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With: "Jimmy Laine" (a.k.a. Abel Ferrara), Carolyn Marz, Baybi Day, Harry Schultz, Alan Wynroth, Tony Coca-Cola and the Roosters
Written by: Nicholas St. John
Directed by: Abel Ferrara
MPAA Rating: Unrated
Running Time: 96
Date: 06/15/1979

The Driller Killer (1979)

2 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

The Hole Truth

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Abel Ferrara is one of the last of the maverick directors, a truly independent, underground filmmaker who plays by his own rules. And yet, he does have commercial prospects. Why else would he dabble with exploitation elements in almost every film? After all, film is expensive and one has to make a little money. What better way to do it than throwing sex and violence in among one's personal demons?

Ferrara has managed to balance these things intelligently and alluringly in most of his films, especially his masterworks Ms. 45 (1981), King of New York (1990), Bad Lieutenant (1992), The Addiction (1995), The Funeral (1996) and 'R-Xmas (2002).

If The Driller Killer (1979) weren't the debut of a brilliant director, it would have faded away and been forgotten long ago.

The Driller Killer is arguably the least successful of Ferrara's features precisely because the balance is not there. It clearly wants to be a New York art film first and a slasher film second. The bloody killings in the film are the least important element; you could take them out and the film would play just about the same.

Unfortunately, what remains reeks of self-conscious artistic ambitions. Ferrara spends a great deal of time capturing stolen moments of New Yorkers acting weird, notably of a terrible rock band, Tony Coca-Cola and the Roosters, that practices at all hours in the hero's apartment building.

Ferrara plays Reno, an artist who is working on his masterpiece, a big picture of a buffalo with some scratches in it. He lives with two women, and presumably, they're all sleeping with each other. A rock band moves into the building and they drive Reno crazy -- literally. He picks up a power drill and a battery pack and begins slaughtering New Yorkers.

The film has very little in the way of suspense or thrills, and even the "stolen moments" feel staged and ridiculous. Yet it contains some wonderfully gratuitous moments, such as a skinned rabbit and a lesbian shower scene. And the ending actually utilizes a clever, spooky idea. If only Ferrara had given up the idea of art and gone further with these exploitation instincts.

Cult Epics has released The Driller Killer as a single-disc edition, or as a limited edition (10,000 units) double-disc set featuring three of Ferrara's short films.

Ferrara provides one of his rambling, lascivious, quasi-psychotic commentary tracks. Other extras include a trailer, a "commercial" for the battery pack that Reno uses in his killings, a Ferrara filmography and optional French and Spanish subtitles. Author Brad Stevens (Abel Ferrara: The Moral Vision) contributes liner notes.

The bonus disc begins with the most recent of the three short films. In Could This Be Love (1973), two New York artist types go "slumming" in a downtown bar, meet a prostitute and bring her to one of their upscale parties. The film runs 28 minutes and includes another Ferrara commentary track.

Running 14 minutes, the black-and-white The Hold Up (1972) concerns a working stiff and a family man who survives a company layoff and joins his friends in a robbery. This film has been transferred from a VHS master, and doesn't look that great. It includes a Ferrara commentary track.

The very poor quality 6-minute Nicky's Film (1971) is in black-and-white and has no soundtrack. It appears to be about a paranoid man and a murder. It opens and closes with a gratuitous shot of a girl. This one also came from a VHS master.

Finally, the disc includes a three-minute trailer for Ferrara's early hardcore porno flick, Nine Lives of a Wet Pussy (1976), directed under the pseudonym "Jimmy Boy L." This trailer is notable because it includes footage of a brutal rape scene that was generally (and correctly) cut out of the theatrical and video release.

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