The Driller Killer is usually cited as Abel Ferrara's first film, when in fact it was his second outing behind the camera, following his debut film in 1976, 9 Lives of a Wet Pussy, a hardcore porn flick. By the time shooting began in 1977, the original idea for The Driller Killer, about a night stalker killing the homeless of New York with a hammer and nails, had mutated into a story about a disturbed oil painting artist named Reno Miller who's solution for dealing with the pressure of artistic frustration, the threat of almost certain poverty and the loud punk rock band next door, involves killing off the city's derelicts with a portable drill...
|Director Abel Ferrara as Reno, getting ready to paint another crimson canvas|
It's not quite the heir apparent to Repulsion as some would have you believe (although it does make a visual pun on the Polanski film with the inclusion of a skinned rabbit), but seen in the context of the other films on the DPP list, Ferrara's film looks refreshingly out there, occupying its own idiosyncratic space somewhere between grindhouse and arthouse with its schlocky title, splashy gore and surreal dream sequences - all of it shot with a grungy, improvised, hard New York style that gives the film a powerful sense of immediacy. The film has a number of intriguing aspects that further distance itself from the slew of serial killer films from the late 70's, like Maniac and The Toolbox Murders - the film shows no actual violence towards women, an absolute rarity for the genre. Also the cutaways to the film's inhouse punk band The Roosters, with their three-chord garage minimalism, filmed at Max's Kansas City, makes The Driller Killer an important artifact from the punk era, alongside Jubilee, The Blank Generation, Liquid Sky and Smithereens.
Of the many DVD releases of The Driller Killer, Cult Epic's 2004 2-disc edition remains the best edition, with a fine 1.85 anamorphic transfer that correctly frames the film (unlike the disastrous French disc that cropped the lower part of the frame). Audio is a little weak on dialogue but good on music, and as the title card that prefigues the film suggests, "This film should be played loud". Disc 1 also includes Ferrara's now legendary rambling, self-deprecating audio commentary. The second disc of the set is devoted to some of Ferrara's early short films - Could This Be Love (1973), The Hold Up (1972), Nicky's Film (1971), (all with optional director commentary) as well as a trailer for Nine Lives of A Wet Pussy.