Saturday, July 18, 2009

Driller Killer

When I think of sweaty, greasy, dirty, possibly heroin addicted, unhinged Noo Yawk filmmakers from the late seventies-early eighties, I naturally think of Abel Ferrara. And then when I get to thinkin' about Abel Ferrara, I start thinking about Harvey Keitel's naked ass in Bad Lieutenant. Well, Driller Killer is sans Harvey's naked ass, but it does have some thrills and good times (and some unreconciled issues!), in a seedy grindhouse sort of way.

Ferrara's a double threat in Driller Killer, directing the film and playing main character Reno, a starving New York artist struggling to make ends meet. Reno has been busy perfecting his masterwork - a giant painting of a buffalo (which incidentally looks like it should be on black velvet). It's been a struggle getting this buffalo juuuuust right and the bills haven't gotten paid. Carol, Reno's girlfriend, and Pam, Carol's girlfriend, live with Reno and do basically nothing but run up the bills and complain about when the buffalo is gonna get finished. As patiently as possible, Carol pays the rent with an alimony check from her husband, who is still trying to get her to come back to him.

If the women and landlord and telephone company all being on his case ain't enough, Reno has to contend with the garage band, Tony Coca-Cola and the Roosters (yes, seriously, that is their name, I had to back up the DVD twice to make sure I heard it correctly), that's moved in underneath him practicing at all hours of the night. Distracted as ever, Reno appeals to the landlord to no avail, but the landlord does bestow upon him a dead skinned rabbit, one he was cutely feeding cucumbers in a prior scene. Reno takes the rabbit back upstairs and runs a knife along it, then starts stabbing it maniacally. Stressed much, Reno?

After seeing a commercial for a power pack - a device that allows the user to operate any plug-in device without the plug-in - Reno heads off to the hardware store to get one to operate the drill. At least, I'm assuming that's his thinking, after the incident with the rabbit. See, there was already a drill in the house, because towards the beginning Reno helped a strung-out chick who was inexplicably in their apartment drill an arbitrary hole in the pantry door, after some painful deliberation upon its placement. About the thirty-minute mark, things start to get little confusing. Since some of it is so dark, the copy has been public domain for awhile, and parts of it were supposedly shot in 1977 and then other parts shot in 1979, it's difficult to discern sometimes what happened/is happening.

Anyway, it's safe to assume Reno is becoming a little unhinged - he starts hearing ghostly voices and decides it's best to get out the drill and do a little homeless killin.' His first kill is a bum he previously tried to council, telling him - 'why don't you get off the street, man? Go home to your girlfriend'. Oh, you don't have a girlfriend because you're a bum. It went a little something like that. It's a pretty bloody mess and has a certain realistic quality to it, like most of this.

After Reno gets his first taste of murdering the homeless by power tool, there's really no stopping him, and he goes on a rampage wearing some tight red pants. The Roosters keep right on practicing their horrible brand of punk rock. They practice A LOT. (Every other scene is literally a shot of them practicing.) But there's a job to do and despite all the distractions, Reno manages to complete the buffalo (although it really looks no different from when we first see it), and invites his art dealer over to see it. Behold!

The words 'unacceptable', 'mockery', 'work of unadulterated ego', 'waste of time', and 'worthless' are all used to describe the poor buffalo and the art dealer leaves in a huff. Carol flips her shit, and starts screaming at the art dealer and I almost (almost) feel a little bit sorry for Reno (and Pam). Carol then decides she's had it with the starving artist and returns to her husband.

So his woman left him, his art dealer called him mean names, what's there left to do but play with a light saber toy in the dark, answer a non-ringing phone and have an imaginary conversation with your ex, and kill, kill as if you're life depended on it! Kicking it up a notch, Reno decides to call the art dealer over for dinner, but not before donning a face full of makeup and an outfit of tight women's clothing, and of course, his power pack and drill, so he's ready when that son of a bitch who renounced his mighty buffalo gets there.

Now, you might be asking yourself, why would the art dealer come back over to the apartment after he got all pissy about the painting, calling Reno and the buffalo all sorts of ugly names and storming out? There was a early scene, between Reno and Pam, about the art dealer's sexuality. Pam urges Reno to have sex with the art dealer; it could help Reno's artistic career. She says something like, 'use KY, it won't hurt. I know this.' Reno denounces her and figures he'll get famous on his own abilities, rather than a casting couch type situation. Sooooo, when Reno calls the art dealer back over, I think it's strongly alluded to that their may be sexy times in the art dealer's future on the part of Reno.

I might just be imagining all this (because I'm always thinking about sex), but there are some sexuality issues here. All of Reno's victims are males. He does kill Pam at the end, however, Pam is bisexual based on her relationship with Carol, as well as her coming onto Tony Coca-Cola and eventually sexing him. Reno's initial victims are homeless men. Perhaps it's just a matter of accessibility; he must kill someone (the 'disposable' homeless) because of his burgeoning insanity, and the majority of the homeless are men (at least in Reno's neighborhood), and perhaps he's sane enough to realize he does care about Pam and Carol enough to not kill them. Is Reno a closeted homosexual? Well, is he? I really only mention it because, you know, you watch a lot of horror movies, women are usually the victims. Especially when a killer wielding a phallic instrument, such as a drill, is involved. (Ferrara plays with genre gender conventions again in Ms. 45, a superior Ferrara film and favorite here at the Cavalcade.) I won't get into a long drawn out literary analysis here, but it did intrigue me. Driller Killer is a seemingly gritty inept grindhouse feature on the surface, but a complex (?) gender and sexuality study beneath. But isn't everything? :P And chock one up for a random lesbian shower scene thrown in there!

Don't get me wrong, this thing has an extremely labored pace, much akin to actually descending into madness, is my guess. And the quality of the print I watched was horrible. And there was a thunderstorm raging outside and scaring me and the power was flickering on an off so I had to keep restarting the damn thing, so I think I missed a scene or two. And the continuity is terrible, even without the power going out. (For instance, Carol's husband is named Peter in the beginning; Stephen by the end.) But if you get through it, there's enough here to entertain and perplex. You'll be scratching your head over why The Roosters have so many groupies.

In closing, I will leave you with this line of dialogue, spoken by Pam, which can easily be appreciated out of context, since there was no prior context in the film anyway - 'You don't have to kiss to make babies. I told him, you gotta fuuuuuck.'


  1. Jenn, I knew that you'd eventually review a movie that I've actually seen as opposed to me saying "oh hey that sounds cool, maybe I should watch it one day, blah blah blah". I love Driller Killer and I'm not an Abel Ferrara fan at all (I'll be the first in line to see his Jekyll and Hyde remake with 50 Cent and Forest Whittaker though). I liked the whole descent into madness thing, the over-the-topness of the characters, so on and so forth. It caught me by surprise because I thought it was just gonna be some dumb slasher movie. I even liked Tony Coca Cola's band because they reminded me of like a pop punk version of the Germs, and speaking of which it almost felt like Tony Coca Cola and his band were narrators in a weird sort of way. Anyway, good review as always. Rock out with your clock out.

  2. I love Driller Killer, wasnt anything like I expected it to be going into it, but the slow decent into madness is very well constructed. Another excellent review Ms Jenn, Ive been considering buying a decent copy of this but the horrible print on our Gore and More boxes gives it such a beautiful nostalgia I almost prefer watching it this way

  3. @Aaron. Hmm, interesting about Tony and the band being the sort of narrators. Maybe more like a Greek chorus? I'd have to give it a rewatch. But yes, I too, thought this would be a dumb slasher, with maybe some stuff to laugh at, but at heart it's got some issues, and I like a movie with issues. I actually had forgotten that Ferrara had directed/starred in it so that didn't cloud my judgement.

    @Carl. I don't know if I would want to watch a pristine copy of this either. Even though some stuff you couldn't make out, it adds to the charm. Some movies are better left to those scratched up prints.

    Thank you, gentlemen, for stopping by and for your kind words.

    oh, and Aaron, I am going to rewatch Trick or Treat TODAY! I've got nothing to do and no Netflix! So watch out!

  4. Yeah a greek chorus of sorts I guess. I think I may have been over-analyzing as usual but if you think about it, it kinda makes sense as far as the band. When they start playing, their music is all fucked up which may represent Ferrara's character going crazy initially, and following his rejection (to say the least) by the art dealer and his chick leaving him, they play a slower, more depressing song. Oh and I'm watching my back as we speak.

  5. I didn't notice that band's music changed after everything goes to shit for Reno. But speaking of music, I did take note of when he starts killing the bums, the music is sort of this frenetic jazz that doesn't fit into the movie at all. During some of the later killings, music is forgone for just industrial sounds, the drill of course, and maybe some hammering and street and/or subway noises. Another parallel to Reno's degredation?

  6. I'm guessing you also watched the horrid Mill Creek copy? I found this film near insufferable, but you make some really interesting observations about its take on sexuality. One of these days I may revisit it and pay a little closer attention.

  7. Hi Emily, thanks for stopping by. Always good to get some female perspective :) Definitely worth the revisit - because the more I think about it, there are some definite gender and sexuality issues here. Not just your typical dumb slasher.

    And yes, I did watch the rubbed with sandpaper print Mill Creek copy. I love my Mill Creek box sets - they are a wealth of material for me here at the Cavalcade. Lots of good seventies and eighties stuff for bargain basement prices.

  8. I love me some Mill Creek too, but it takes some getting used to. Occasionally I'll read about a movie that I need to see and come to find out that not only do I already own it but it's buried in the cheap yet efficient packaging of one of my box sets. However I did hear through the grapevine that the standalone version of Driller Killer has a commentary with Abel Ferrara drunk off his ass.

  9. Oh and dude(!) I just had a lightbulb-over-my-head moment. "Finish the buffalo" could be a new saying. Like "jumping the shark" or something to that effect. I'm trademarking that phrase as soon as possible. Sorry, I'm bored.

  10. Aaron, I have the same problem with those Mill Creek sets. Usually, I own several of the movies on them already or I've got the movies in my Netflix queue. So they can be wasteful in a sense. But since I never pay over like five dollars for anything, I guess it turns out to be economical.

    And now I've got to get a standalone copy of DK so hear the drunken commentary. Drunkenness is my thing, man.

    Also, as I was typing the phrase 'finish the buffalo' initially, I thought to myself, what a great catch phrase that would make. No seriously, I really did. I swear. I am not joking with you. But go ahead, trademark it if you like :P

  11. Tony Coca-Cola and the Roosters? Wow.

    I've wanted to see this movie for awhile, but I have a feeling it will be so nasty and grimey looking that I will be in the shower for the rest of my life once it's over.

    And I must say, as a gay man, a movie about a man killing other men with the ultimate phallic tool does sound like it might be hinting at something.


  12. Yeah, Billy, should we start a band and call it Tony Coca Cola and the Roosters? I wanna be Tony Coca Cola. :)

    You would think it was shower inducing, but it's really not THAT bad - although Reno could use a dip in a bath. Ferrara is the perfect Reno. Totally grimy and looking like he just came off heroin. And just you wait until he puts on that lipstick! Ooer!

  13. I've watched this on the Mill Creek version as well, but several times have considered Netflixing the SE version JUST for Ferrara's legendarily off-kilter commentary. Maybe one day I will, if I ever get to the bottom of my stack of movies I *haven't* seen before. :)

    And according to what I've read, drunken-Abel explicitly cops to the phallic/sexuality issues you mention, with Reno PENETRATING the hobo with his drill, sitting on top of him, riding him like a thoroughbred. Something to be said for intentionality, I guess. :)

  14. I knew I wasn't makin' stuff up. See what all those thousands of dollars for all them fancy degrees does for this here horror movie viewer? :) Mom would be proud.

    Looks like this is shaping up to be another party at the Cavalcade. I'll get the copy with drunken Ferrara, ya'll get the booze. We'll get just as drunk and make up our own commentary.

  15. "Driller Killer" is certinally one of the better movies, which was added to the infamous "Video nasty list" which saw many banned only to re-released several years later, when many should have perhaps just stayed banned.
    I kinda miss the old school cover, featuring the bloody demise of one of the victims, but then that just leads me to a whole new arguement, over the censorship of poster art, which currently means that we will never see a poster like "Jaws" again, because you can't show women in peril. Kinda sucks really.
    I always wondered though with the sheer amount of practice that the band do, why they never seem to sound any better??

    Liking the sound of Cavalcade commentries, perhaps setup a commentary swap between us like minded bloggers or somthing :)

  16. If there was a way that we could all simultaneously get hammered and watch Driller Killer while doing a commentary via Skype or one of those fancy internet thingamabobs, count me in!