Apr 21, 2014
I do not know when NYC-based auteur Abel Ferrara (Bad Lieutenant, 4:44 Last Day on Earth) became a full-fledged crackhead, but he certainly seemed like he was smoking rocks at the time he directed and starred in his first ‘official’ film The Driller Killer (1979), even though the film pre-dates the crack epidemic of the mid-1980s. Indeed, while Ferrara had the opportunity to use 35mm film stock for his rather disappointing porn flick 9 Lives of a Wet Pussy (1976), he shot his quasi-arthouse slasher flick The Driller Killer on cheap 16mm film stock, which would prove to only further accentuate the film’s already glaring grittiness and sometimes cinéma vérité-like feel, especially during scenes featuring deranged dipsomaniac bums regurgitating on shitty city street corners. Admittedly, when I first saw The Driller Killer about a decade or so ago, I thought it was a plodding pile of totally forgettable homeless vomit (and, indeed, the film has its fair share of wino bile), yet as a fan of a number of Ferrara’s films, I felt it was about time I give the film another chance, especially after watching 9 Lives of a Wet Pussy and seeing for myself why the director wanted to distance himself from his first unofficial film. A sort of superlatively sordid and sleazy yet suavely stylized work of unhinged aesthetic wickedness set in an urban post-industrial wasteland that seems like a cross between Martin Scorsese’s Taxi Driver (1976) and Slava Tsukerman’s Liquid Sky (1982) as directed by a crack addicted Paul Morrissey with an affinity for the killer kaleidoscopic cinematic works of great Guido horror masters like Mario Bava and Dario Argento, The Driller Killer is offensive simply due to the fact that it is an artsy slasher flick that uses blood the same way porn flicks use cum shots and Picasso used paint. Additionally, Ferrara seems so innately irrational, hysterical, and hopped up on who knows what during his performance in the film that it seems virtually unthinkable that he was actually responsible for directing the work, but then again, The Driller Killer also has a sometimes punk rock documentary-like vibe, as if it was made over a couple weekends at the director’s favorite party spots and friends’ homes. Despite being a bottom-of-the-barrel avant-garde exploitation flick that seems to have influenced lesser NYC filmmakers of the ‘no wave’ and Cinema of Transgression movements, The Driller Killer was labeled a ‘video nasty’ and banned in the UK, with Mike Bor—the pansy Principal Examiner at the British Board of Film Classification—stating of the film, “The Driller Killer was almost single-handedly responsible for the Video Recordings Act 1984.” A vehemently vile piece of ‘vigilante’ anti-justice about a mentally perturbed painter who goes around wasting winos with a cordless electric drill, The Driller Killer is an aesthetically and thematically reckless work of low-class celluloid nihilism with the sort of gutter trash cultivation that only an old school street rat like Abel Ferrara is capable of. Although mere speculation on my part, I have to assume that The Driller Killer is a semi-autobiographical work directed by a struggling artist about a struggling artist, as what can be seen as Ferrara’s excrement-ridden equivalent to David Lynch’s masterpiece Eraserhead (1977). Filmed in NYC’s little Italy by Martin Scorsese’s half-Irish tweaker bastard son, The Driller Killer—a work that was hilariously, ‘Dedicated To The People of New York – “The City of Hope”’—is, if nothing else, a tastelessly charming, celluloid cultural artifact that is mandatory viewing for anyone who thinks Andy Milligan’s Fleshpot on 42nd Street (1973) features one of the most important and honest historical depictions of the rotten Big Apple.
Erratic social retard and loser loudmouth Reno Miller (played by Abel Ferrara under the pseudonym ‘Jimmy Laine’), who looks sort of like a Jewish crackhead version of Mick Jagger, is a down-and-out degenerate painter who gets quite a shock when he enters a fancy Catholic Church and an old ‘Father-Christ’ figure grabs his hand, as if he knows the young artist is about to become a portable-drill-wielding psycho killer. When Reno’s girlfriend Carol (Carolyn Marz) asks him who the old man at the church was, the painter eloquently replies, “Who knows, some fucking degenerate bum wino.” Reno lives in a dilapidated Union Square apartment with his girlfriend Carol and her ‘punk pixie’ lesbo lover Pamela (Baybi Day) and they cannot afford to pay the rent nor phone bill. To top everything off, Reno hates the fact that his area is infested with perennially barfing, beer-binging bums who have little respect for civilization, let alone bathing. In the hope of getting money to pay his bills, Reno conspires to get a $500 advance from a flaming fag art dealer named Dalton Briggs (Harry Schultz II) in regard to a giant surreal buffalo painting (Ferrara claims this painting is now in the National Gallery in Washington D.C.) he is putting his finishing touches on, but he is snidely turned down by the pretentious degenerate art queen. When Reno’s girlfriend complains that he should finish the painting now so they can get money to pay the bills, the exceedingly emotionally erratic artist flips out and screams at his best beloved, “Since when did you become such an expert on painting?! I mean, you’re telling me its finished? […] You know nothing about painting, man. You know what you know about? You know how to bitch, and how to eat, and how to bitch and how to shit and how to bitch, but you don’t know nothing about painting, so you don’t know when its gonna be done.” To make matters worse, a no-talent punk band in the spirit of the New York Dolls/Television that is fronted by a narcissistic mascara-wearing wop named ‘Tony Coca-Cola’ (D.A. Metrov) has just moved into Reno’s apartment building and they practice until 2am when the painter is trying in vain to concentrate on his work. After seeing a commercial for a Porto-Pak wireless electric drill and finding temporary solace in playing with the flayed corpse of a mutilated bunny rabbit (which resembles the skinned bunny from Roman Polanski’s Repulsion (1965), as well as the mutant baby from Lynch’s Eraserhead), Reno comes up with the bright idea to let off some steam by killing the bums that have been stinking up his neighborhood. Indeed, as an artist, Reno is a visionary and a creator and opts for taking it upon himself to create a new world that is free of parasitic subhuman rabble, but the problem is that he loses control and starts killing off more people than just bums.
As The Driller Killer progresses into deranging aesthetic debauchery and angst-ridden antihero Reno suffers a number of schizophrenic hallucinations and nasty nightmares, the quasi-psychosexually insane social reject begins perniciously penetrating bums and drunks via his trusty portable driller. Indeed, Reno drives his wacky weapon of choice into winos as if he is literally fucking their brains and guts out, even approaching one unsuspecting bum from behind as if he is buggering him. When Reno finally decides to kill pretentious art fag Dalton after he describes his finished buffalo painting as follows, “… this isn’t right…this is nothing…this is SHIT. Where is the impact, it is just a god damn buffalo. This is nothing like your other works…this is far from your best stuff and the size can’t hide it. Reno, the worst thing that can happen to a painter is happening to you…You are becoming simply a technician. There’s nothing there…there’s no feeling, there’s no drama, there’s no passion,” he gets all ritualistic and sexually confused and makes sure to put on some pink lipstick and mascara before literally ‘sticking it’ to the anally retentive sodomite. Indeed, Reno even seduces Dalton over the phone before the killer climax by making it seem as if the two are going to make love, but the only penetration the art dealer receives is with a state-of-the-art consume grade electric drill. Meanwhile, after a series of nasty fights with his girlfriend Carol and various failed attempts at reconciliation (Reno paints her a childish painting with the words ‘I Am Sorry’ written on it), Reno finds himself without a girlfriend, so he kills his little lady’s lily-licking lover Pamela and plots his revenge. Carol has gotten back with her estranged husband Stephen (Richard Howorth), so Reno pays a visit to the two at their apartment. After killing Stephen, Reno sneaks into the couple's bed and waits for Carol to arrive. Ultimately, The Driller Killer ends with Carol getting in bed and romantically whispering, “Stephen… come here” to what she assumes is her husband, not realizing her reject artist ex-boyfriend Reno is laying in the bed with his trusty drill.
More ‘art-addled’ than Scorsese’s Taxi Driver and too gory and ultra-violent to appease the passive appetites of Francophile cinephiles who religiously masturbate to the cover art of the latest Criterion Collection release, The Driller Killer really is a film without an audience that was directed by a man who is not pretentious nor phony enough to market his films for art galley poofs and pansies, thus making it all the more significant that an art fag is brutally slaughtered in the film. Aside from possibly his philosophical ‘postmodern’ vampire flick The Addiction (1995), The Driller Killer is easily Ferrara’s most arthouse oriented work to date, yet it is the sort of aberrant arthouse work that could only have been shit out by a decidedly degenerate low-life from NYC, hence the film’s greatest appeal as a rude and morally unredeeming window into an American metropolitan maniac microcosm where all hope has been flushed into the sewer and where discriminatory homicide seems like the only reasonable answer. Indeed, The Driller Killer is not the Jewish bourgeois intellectual New York City of Woody Allen and half-Heeb hipster Lena Dunham, but the visceral and violent racially/culturally mongrelized McWop Catholic quasi-human cesspool of committed crackhead Abel Ferrara where municipal mental illness, mayhem, and murder are just as important cultural ingredients as pizza, crucifixes, and crack rocks. Forget the posturing moral righteousness of Slavic-Tatar Charles Bronson in Death Wish (1974), The Driller Killer is real and unadulterated depiction of what vicious vigilante dreams are made of. Like George A. Romero’s hit midnight movie Night of the Living Dead (1968), The Driller Killer would fall into the public domain due to some lawyer’s negligence, but if you have the opportunity, try to track down the French DVD release of the film featuring an audio commentary track from Abel Ferrara where the auteur gives a discernibly stoned recap of the film and hilariously mocks his own work, as if it is no more culturally significant than an antique ashtray. A true piece of American proletarian art without tradition or cultivation, The Driller Killer is a positively potent sub-avant-garde expression of the fact that American history, even that of a multicultural hellhole like New Amsterdam, was forged in blood, and oftentimes nonsensically so, as the troubled history of the Big Apple demonstrates.
Posted by Soiled Sinema at 8:52 PM
Soiled Sinema 2007 - 2013. All rights reserved. Best viewed in Firefox and Chrome.