Driller Killer (1979)
WRITER: N. G. St. John
DIRECTOR: Abel Ferrara
STARRING: Jimmy Laine as Reno
Carolyn Marz as Carol
Baybi Day as Pamela
Harry Schultz as Dalton Briggs
Alan Wynroth as Landlord
Rhodney Montreal as Tony Coca-Cola
QUICK CUT: A struggling artist decides to get a bit handy around the house and fire up the old power drill.
Reno - A painter in NYC who has a giant chip on his shoulder, and is just waiting for the wrong thing to be said to send him over the edge. It's hard to empathise with him.
Carol - Reno's...girlfriend? Roomie? It's unclear, but the former seems to be the most likely, even if her being bisexual and showing more affection to her own girlfriend is more evident. She's been previously married, and her ex has a small role. Carol's a flight attendant, and for some reason is hanging out with Reno and getting steadily, and rightfully, fed up with his crap.
THE GUTS: Welcome back, Triskelions! This May, we've gone back to prom, we've cooked up some fine cue-seen, and I think it's time to do a little home repair to finish up the month with Driller Killer.
Driller Killer is the story of Reno, a struggling artist, as they all seem to be, who has a dark side urging to get out. And when it does, the streets of New York City are not safe. Fair warning, this movie is definitely one that does what it says on the tin.
We kick things off with that great warning above to play the movie loud, and more films need to start like that. Or at least turn down your lights, where applicable. From there, we watch Reno meet a man in a church who had his name and number, and this scene is completely pointless.
I guess the implication is that the man is Reno's father, but this never comes back up during the course of the film, there is no indication that this has any bearing on the plot proceedings going forward. If I'm being charitable, you could speculate that maybe it is his father, maybe it dredges up bad memories, and maybe it triggers something in Reno to finally snap. But that is a lot of maybes.
There are a few things to note though. It is a nicely atmospheric scene, and well, the movie has style going for it. And the music has that great late 70s synth sound to it. If nothing else, it feels creepier than it probably is. But basically it raises a lot of questions it never answers.
But the real plot finally kicks in later, at Reno's apartment, which he shares with his girlfriend Carol, and her girlfriend Pamela. He gets woken up in the morning when the latter tries to drill a hole in a door.
Reno takes the drill away from the drug addict before she hurts herself or the drywall, and asks her where she wants the hole - an answer which is not easy for her. She keeps directing him all around the door for far too long. Look, if I was in the same position, the indecisiveness would drive me to start killing people, so I totally feel for the guy.
In an all too familiar plotline, Reno gets the power bill in, and he can't pay that. Or the rent. Or the phone bill. Or anything. And he's a bit of a jackass about it to Carol. Unlike in Hellbent, where you can see that the guy was a good guy and slowly got worse as circumstances crumbled around him, Reno starts off at 10 and just gets ever more terrible.
The movie is filled with a lot of scenes of Reno the artist people watching, and other slow scenes. This is almost arthouse exploitation, although I don't think that was intentional.
One such scene has Reno watching a guy get randomly stabbed, and this inspires one of two things. I think. Either, it gives him an idea for a new shade of red in his art, or pushes his urges to kill more towards the fore.
A fair chunk of those slower scenes are because of a band that moves in down the hall from Reno and friends; Tony Coca-Cola and the RoostersAnd let me tell ya, Tony Coca-Cola is my new favourite name. It is so perfectly NYC it burns. Also, anyone who watches this movie, Tony and the Roosters sound to me A LOT like Felony, the band from Graduation Day. Everything I've found says no, I'm wrong, but man, you could've fooled me.
While the movie does spend a lot of time with the band rehearsing and performing, it does at least serve as one more thing that is slowly driving Reno out of his mind.
One night, Reno and the girls are watching tv, and they see a commercial for a battery pack belt that can be used to power items when there's not a power cord nearby.
Are...are you telling me... Okay. Reno is clearly unhinged. He could easily go on a killing spree at any moment. You can almost tell he wants to do just that. Is the ONLY reason he has yet to do so, is because he is fixated on the drill? He needs the drill? But because he doesn't have ten miles of extension cords, is that the only thing stopping him?! That is a seriously weaksauce tipping point.
"Oh man, I need the feel of a man's wet thick blood all over my hands but...I just don't have the power for my drill! If only there was something else I could possibly use to kill people...OH WELL."
Reno finally has enough of the band, and complains to the super, who doesn't really care. But he does give them a dead, skinned rabbit as a present, to eat! Um...thanks?
After preparing dinner, and stabbing the hell out of the poor bunny, Reno heads down to the hardware store to buy the power pack belt. Finally. After a night where his paintings start chanting his name and Harvey pays him a visit, he finally ventures out into the world with his drill and his batteries, finds a bum, and kills him.
But even though the killing has finally begun, it's just a taste for now, as we hang out in the club for awhile and watch the Roosters perform. For like a good ten minutes before Reno and Carol even show up to watch it themselves.
Reno gets bored watching the band perform, since he's been listening to them all week, and runs down the street randomly drilling random people he comes across. I feel ya, man.
The bulk of the killing for the entire movie is done in a single spree of Reno just running through NYC executionaling people in the span of like five minutes. He just snaps one night and drills up half the town. Talk about painting the town red.
We are sorely lacking in a scene where he tries to kill a guy and the power pack dies, leaving him powerless and impotent as his drill can't get it up. Can you imagine needing to kill someone, having that urge that will not be denied...but you forgot to put thepower pack on to charge??
So, this guy is having money issues, he's killing all these people, and then NOT ROBBING THEM. They specifically say "money is not the reason". Dude. DUDE. You could solve all yer problems. You get to vent by killing people AND pay the rent. Dude. Multitask. Dude.
Meanwhile, Tony Coca-Cola wants Reno to do a portrait of him, and most of his time is spent sitting in a chair rambling in what is probably a drug fueled haze. Which shortly leads to Reno hunting down another guy and drilling him. In this moment, Reno, I feel ya...
But finally, Reno finishes the buffalo painting he's been working on for the whole movie, and calls down the patron who commissioned it. Aaand he hates it. Finds it boring and pedestrian. I almost wish this had come before Reno's killing spree, since it almost feels like, after someone shits on his work, he should go on another one and be the thing that makes him snap. But nope, we already did that. In fact, this let down almost has zero effect on Reno.
Not surprisingly, this is the final straw of final straws for Carol though, who walks out to go be with her ex, Stephen, who has been briefly mentioned and did a voiceover earlier. But ultimately he's just there as an escape hatch for her in the plot. She could've gone anywhere.
Reno phones back up the guy who commissioned the beefalo and asks him to come over so they can talk this out, and he says he'll be there in 45 minutes. And with this movie, I could almost believe him taking actually 45 minutes. Fortunately, we cut to the chase.
The guy shows up, and Reno pretty much immediately kills him and drills him to the door. Well, that was fast. Not even any drilly foreplay.
Oh, also, Pamela shows up as this is going on and she has to die because she's a witness. Although I don't know if she would either comprehend it in her drugged out haze, or if anyone would believe her. And actually, to be fair, she just gets dragged off. I can't conceive or Reno NOT killing her though.
Meanwhile, we see Carol arrive at Stephen's, who enters the plot ever so briefly aaaand he's dead. Carol gets out of the shower, thinks Steve is waiting in bed, but it's actually Reno pulling a Ferris Bueller and hiding under the covers. Until she climbs in and the movie cuts to black.
I can only assume Reno killed her too, because what else is he gonna do at that point, right? And that's how the movie ends, with a pile of bodies, no real resolution, and no comeuppance for Reno. Just...stops.
Video: It's grainy and grungy, but that's how it's always been. It's exactly how you expect a 70s exploitation flick to look.
Audio: It gets a bit scratchy at times, but overall sounds fine for this sort of movie.
Sound Bite: "Whataya mean you won't pay the rent? You don't pay the rent anyway!" ZING!
Body Count: The biggest problem with the body count, and boy howdy is there ever a big one, is that the majority of it all comes at once in the middle of the movie. It's like the movie blows its load too early. But it makes up for that in quantity, to be sure.
1 - 16 minutes, random mugging victim gets marked in the back. Death questionable.
2 - First confirmed kill, and by our lead's hands to boot, at 39 minutes.
3 - Reno runs down the street and randomly drills the first person he sees.
4 - He finds a random bum sleeping by the subway to drill.
5 - Random advice giver is given a bit by Reno. Zing!
6 - Random ranting guy gets drilled through a piece of glass.
7 - A random dude on the streets gets killed in his sleep.
8 - Very random bum gets drilled as Reno runs by.
9 - And the drunk's friend soon after to avoid witnesses.
10 - And another just for funsies gets another hole in his head.
11 - Another random guy gets nailed to the wall and drilled.
12 - An actual purposeful, directed, deliberate killing as he summons and drills the guy who ordered the buffalo.
13 - Implied death of Pamela.
14 - Stephen gets killed.
15 - Implied death of Carol.
Best Corpse: They've all got their plusses, but I am quite partial to the random guy that gets drilled in the head for extra funsies.
Peak Corpse: Is never reached! By anyone! Reno is never caught! HE MAY STILL BE OUT THERE TODAY!!
Blood Type - B+: This movie sure is not shy about its blood, that is for sure. Every kill gives a bit of a gush, just about. And many of them go that extra, shiny red mile.
Sex Appeal: Naked ladies appear from time to time.
Drink Up! every time the landlord shows up.
Video Nasties: The death where Reno kills the guy through the panes of glass at the bus stop or whatever, is pretty cool.
Movie Review: I said it once or twice already, but this feels like a mix of arthouse and exploitation, as a spree killing movie. It's got a solid, if basic plot, even if the ending is a bit lacking in actual...endingness. But that fits for an arty movie. It's got a lot of atmosphere and a lot of grime. It likes to linger on little plot points, but also isn't shy about the gore. Arthouse horror really fits the bill. On that front, it's fairly well made. The pacing is lacking, a lot isn't really developed, but that works for this on an arty level of atmosphere. Three out of five holes in the head.
Entertainment Value: This movie lives in a slightly heightened reality, where you can get away with a man gleefully running down the street with a power drill. The music may detract from story moving forward, but I kinda dig it. The acting is hammy, but not BAD, and it captures this off kilter slice of art/creative types. It's weird, off putting, and fun in all the right ways. Three out of five bunnies.