The Driller Killer (1979)

Overall Rating:

Nastiness Rating:

Directed by: Abel Ferrara
Written by: Nicholas St. John

The 70s were a rough time for New Yorkers and Abel Ferrara was there for it all.

If you don’t know who Ferrara is already, then you will probably never care to know who he is. He is, quite possibly, the most nihilistic director to come out of a pretty nihilistic decade. From Ms. 45 to King Of New York to Bad Lieutenant, his films tend to be full of characters that you just don’t like doing things that you really don’t want to see. But sometimes you just can’t take your eyes away. Harvey Keitel raping a nun? I’m in. Christopher Walken as a vampire? I’m there.

The Driller Killer is Ferrara’s first non-porn full-length film. I kind of get the feeling that everyone in it came directly from the set of his 9 Lives Of A Wet Pussy. No, they don’t get naked every ten seconds, but they are pretty disgusting people.

The film opens with a title card saying “This film should be played LOUD”. Unfortunately, since I have roommates, this rule was not followed. I don’t think it mattered, though. It was still hard to watch.

Reno Miller (Ferrara himself) is an artist with a difference. Ok, not that big of a difference. He’s crazy. He and his girlfriend start the movie off at a church where an old homeless man has Reno’s name and phone number written on a piece of paper. How did he get it? No one knows, but when he touches Reno’s hand, Reno freaks out and busts out of the church. Then they head to Max’s Kansas City to…catch a band? No, because only she goes in. I think they went there because it’s a cool place and Abel wanted it in the movie.

From here on out, Reno is poor and going slowly mad(der). He keeps thinking about blood and killing homeless dudes. (There are a LOT of them in this movie. Lots of shots of old dudes puking in the street, talking nonsense to each other or just laying about, being in the way.) He also goes to his gallery to try to get money. When he’s turned down, things only get worse.

At some point, suddenly lesbian shower scene. For no apparent reason.

Eventually, Reno is actually killing homeless guys with a drill. It happens soon after his crazy landlord gives him a skinned rabbit, saying that it’s a gift for him and his roommates. Reno gets it ready for cooking (although, he’s doing this in the basement, so it may just be crazy shit going on), but the cleaning devolves into stabbing the rabbit’s head repeatedly. After this, he goes to a hardware store and looks at drill bits.

The first kill is pretty graphic and disgusting. Lots of blood and meat flying around. There are edits, but the camera never leaves the victim.

Soon enough, he’s killing homeless guys left and right. (The best one is a guy at a bus stop. He sticks the drill in the space between two pieces of plexiglass and drills the guy until he dies.

If you’re wondering how he’s carrying his drill everywhere in 1979, well, he paid his $19.95 for a Port-O-Pack! It’s a pack of batteries that you wear around your waist where you can plug in any electrical appliance. It’s probably something made up by Ferrara. Or it could have been real. Who knows?

At some point, the drill starts sounding like a gun. That’s where I knew that the drill was a Metaphor. For a gun? For a penis? Who knows?

Then there’s a guy living in the alleyway. Who is he? I have no idea. Reno takes a sudden dislike to him and nails him to the walls, then kills him. He immediately runs in and whispers shit to his sleeping lesbian roommates.

This is when the gallery guy finally comes to see Reno’s “masterpiece.” He hates it. Calls it worthless and says that he’s become a “technician.” His girlfriend explodes…and then leaves him.
What a horrible person.

Of course, the gallery guy comes a-callin’ again and Reno kills him real good. One of his annoying roommates finds him and Reno attacks her.

See a pattern starting?

He heads to the apartment where his now ex-girlfriend is staying and kills the guy she’s staying with. Of course, she’s in the shower, so she doesn’t hear anything. When she gets out of the shower, she slips into bed next to who she thinks is her new lover.

The screen is black. She says, “David, are you avoiding me now? Come here.”

End movie.




Abel Ferrara should probably be glad for the Video Nasties list. If it hadn’t been for this list (which was partially started because of his video cover), he probably wouldn’t have been very well known. No one would have remembered his name to give him the chance to make good films like King Of New York.

This movie is not very good. It’s interesting if only because it shows New York City at a time that a lot of people romanticize and it’s by a director that is sort of well-known now. Maybe it’s supposed to be interesting that it’s an artist slowly being driven mad by his poverty.

I think that Ferrara thought it was far deeper than it actually is. Especially since there’s a sequence where Reno just runs from person to person, killing them for no apparent reason.

LOW POINT: Yep. It’s the scene that put it on the list. Reno comes up on a sleeping homeless guy, puts the drill to his forehead and turns it on. Very slowly, it starts going in while the victim screams.

This is the picture that was on the back of the cover box. It’s what made the parents scream. It’s what the government saw and decided was too much.

It’s the cause of the Video Nasty list.

It’s the best scene in the movie.

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