Driller Killer (1979) despite being in great part a gross-out slasher (or driller) is in equal portion an edgy New York thriller. It has the look of a cheap Z exploitation film, but strives toward the intelligence of Taxi Driver, with many intriguing bits of dialogue, angry speeches, fascinating soundscape & revelations of art amidst urban decadence & poverty. The corners of the film are packed with world-weariness that turns, for our struggling protagonist, into madness.
Faces are alone mysteries as our struggling artist Reno copes with creativity, love, inspiration, cash flow problems, the annoyances of city apartment life, & incipient paranoia. The artist coming unhinged is ably played by director Abel Ferrara, though he gives himself the screen credit "Jimmy Laine." He's actually brilliant in the role. Some of the film's rants are hysterically funny but not really comedy; more to do with recognition of all human ridiculousness.
His ex-wife Carol has dumped him due to his unpredictability. As played by Carolyn Marz she is the only halfway normal human being encountered in the story, though the lack of normalcy is of the sort expected of artistic youths constructing such transient "cultures" as this one.
If there'd been no gore sequences the film could still have been interesting. The unusual combination of exploitation & indy-film portraits of a Warholian community of artists & musicians provides two distinct tracks of intrigue, a world surreal at first glance, but a totally accurate picture of a slice of New York city life in the mid to late 1970s.
Thirty-seven minutes into the film our antihero kills a homeless drunk on a dark night with an electric drill operated by a battery pack worn around his waist. He has no reason for this behavior beyond sleep deprivation, nightmares, & frustration, which seems to have triggered his descent into psychosis akin to that depicted in Roman Polanski's Repulsion.
Driller Killer at the same time captures youth club culture & music of the era with unutterable conviction, with kids too stoned to know whether or not they're having fun yet, while in the street (with the club band still on the soundtrack) our crazier & crazier antihero drills another drunk.
The rockers in this film were promoted when the film was new as punkers, & this was the first genuine punk rock horror film. In reality they're not so much punk as loud bluesy rockers & it's a marvel to see original rock music in a lowbudget film that is unpretendingly pretty good. The band is called The Roosters & the vocalist/lead guitarist Tony CocaCola is played by a very real talent, "Rhodney Montreal" aka Douglas A. Metrov, in whose loft Abel Ferrara filmed much of Driller Killer.
By the end Reno is so nuts & so angry that anything could happen. Amidst street crazies & seedy night people the driller killer finally rampages. By avoiding the Argento style victim (trollops & hussies) the film moves away from the most simpleminded sorts of exploitation & becomes a more pensive gore fest. One portrait of a friendly homeless alcoholic is very pathetic & it's so tragic to see him drilled by our psycho, nailed to a wall in splayed position like Jesus. Reno is by now a death-angel transforming the earthly landscape into the landscape of Hell.
copyright © by Paghat the Ratgirl