March 19, 2014

Movie Review: The Driller Killer

It was not that long ago that I saw Ms. 45, an amazing excursion into a gritty underbelly of revenge and exploitation. It is a marvelous film that has no wasted frame and features an unforgettable lead performance by Zoe Tamerlis. It can also be considered my first real introduction to underground filmmaker Abel Ferrara. Sure, I had seen King of New York, Body Snatchers, and The Addiction before, but that was long before I gained my real thirst for film and does not really count. In any case, I have stepped back a couple of years and have now experienced Ferrara's earliest legitimate film, The Driller Killer. Let us just saw that it was a unique experience.

Abel Ferrara is an interesting filmmaker who marches to the off tempo beat of his own drum. You may like him, you may hate him, but you sort of have to respect his distinct non-conformist style of filmmaking. Even when he has big names like Walken or Keitel, he still manages to stay out of the Hollywood machine. This is not to say he is always on point, as is the case with The Driller Killer, he is often constrained by budgets and focus. Still, there is something about this early collaboration with writer Nicholas St. John that has a certain off-putting allure.

The Driller Killer is a movie that finds itself straddling the arthouse/grindhouse line, never going full bore into artsy mode, while never straying to far into exploitation's deep end. It is a movie that dives headlong into the gritty New York, telling a story that looks at the arty ideal of the city and crushing reality that exists all around.

Reno Miller (Abel Ferrara) is an artist who lives in a crumbling apartment with his married girlfriend and her lesbian lover. He struggles to makes ends meet, keep his relationship going, and trying to work on his apparent masterpiece in the hopes of making some real money. As if it was not hard enough for him to do this, a punk band moves in next door and proceeds to play all the time. Almost literally.

The incessant music and the increasing annoyance of his girlfriend and the troubles with painting his masterpiece, plus with no money to pay the bills, Reno's sanity begins to crumble. Ultimately it snaps and he takes to the streets with a power drill where he decreases the city's homeless numbers by a few.

The Driller Killer is a movie that plods along for large chunks of its running time. It can be a bit of a chore, but it helps to reinforce what this guy is going through. No, not the best movie and not the best way of doing it, but there is still something to it. It is a movie that wraps itself up in the grim, allowing the surroundings to seep in to the point of driving you away from the tale. It is odd, trying to figure out what is intentional and what is just the product of an inexperienced filmmaker unsure of the story he is trying to tell.

In the end this is a movie that left me slightly intrigued and slightly bored. It felt like a movie I should like but was kept at arm's length. I suspect this is primarily an experiment by Ferrara to show that he can put together a movie. It was shot on weekends over a two year period, I am sure that put something of a damper on the ability of the whole to come together. I did not hate it, but I thought it would have been a bit stronger if either the story was better or if he dove headlong into the explotative elements that were seemingly promised by the title. It is not a movie to avoid, but it is one to watch with an eye to the interesting bits if you can make it through the rest.

Very Mildly Recommended.

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