| The Driller Killer


Reviews 31 Days of Horror VIII

The Driller Killer

The Driller Killer

Abel Ferrara

USA, 1979


Review by Leo Goldsmith

Posted on 27 October 2011

Source Torrent download

Categories 31 Days of Horror VIII

I can’t get laid cuz everyone is dead.

—Sonic Youth

4:44 Last Day on Earth, Abel Ferrara’s latest film, is about a normal guy - Cisco, played by Willem Dafoe - who’s an actor living on the Lower East Side and waiting out the final hours of human existence with his painter girlfriend Skye. Cisco has a nice loft with exposed brick hanging and an amazing roof deck with a great view of the Williamsburg Bridge—no big deal. In some ways, the day of the apocalypse that everyone has been expecting is much like any other - the cabs keep running, people are hanging out - except the TV’s broadcasting the Dalai Lama and Al Gore nonstop. Cisco orders Vietnamese, meditates, has sex with Skye a couple of times, tries to reconnect with some distant family, hangs out with some old friends, contemplates a return to heroin use, freaks out on a few people.

In this way, 4:44 provides a late-career answer to an earlier everyday armageddon on the Lower East Side in Ferrara’s career. 1979’s The Driller Killer is also about an artist and the total destruction of his world. In the earlier film, however, the crazy visions more often concern gory animality than restorative Orobouri, and the setting is the bombed-out, crumbling, trash-lined Bowery rather than that weird index of neutered, Bloomberg-era New York.

Actually Ferrara’s second film - he made a porno called 9 Lives of a Wet Pussy with his then-girlfriend in 1976 - The Driller Killer is a work of uncommon bile, a notorious video nasty in the UK, and the kind of film that seems always to be yelling at you. Even its poster brandishes the tagline, “THERE ARE THOSE WHO KILL VIOLENTLY!” and its mostly serious opening title-card bears the Stones-ripped




It’s a movie with what might be termed a fair amount of balls, but it also has a fair amount of bargain-budget punk nonchalance, evidenced by its cast of crazy, drug-addled buddies, girls, scenesters, and other hangers-on, and only occasional attempts to string together a coherent storyline.

Most of the film seems to have been shot over a period of very intense partying. Ferrara himself - using his nom de porno Jimmy Laine - plays Reno, a down-and-out painter who lives with a couple of chicks: ditzy punk rocker Pamela and vampish Carol. Mostly, the girls just take showers together and sit around reading tabloid stories of everyday horrors - boring serial killers, poodles in microwaves - while Reno works on his masterpiece, “The Buffalo,” tries to get advances out of his “fag art dealer,” and bitches about bills from Con Edison. (“Con: that’s a good name for ‘em!”) The situation becomes pretty desperate - Pammy: “We don’t have any drugs. We don’t have any money. We don’t have any dope. I can’t take it anymore!” - until Carol’s cornball husband Stephen, who still sends his estranged wife love letters, slips “a little something extra cash” into his alimony mailing, allowing them to pay the landlord and scrape by.

Reno’s psychological collapse is cued, if not from its very title, then from the film’s first scene, in which “some fucking dee-generate bum wino” grabs Reno’s hand in a church (a favorite Ferrara setting) and the eye of the buffalo in his masterpiece begins imparting to him a series of hallucinatory, carnage-filled, Anger-y montage sequences. The pressures of art, drugs, women, bills, the loud, shambolic rock of downstairs neighbors Tony Coca-Cola and the Roosters, and life on the Bowery soon become overwhelming, and Reno, after spying an ad for a Porta-Pak (just $19.95!) on TV, begins semi-consciously and ineluctably hatching a new persona. Pretty soon, Reno tires of the girls’ bullshit and hanging out at clubs listening to Tony Coca-Cola and his band, and decides to take his Porta-Pak to the streets on a drilling spree, trepanning every “fucking dee-generate bum wino” he can find.

With the set-up described in this way, The Driller Killer actually sounds like a fairly coherent, tightly plotted, and conventional film. Instead, it’s as rough, lumpy, and itinerant as any of Ferrara’s films, lurching around idiosyncratically and distracting itself with girls, music, and assorted skuzzy misadventures on the Bowery. Ferrara’s performance is itself a totally off-the-wall and off-the-cuff: the girls’ disgust with his erratic behavior is beautifully demonstrated in a scene in which Reno eats an entire pizza (half pepperoni, half onions and peppers), and he offers a handful of colorful, raving monologues, in which he berates Carol for her lack of sophistication in artistic matters. (“You don’t know nothin’ about paintin’, man… 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 nothin’ about paintin’!”) Stranger still are the lengthy scenes of drug-fueled tunesmithery from Tony Coca-Cola, including a scary-asshole lesson to his tarty backup singers about how specifically to deliver their “Oop-Sha-Doobie“‘s.

But to say that the film is a self-destructive, hedonistic mess is actually to talk about what’s good about it—it revels in a demi-monde of drunks, junkies, squeedgee men, and criminals that’s quintessentially Ferrara, and once was quintessentially New York. Even if the film is not exactly a PSA for the Coalition for the Homeless, it has a curious kind of fidelity to the reality of their existence, evident in the indulgence with which Ferrara presents his lengthy documentary sequences of bum-life on the Bowery, one of whom is sleeping and puking at the same time. It’s a different world entirely from the spruced-up, rezoned, and neutered Lower East Side of 4:44, which Ferrara instantiates through little marginal details, like the glimpse of the bank of StairMasters visible above the Duane Reade at the intersection of Orchard and Ludlow, where anxious yuppies continue to tone their calves right up to the moment of the apocalypse. By contrast, The Driller Killer is the kind of movie that makes you nostalgic for New York, even - or especially - if you already live there. It’s a New York you never lived in, a New York you probably wouldn’t have lived in.

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