The Driller Killer

09/03/2021 06:43

Film: The Driller Killer

Year: 1979

Director: Abel Ferrara

Writer: Nicholas St. John

Starring: Abel Ferrara, Carolyn Marz and Baybi Day



This is a movie that I didn’t know about until getting into podcasts. It was one that would pop up when people were talking so I was intrigued to see what this was about. I’m thinking that Duncan did a podcast about this and when I commented, he thought I would like it. I decided that this would be covered on an episode of Side Quest Podcast as well. The synopsis is an artist slowly goes insane while struggling to pay his bills, work on his paintings and care for his two female roommates, which leads him taking to the streets of New York after dark and randomly killing derelicts with a power drill.

For this movie we’re following Reno Miller (Abel Ferrara). He goes into a church where a nun (Maria Helhoski) leads him to an odd man (James O’Hara). He touches Reno’s hand and that causes him to freak out. Waiting for Reno is Carol Slaughter (Carolyn Marz). She wonders if the two men are related, but Reno is adamant that is not the case. She also is curious as to why he had Reno’s name and number on a piece of paper in his pocket.

The couple then gets hot and heavy in a taxi as they go to meet with Reno’s ‘boss’. Dalton Briggs (Harry Schultz) is an art dealer and they’re waiting on Reno to finish his next piece. He tells him that he needs another week, but it is the best thing that he’s ever done. During this time, he and Pamela (Baybi Day), who is the other roommate, are living off the alimony of Carol. They’re behind on their rent and the landlord, Al (Alan Wynroth) is getting upset.

Reno has a lot of pressure on him to finish this painting and it doesn’t help that below them a band rents out the apartment. Their lead singer is Tony Coca-Cola (D.A. Metrov) and he’s joined by Ritchy (Dicky Bittner) and Steve (Steve Brown). They’re loud while they’re practicing and it seems they go all night. This gets under the skin of Reno.

As he descends into madness from everything going on and all the pressure surrounding him, he sees a commercial for an item called a Porto-pack. It is a belt that has stored power so people can use power tools without plugging into a wall. Reno buys one as he finally snaps and takes to the streets as the synopsis states with a power drill.

Now I’ll be honest here, there isn’t a lot to the story for this movie. It also doesn’t necessarily need a lot either. This is a sleazy arthouse film if I’m going to be honest and it also plays a bit like a slasher on top of that. The character of Reno is quite interesting. He is a starving artist. I’d even say there is a bit of him being Bohemian with how he is living with these two women. It also feels like he convinced Carol to leave her husband. This comes back into play later.

This character of Reno is where I want to delve more into. I find interesting that Ferrara who also directed this movie took on this lead role. Now I’ve said he’s a starving artist. He’s living with these two women. For the most part, they’re enjoying themselves. The problem becomes that he’s struggling with finishing this painting. He’s already had to take a couple advances from Dalton to survive. They can’t afford their bills, don’t have money to go out and do fun things. This pressure is mounting on him. It also doesn’t help this band moves in and are loud. I also think there are issues with his family as well. It is brought up that he doesn’t know who his parents are. There could be a connection with the man in the church, but Reno doesn’t want to explore that. I feel like he’s alone and descending into madness. By killing bums, it is him taking back some control.

There isn’t much of a support structure around him either. Carol left her husband for Reno I believe. She is realizing that her life isn’t what she expected. Her ex-husband does reach out to her. Pamela seems like a ditzy woman who is there to party. As things get tough, she is willing to leave. She takes a liking to Tony from the band below. His girlfriend doesn’t take too kindly to it though. Dalton also isn’t there for Reno either. I can’t fault him though as he is his employer technically. When Reno doesn’t have anything for him, he isn’t there. It takes offering to do something sexual for Dalton to reconsider. The climax here gets interesting.

Since I’ve went into all these characters, I’ll go to the acting. No one is great here. This is a low budget, grungy effort. I’ll be honest, I like it for that. Ferrara does a solid job at portraying Reno. I can feel the pressure mounting on him. When he cracks, it feels real to me. Marz is quite attractive. I do like that she stands by Reno, until it becomes too much for her. She is doing a lot to keep them going. It doesn’t benefit her anymore, so I feel it fits. I thought Day was fine along with Schultz, Wynroth, Metrov and the rest of the cast. I want to give a special shout-out to all of the victims here along with the band mates of Tony.

Next, I want to take this to the effects and cinematography. We don’t get as much as you would expect, but what we did is practical. By having a drill as the weapon like we get here works for me. The blood might be a bit bright, but that is something I do enjoy. This movie is also quite surreal. This makes at least one of the deals explainable to me, since our lead is who we are following and he’s going crazy. The camera work helps there for sure. It adds something as we see Reno descending into madness for sure. I’m positive here overall.

Then the last thing I want to delve into would be the soundtrack. The first note that I put down was that I loved it. There is this quirky sound to it that just fits the 1970s. I know that not everyone likes it as much as I do, but I feel it adds to the surreal atmosphere of the movie. What I do have to say, the music coming from The Roosters in the movie worn on me. I think this is strategic though to put us in the mindset of Reno. I don’t hate it or what they’re doing, but it was just loud and not necessarily for me.

So then in conclusion here, this movie won’t be for everyone. This is interesting is that this came out after Halloween, but before Friday the 13th and the slasher boom. This probably falls more into being a proto-slasher. Regardless, I think this is an intriguing arthouse/surreal take on a slasher film. We have solid acting to bring these characters to life. There isn’t a lot in the way of story, but we get some good effects, surreal cinematography and music that help to build that atmosphere. This is a great film? I wouldn’t go that far. What I will say is that this is an above average movie that is coming in just short of being good for me.


My Rating: 7.5 out of 10