The Driller Killer (1979) ***


The Driller Killer

D: Abel Ferrara
S: N. G. St John
C: Abel Ferrara, Harry Schultz

This is the movie famous for being partly responsible for the “video nasty” outrage in Britain in the seventies. As such it is a bit disappointing. True, the killings are graphic, and often beautiful to look at, but they are served in the kind of sauce, where poor filmmaking becomes legitimate for saying something or other, usually about the plight of the artist. Well if the protagonist could paint for toffee or hadn’t quit his daytime job (if he ever had one, which I doubt) it might limit his frustration.

The same could probably be said of the director (who is also playing the artist). Of course, this particular brand of WELTSCHMERZ (WELTSCHMERZ, SCHMELTSCHMERTZ) isn’t limited to the lack of recognition. It also has something to do with the unfair need to put in an effort, preferring painkillers to problem-solving and bedding women under 15 (and I’m referring to their IQ). Since every participant in this movie is either a homosexual or retarded – in most cases both – I have a shrewd suspicion it was really sponsored by the National Legion of Decency, especially since the art dealer with designs on his young protégé is suitably punished by being drilled (himself).

Nor does the pervasive squalor in any way seem connected to poverty or social injustice, but is merely caused by the stupidity and laziness of the sufferers (get a haircut!) In fact, most of the victims are derelicts. A feeble attempt at parody is thwarted by the director’s inability to find a garage band that can play at all. I must confess to finding it particularly hard to locate the “character study” extolled by hip reviewers – doesn’t that presuppose a character?

Oh yes, he rejects his father – I did that the day I was born. He’s also impotent, the drill compensating for his failing manhood, I suppose – which is of course awfully Freudian – the spurting blood doubling for semen (your guess is really as good as mine).

All in all, JESSE JAMES MEETS FRANKENSTEIN’S DAUGHTER seems to me to have a much greater social significance. Still, it should be seen for its gory effects, which are surprisingly good.