The first feature film to which Noo Yawk director Abel Ferrara signed his name takes a literal approach to the concept of artistic horror, since the lead character (played by Ferrara under a stage name) is an artist who commits horrific acts. Yet while The Driller Killer is made with competence and a certain amount of grungy downtown style, this is clearly the work of the man whose previous effort (credited under an alias) was the X-rated flick 9 Lives of a Wet Pussy. In other words, it’s unwise to expect good taste from early Ferrara. In The Driller Killer, Ferrara plays Reno, a hot-blooded artist living in a grimy pocket of Greenwich Village. Perpetually broke and upset with his crime-ridden surroundings, Reno gets pushed over the edge by a series of disturbing hallucinations and by the insufferable noise of a punk-rock band’s rehearsals in a neighboring apartment. Then, as rational people are wont to do, Reno expresses his angst by murdering people with a power drill. As in most of Ferrara’s movies, ennui and violence are closely intertwined, so we’re not meant to regard Reno as a monster; instead, we’re supposed to ask questions about why society drives some people toward unspeakable cruelty. However, it’s good that Ferrara got better at exploring this sort of material in subsequent movies, like his cult-fave 1981 revenge flick Ms. 45, since The Driller Killer doesn’t hit the mark. While the movie cannot be completely dismissed (Ferrara was clearly trying to explore something), the flick’s onslaught of bloodletting and general ugliness is unpleasant instead of provocative. Nonetheless, it’s to Ferrara’s credit that he committed so wholeheartedly to the piece, shooting on cobbled-together 16mm film inside his own apartment and the surrounding neighborhood, on top of playing the leading role. Furthermore, the fact that his gamble paid off by kick-starting his directing career gives The Driller Killer a minor historical significance the movie probably doesn’t deserve.
The Driller Killer: LAME