of New York City during yet another one of its rough transitional periods. The abject poverty, nonstop noise, cramped apartments and inebriated street people create at atmosphere that's literally crying out for a drill wielding madman. And Mr. Ferrara's uncompromising camera captures it all in its sleazy and bleak glory. The muddled cinematography (sinister shadows dominate the visual spectrum) and chaotic electronic music score by Joe Delia also help fashion an air of nervous disquietude. Which makes sense. I mean, who wants to watch a drill-based splatter film that is set mostly during the daytime and sports an upbeat soundtrack? But then again, the appeal of this particular version is a tad on the wonky side. In that, you have to be pretty unbalanced to gain conventional joy from this challenging enterprise. An artist named Reno Miller (Abel Ferrara) lives in a modestly sized apartment with his girlfriend Carol (Carolyn Marz) and her lover Pamela (Baybi Day) least I think they were lovers (I could have sworn I saw them in the shower together). Anyway, in the process of completing a painting that is dominated by a large buffalo for impatient art collector, Reno is being seemingly bombarded with unnecessary stress. The loud music of the punk band that rehearses around-the-clock next-door, hefty phones bills (the ladies like to gab in-between bathing), overdue rent, and a general sense of urban ennui are all nagging at his already disturbed temperament.

The sight of Pamela trying to drill a hole in a door (all the while being sexy and hung-over in her underwear) combined with an television advertisement for something called a "Porto-Pak" (a portable power storing device) sparks a murderous fire underneath the irritable painter.

The film's advice that The Driller Killer should be played loud seemed a bit iffy (the film opens with the words, "This Film Should Be Played Loud"). Seriously, COP, the 1984 album by SWANS, is only piece of entertainment that justifies sound level encouragement (the albums has "designed to be played at maximum volume" written on the back). Yet, upon further reflection, I can sort of see why it was issued in the first place. For example, the aforementioned music score, along with the disorganized racket that was The Roosters (the band next-door lead by D.A. Metrov), gave the proceedings a vomit inducing, unnerving quality at times. Which brilliantly puts us more in touch with Reno's evaporating mind set. You see, we're both losing our simultaneously, and that in turn makes us, not sympathize, but nod ever so slightly as he began to penetrate bums with his massive tool.

Okay, I didn't nod at all; I recoiled in feigned horror, if anything. But I can just imagine how horrible it must feel like to have your buffalo painting mocked by some rotund blowhard.

The acting of the film's mealy cast is amateurish across board, a cast that includes Abel Ferrara as the painter/boring enthusiast. To the director's credit, I did find his pizza eating to be disgusting and his drilling to be superb. At any rate, this apparent inexperience only manages to elevate the seedy realism of the piece. The wide array of homeless people who get drilled all had a genuinely disheveled aura about them (they were probably indigent in real life) and the rock crowds during the clubs scenes seemed authentic.

I was most impressed with the face of Baybi Day as Pamela, a perennially spaced-out chick who lives with Reno. Now, this might be the lukewarm green tea talking, but I thought she had a captivating screen presence. Which, of course, means this would turn out to be her only onscreen performance.

Unseemly and dirty, if you see one drill wielding psychopath movie set in a post-punk New York City, I recommend you make it The Driller Killer.



  1. I've heard of this movie, but never seen it.

  2. According Wikipedia, the film is public domain, so you can probably find it just about anywhere.

  3. DK is the type of movie my wife refuses to watch...not because she abhors power tool-based horror movies, oh no, that's certainly not the case. (SLUMBER PARTY MASSACRE parts 1 and 2 are regarded as major and minor masterpieces in Casa Canacorn.)

    It's pre-Giuliani New York City and all its gram-negative rod-shaped bacterium that cover every surface of the 1970s that freak her out.

    I, on the other hand, heart my NYC when it's teeming with turnstile jumpers, aggressive "squeegeemen", ferrets, pythons, lions, and denim and leather clad garbage dwellers, crawling with facultative anaerobic organisms....just sayin'.

    This film is public domain? Abel must be pissed.

  4. She no likey the filth, eh? Yeah, I can see that.

    Call me slightly deranged, but I'm looking forward to seeing Slumber Party Massacre 2; I hear Crystal Bernard is in it.

    Aggressive squeegeemen are still a common sight in the downtown core of my fair city.

    Funny, I knew a prostitute who had "crawling with facultative anaerobic organisms" tattooed in Latin on her lower back.

  5. Holy crap! I just watched the Slumber Party Massacre 2 trailer, and boy, is Crystal Bernard ever in it. Damn she's hot.

  6. Saw it once and really dug it, need to buy me a copy.