Friday, August 07, 2015

THE DRILLER KILLER (1979) - Abel Ferrara


The first time I saw The Driller Killer happened to be my last day living in Los Angeles. All my moving boxes were packed, my horrible Honda Echo was gassed, all my old VHS tapes quarantined to the dumpster down the street to make room in my tiny trunk for a crate of newer, crisper DVDs. All tapes...but for one. I was feeling a little melancholy about leaving the next day but, at same time, homesick for the East Coast. I was in the mood for something grungy, low-budget yet escapist, something definitively "New York." After six wasted years as a minor cog in the slick, soul-free Hollywood Machine, I needed some '70s East Village dirt on me, a couple pints of Old Bowery blood. So I popped a Budweiser tab, settled down on my furniture-free carpet, put that last VHS tape into my unpacked TV/VCR. Cue Abel Ferrara's first "official" film...


To make a long story short, Driller Killer hit the spot. It was exactly what I needed that night. Gory and hilarious and definitely a product of that fairer metropolis. Was it the most appropriate night-before sayonara to the City of Angels? Probably not, though it might have been a perfect f-you. I'm guessing Sunset Boulevard or Mulholland Drive or, if sticking to low-budget horror, even Nightmare on Elm Street (filmed a blocks down) would have been more Angeles apropos. But as a reintroduction to the city I was moving back to there couldn't have been a better pick. Ferrara plays a struggling artist named Reno who paints green buffaloes and goes crazy then starts killing winos with power tools just because he can't make his $500/month Union Square rent. Apart from that price tag being wildly outdated, how much more Big Apple can you get?


Revisiting Driller Killer some eight years later in the appropriate city this time, I think I enjoyed Driller Killer even more. As a horror movie, it's just OK. The drill kill scenes are kinda fun, and the fact that Reno's big inspiration comes from seeing a Port-O-Pak commercial is a nice twist. But where TDK really stands above and beyond is as a late '70s, early '80s East Village time capsule. Ferrara obviously used real "characters" from the neighborhood (himself included), and this is where he makes up for the minuscule budget, really gets the authenticity bang for his buck. You can tell the No Wave band who plays LOUDLY at all hours in apartment above is actually a local band (a pretty good one, too). The two girlfriends he shares the studio apartment with scream "neighborhood hip," especially the thinner, spacier one. You worry she could collapse from malnutrition or overdose at any time mid-dialogue. As for the stolen shots of winos puking up their guts in Bowery doorways and on sidewalks? Yep, pretty sure those aren't CGI.

And what about that Green Buffalo anyway? Did Ferrara himself really paint it? For the sake of his art, I hope not. But for the sake of his next feature (see "unsuccessful" Kickstarter page here) I hope he still has it hanging around.

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