An artist slowly goes insane while struggling to pay his bills, work on his paintings, and care for his two female roommates, which leads him taking to the streets of New York after dark and... Read allAn artist slowly goes insane while struggling to pay his bills, work on his paintings, and care for his two female roommates, which leads him taking to the streets of New York after dark and randomly killing derelicts with a power drill.An artist slowly goes insane while struggling to pay his bills, work on his paintings, and care for his two female roommates, which leads him taking to the streets of New York after dark and randomly killing derelicts with a power drill.
Ferrara himself plays Reno, a struggling artist desperate to complete a painting that will earn him enough to pay the rent. He lives with a couple of girls, one of whom is kind of his girlfriend but neither of whom particularly likes him, and he's being driven mad by those damn Roosters downstairs. All his repressed rage and his inability to empathise with fellow humans is taking its toll. Then he sees his release: take it out on the New York homeless using a power drill and a Porto-Pak(TM).
Reno's disgust of transient men betrays a profound male anxiety: the inability to provide. Furthermore, his "masterpiece" is a painting of a bison – both a icon of masculine power as well as a symbol of hunter-gatherer sustenance. He barks impotently at his indifferent girlfriend, who later turns to their female flatmate for her physical satisfaction.
Moreover, Reno is unable to communicate with his artist peers. Even the members of the band who aren't musicians are full of extrovert self-expression. Reno, meanwhile, is a wholly internalised recluse, harbouring a growing loathing of other people.
Then there's Dalton Briggs (Harry Schlutz II), a gallery owner who, like a Roman emperor, holds the power to give a thumbs-up or down to Reno's future. In the deliberately theatrical Dalton scenes (a realist style is employed elsewhere) Ferrara scores with Clockwork Orange- style electronic classical music; and indeed there is a hint of Kubrickian absurdity in the juxtaposition between Briggs' high art pretensions and Reno's degenerate world.
That world, shot on location around Ferrara's own haunt, is at times as potent a snapshot of post-Vietnam New York's underbelly as Scorsese's Taxi Driver. The depiction of madness and desperation amongst the homeless is pretty broad, although it doesn't stray into the sort of farcical territory we would later see in J. Michael Muro's Street Trash.
The Driller Killer is one of the original "video nasties" – a select group of films banned from UK home video in the 1980s for fear of corrupting malleable minds. Apparently, the complaints were based solely on the poster, depicting the famous head drill victim. To be fair, the actual content here more than lives up to that marketing promise. This is a grotty and gory film, the cheapness of whose effects is offset by being shot mostly at night.
Smart directorial choices, neat editing, dark humour, and a unique setting elevate The Driller Killer above many of the slashers of the late-70s/early-80s period. It may not be the most fun – think of the intense grimness of Maniac or Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer – but it's surely one of the more memorable.
- Nov 13, 2016