Abel Ferrara’s debut feature. Despite the lurid title and graphic conclusion, The Driller Killer plays more like a character study than exploitation. Your mileage may vary, but I was onboard for this chronicle of a struggling artist’s descent into madness.
Ferrara, who also plays the lead, convinces as a frustrated burgeoning talent. He relies on his pseudo-girlfriend for financial support. He kowtows to an art dealer for validation. He endures a post-punk band rehearsing in the basement below his flat. As the indignities pile up, Ferrara’s addled mind seeks agency.
It’s a slow-burn build, but the finale sees him let loose a gruesome streak of violence upon his neighborhood’s derelicts.
Along the way, Ferrara transports us to late 70’s downtown Manhattan. I loved the rock clubs and neighborhood streets. I loved how the performances straddle the line between amateur and natural. Most of all, I love how Ferrara’s more interested in making a cinéma vérité-style look at his own world but knows the audience wants horrific thrills, and how that frustration shines through on screen.