The Driller Killer (1979)

The blood runs in rivers... And the drill keeps tearing through flesh and bone.
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The Driller Killer - The Blood Runs In Rivers... And The Drill Keeps Tearing Through Flesh And Bone

Abel Ferarra's The Driller Killer is the movie that started off the whole Video Nasty hysteria in the UK during the early eighties. Made in 1979, the majority of the controversy surrounding the low-budget movie was due to Vipco's marketing campaign which consisted of a number of full page advertisements showing the video's cover, which was an image of a homeless person being drilled through the forehead. This caused a number of complaints and soon escalated into a public outcry blaming these kinds of movies for the decline in society, which ironically is the topic that the movie focuses on.

The Driller Killer is not just mindless violence but is a detailed look into the mental decline of an artist, directed by and starring Abel Ferrara. The main character is Reno Miller (played by Abel Ferrara under the pseudonym Jimmy Laine), a struggling painter trying to make ends meet for himself plus his girlfriend Carol (Carolyn Marz) and their friend Pamela (Baybi Day). Reno refuses to rush the current painting of a buffalo that he is working on despite not knowing whether he will be able to afford to eat let alone pay the rent.

The movie begins with Reno in a church where he has gone to see a derelict old man who has asked to meet him. The man, who has Reno's address and phone number, is in fact his father but Reno has no time for the dregs of society and refuses to acknowledge their relationship. Reno is troubled by the decline of society and spends a lot of his time watching the people in his neighbourhood failing to help themselves and turning to alcoholism and living on the streets. Although his neighbours disgust him he fears he may be there himself one day soon.

As Reno becomes more and more stressed by his financial difficulties, his troubled relationship with Carol and the state of the world he begins to have visions, violent and disturbing visions, as he begins to lose his grip on reality. The last straw is when a rock band moves into the flat above and rehearse 24 hours a day.

One day as Reno guts a rabbit he decides to relieve the stress by buying a "Porto Pack", plugging in his drill and taking his anger out on a homeless person. These urges arise again when Reno and Co. are at a concert of the rock band living above, Reno's suspicions of Carol and Pamela's lesbian affair are confirmed and claiming he needs some fresh air Reno goes on a drilling-spree and frees the city of a number of misfits.

Things go from bad to worse for Reno as his finally finished buffalo painting is described as worthless by the head of the art gallery that was going to buy it and Carol leaves him to return to her wealthy ex-boyfriend. The only solution is for Reno to put on make up and womens underwear and show those close to him the power of his tool.

The Driller Killer was obviously made on a shoestring budget but this (plus the controversy surrounding the advertising campaign) was probably an advantage as there is a much rawer and gritty feel to the whole movie. The viewer gets an empathy for Reno's state of mind as a genuine disgusting side of society is revealed in a dark and dingy backstreet word through a dark and dingy camera. The decline of Reno's state of mind is emphasized by the art-house-esque sequences as his painting torment him and through his fixation with the corpse of the rabbit that he is given by his landlord. Ferrara made a bold move by making all of Reno's victims male derelicts rather than dizzy females (as slasher movies were all the rage at the time), and this added to the nastiness of the movie adding an amount of realness to the whole scenario.

This movie is more of a sensual assault rather than a gut's and gore splatter fest, although there is a lot of brutality and violence the real horror comes from the fear of what seemingly everyday people can get up to when society becomes too much for them.
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