Directed By: Abel Ferrara
Starring: Abel Ferrara, Carolyn Marz, Baybi Day
Tag line: "The Blood Runs In Rivers... And The Drill Keeps Tearing Through Flesh And Bone"
Trivia: This film was banned in the UK until 1999
Don't let the title fool you: The Driller Killer may sound like it's gonna be a blood-stained horror movie, and, to be sure, there are moments when it is just that, but it's also much more besides. The first feature directed by Abel Ferrara, The Driller Killer is as much an art-house film as it is a violent exploitation extravaganza, and while it's not exactly a perfect marriage of the two, I wouldn't go so far as to call it a failure, either.
Along with his work behind the camera, Ferrara stars as Reno, an artist who shares an apartment on New York's lower east side with two gorgeous roommates: Carol (Carolyn Marz) and Pamela (Baybi Day). Seeing as none of the three have steady jobs, the monthly bills are always a struggle, and their landlord (Alan Wynroth) is threatening to throw them out on the street. To make matters worse, the punk rock band that just moved into the apartment upstairs practices late into the night, disrupting Reno as he works to put the finishing touches on his latest masterpiece. Pushed to the breaking point, Reno snaps, and goes on a murderous rampage, thinning out the neighborhood's homeless population with the help of an electric drill. But as the pressures continue to mount, he soon turns his attention, and his drill, away from the homeless, and towards those closest to him.
As with many of Ferrara's later films (he would go on to direct King of New York in 1990 and Bad Lieutenant in 1992), The Driller Killer is an odd mixture of indie experimental and exploitation. For the first half of the movie, we become intimately familiar with Reno and his two roommates, listening in as they argue over the phone bill, and watching as they try to convince their landlord to give them a little more time to pay. It's in these early scenes that Reno shows the first signs of buckling under; he has visions of himself drenched in blood, and hears strange voices calling his name. Throughout the bulk of its running time, The Driller Killer is very much a psychological thriller, interspersed with the drama of young adults struggling to survive in the big city. Once Reno crosses that line into insanity, however, The Driller Killer adopts a much sleazier tone, with Reno going on his killing spree, polishing off street people one by one (and to kick the exploitation vibe up a notch, there's even a lesbian shower scene thrown into the mix).
Ultimately, The Driller Killer falls a bit short as both psychological horror (because Reno's fracture with reality isn't explored as fully as it should have been) and a slasher (there simply aren't enough kills). Yet with its unique perspective of New York in the late '70s, showing the city in all its graffiti-ridden, grimy glory, and sporting a handful of truly inspired moments, The Driller Killer reveals the promise of a talented filmmaker at the start of his career.