One of the most famous video nasties ever, 1979’s The Driller Killer was directed by Abel Ferrara who also starred alongside Carolyn Marz, Baybi Day, and Harry Schultz.
Ferrara plays Reno Miller, a struggling artist who lives in a run-down apartment with his girlfriend Carol (Carolyn Marz) and her girlfriend, Pamela (Baybi Day). The three are short of cash and Reno is under pressure to complete his latest work. Proved when he asks the gallery owner for money and is turned down as he has been given enough already.
Finish the painting and the gallery owner will pay, but Reno just can’t seem to complete it.
Reno’s problems concentrating are confounded when the No Wave band, The Roosters move into the apartment block and start playing their music at all hours. The landlord isn’t interested in helping Reno out either as he is behind in rent payments.
All of this, plus his disgust of the homeless that litter the street, sends Reno spiralling into madness. He gets hold of a battery powered drill and becomes The Driller Killer at night. All while trying to finish his painting and keep Carol happy during the day.
One of the more impressive things about The Driller Killer is just how layered it is. This is not your standard slasher horror, Reno has depth and is something of a sympathetic character. Ferrara isn’t always perfect in the role but he really pushes himself at times.
Elsewhere the film is filled with all manner of interesting characters and competently acted. None more so though the damaged drug addict Pamela and the lead of The Roosters, Dalton. The latter is played with a certain amount of detachment and glee by Harry Schultz.
However, that’s not what made The Driller Killer fall foul of the censors back in the 80s. No, what got it in trouble was the violence and gore. Now, it’s not gratuitous in any way but when it’s time to let the blood fly, it’s done in a visceral way. Shots linger as drill heads enter flesh, bone and even a skull. Then we have the sight of Reno hammering a skinned rabbit over and over and the flashes of him being drenched in blood.
It’s these moments that are somewhat overkill. However, their impact can’t be lessened and in the context of the story, namely Reno’s descent into madness, make complete sense. It’s a low budget offering but you won’t really notice. It still holds up by today’s standards and is still considered one of Ferrara’s most impressive pieces of film.
The Driller Killer
The Final Score - 7.5/10