DRILLER KILLER: It’s Tool Time with Abel Ferrera


Before he made the streets of New York City run with blood, lawlessness, and venial sin in films like King of New York and Bad Lieutenant, Abel Ferrera, one of the last true outlaws among independent filmmakers, merely made them run with blood in his legitimate feature directorial debut Driller Killer (after making several well-regarded short films Ferrera stepped behind the camera for the porno flick Nine Lives of a Wet Pussy). A head-on collision between a seedy grind house slasher flick and a slice-of-life portrait of the city’s underground art and music and scene, Driller Killer has the texture of a ragged, poorly-recorded punk rock album on scratchy vinyl you would find at the bottom of a box of cheap used records in the moldy basement of a indie radio station. It embraces horror for exploitation purposes, but clearly Ferrera is hunting bigger game.


Playing (under the pseudonym “Jimmy Laine”) the lead role of Reno Miller, a starving artist awash in an unforgiving city, the director gives a sweaty, intense performance that teeters on being overbearing. Miller is an unsympathetic character that we’re forced to watch go slowly insane over the movie’s 97-minute running time as he watches his dreams of mainstream success go down the drain, compounded by an unsatisfied girlfriend and a punk rock band in the apartment beneath his that never stops practicing, and in NYC anything that gets flushed down the drain mutates into something much worse. In Reno’s case he decides to deal with his discontent by going out at night and solving the city’s homeless problem by murdering bums with a power drill he saw advertised on late night television.


The blood and gore are plentiful in Driller Killer, which also led to the film being declared one of Britain’s original “Video Nasties”, but Ferrera rarely wallows in it. His movies have always lacked the professional finesse that usually leads to the kind of widespread acceptance his main character desires, but they‘ve always maintained their status as underground cult favorites that only the most adventurous film freaks would dare chance a viewing of, and Driller is no exception. There are themes of urban alienation and moral corruption that Martin Scorsese and Paul Schrader explored in Taxi Driver and that Ferrera would continue to take on in films like Ms. 45. It also has a semi-improvisational feel to it like the script was cobbled together out of random lines and scenes written on cocktail napkins in some Brooklyn dive bar, and there’s a lot of documentary footage of city life and shots of New Yorkers crammed into tiny clubs to watch punk bands thrash the night away.


This is not a film that would make for a dandy Halloween night double feature with Friday the 13th or The Burning. It’s a difficult movie to watch, more in the vein of the original The Texas Chainsaw Massacre; in short, the kind of movie that usually makes normal viewers want to take a shower afterwards and crazy moviegoers want to set the director and cast on fire. If you’re like me you may never want to watch it again after your initial viewing, but chances are you won’t soon forget it.

Cult Epics put out a two-disc DVD of Driller Killer back in 2004 but it was a limited edition that is currently out of print. If you want to take a chance on a different kind of psycho horror Abel Ferrera’s greasy little indie gore epic might be right up your garbage-strewn, urine-soaked alley.

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