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  Driller Killer, The Born Of Frustration
Year: 1979
Director: Abel Ferrara
Stars: Abel Ferrara, Carolyn Marz, Baybi Day, Harry Schultz, Alan Wynroth, D.A. Metrov, Richard Howorth, Maria Helhoski, James O'Hara
Genre: Horror, DramaBuy from Amazon
Rating:  6 (from 2 votes)
Review: Reno (Abel Ferrara, under the name Jimmy Laine) is a struggling artist and his squalid life is gradually driving him insane. This night he ventures into a church, and gazing at the huge cross before him he notices an old man (James O'Hara) muttering to himself so he approaches him. Suddenly the old man grabs Reno's hand, shocking him and prompting him to flee the building and into the arms of his girlfriend Carol (Carolyn Marz), who he lives with along with another friend, Pamela (Baybi Day). All three are running out of money, and Reno is feeling the pressure to succeed in his painting, but how much longer can he tolerate his situation?

Scripted by frequent Ferrara collaborator Nicholas St John, The Driller Killer comes across like a punk rock movie from the outset with its concert footage and demand that "This film should be played loud" (presumably so you don't have to strain to hear what the actors are saying - the sound recording isn't the best). Even the title sounds like the name of a punk rock album, and the setting of sleazy New York City surroundings makes for an edgy atmosphere well before Reno lives up to that title. But if you're expecting a typical slasher from the genre's golden age, look elsewhere, as this is more of a character study than a gorefest and it tends to wallow in self pity.

Reno is putting the finishing touches to his latest work, a painting of a buffalo - or is it a bison? Anyway, he just needs another week to complete the painting, although it doesn't appear as if he's adding anything to it as it looks exactly the same at the start of the film as it does at the end. Unfortunately he needs five hundred dollars to pay the rent, and the telephone has already been cut off, and his patron (Harry Schultz) refuses to hand over the cash because he feels he's given enough already and wants his artworks sooner rather than later. That's not all that's concerning Reno, what with his deteriorating relationship with his girlfriend.

As if to add to Reno's aggravation, and to give a hint that there may be comedic overtones to the film, a New Wave band (I guess punk was on the way out by now, in the music scene at least) move into the apartment below and start loudly practicing at all hours of the day and night. What does a guy have to do to get a little peace and quiet around here? Obviously Reno has to vent his frustrations somehow, but the unconventional manner in which he does pushes the storyline into horror territory. Inspired by Pamela's useless attempts at D.I.Y. and the ad for a portable power pack on television, he proceeds to take out his anger on the only people he feels are lower down the social scale than he is.

This is no psycho chasing the young ladies around the summer camp shocker, the victims here are the down and outs and winos living on the unforgiving streets of the city. The killings are brief, short bursts of violence, and ironically none of them seem to give Reno any satsifaction. His creativity has soured into destructiveness, but the real person he is destroying is himself. Well, O.K., he destroys the down and outs too, but by doing so he renders himself the lowest of the low, fit only for a mention in the lurid newspaper stories that Carol reads out over breakfast. The police never catch up with Reno, apparently uninterested in these murders, and by the end he is still on the loose, but has become more discriminating in choosing his victims. Determinedly downbeat, The Driller Killer paints its own vivid, not entirely unsympathetic, picture of desperation at a certain time and place in history. Music by Joe Delia (how come there's always that "bwowm" synthesiser noise in these movies?).

[The Driller Killer is now available as part of Anchor Bay's Box of the Banned, along with Zombie Flesh Eaters, Last House on the Left, I Spit On Your Grave, Nightmares in a Damaged Brain, The Evil Dead and two in depth documentaries on the video nasties controversy.]
Reviewer: Graeme Clark


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Abel Ferrara  (1952 - )

Controversial New York director whose films frequently centre around sex, violence and moral redemption, and often feature Harvey Keitel, Christopher Walken or Willem Dafoe. Debuted in 1979 with the infamous Driller Killer, in which he also starred, followed by rape-revenge thriller Ms. 45/Angel of Vengeance. Several slick, less distinctive movies followed - Fear City, China Girl and Cat Chaser, as well as work on TV shows Miami Vice and Crime Story.

1990's King of New York was a return to form, while the searing Bad Lieutenant quickly became the most notorious, and perhaps best, film of Ferrara's career. The nineties proved to be the director's busiest decade, as he dabbled in intense psycho-drama (Dangerous Game, The Blackout), gangster movies (The Funeral), sci-fi (Body Snatchers, New Rose Hotel) and horror (The Addiction). He continued to turn in little-seen but interesting work, such as the urban drug drama 'R Xmas and the religious allegory Mary until his higher profile returned with the likes of Welcome to New York and Pasolini.

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