Driller Killer (1979) from Johnny Web (Uncle Scoopy; Greg Wroblewski)

This may be the worst film ever to come out in a collector's edition with a director's commentary! 

Abel Ferrara's career has been marked most distinctively by his portrayal of psychologically troubled characters on the seedy side of town. This, his first substantial film, is really a prefiguring of that, although in this case the story is somewhat disguised as a horror film.

It is the story of an artist (played by Ferrara himself, in his only significant role) who is having difficulty completing his latest work, and for whom life has turned sour. His bisexual girlfriend seems to be moving away from him, he can't pay his bills, his landlord threatens him with eviction, his agent won't lend him any money, and the world's loudest punk band moves into the apartment below him and practices 24/7.

Those are only the most current developments in his life as the film begins. The general milieu of his life is just as depressing. He lives in a bad flat, and the streets of his neighborhood are filled with the homeless, the depraved, and the criminal. Plus his greatest fear is that he'll end up like his derelict dad, so he hates street people even more because of his own self-loating. Or something like that.

As the film progresses, things don't get better. His girlfriend leaves him, and his agent tells him that his latest picture is shite, right before making a homosexual advance on him.

All of these circumstances impel him deeper and deeper into madness. He watches a television commercial for a portable battery pack, and when he obtains one, he finds that when attached to a hand-operated power drill, it makes an effective weapon. Armed with this instrument, he starts carving up street people, his agent, even his girlfriend's new lover.

After he kills the new lover, he climbs into the man's bed, and waits for the faithless girlfriend to arrive from the bathroom. She gets cozy, comments on how warm it is, and the film ends. Fade to black. Check that. Fade to red.


Carolyn Marz and Baybi Day take a shower together. The camera stays above their waists except for one brief dip to an anonymous, dark, blurry side-rear shot. There is no frame with breasts and faces together.
There you have it, a true cinematic masterpiece. It is difficult to find anything good to say about this film. Although this is supposed to be a new transfer, the visuals are dark, and are about home camcorder quality. I would hate to see the old transfers. The question you should ask is "a new transfer of what?", because there is only a fullscreen TV sized version. I suppose it is a new transfer of an old VHS tape they had lying around.

DVD info from Amazon.

  • no widescreen

  • uncut version

  • there is a full-length director commentary, recorded in 1999, in which Ferrara is as disjointed and incoherent as the film itself

Actually, the visuals will probably be the highlight of the you moviegoing experience. The sound is really bad, and the volume is variable, but even if it were not, it would be mostly off-key punk music and wooden acting anyway.

There is no tension in the killing scenes. The murders are committed on camera, but even the explicit violence isn't very visceral, and there isn't that much of it by today's standards, despite the controversy generated by this movie when it was banned in the U.K. 

Did I mention that the dialogue is tedious and unrealistic and the acting atrocious?

Even the trailer stinks (although it is mercifully short)

In all fairness, I have to say that there are a few striking images, but they are usually spoiled by being in incoherent scenes or by being too dark. For example, the first scene in the church has some powerful visual elements, but doesn't appear to have any relevance to the rest of the film, or to anything else. The only truly outstanding element is that the drilling-killing scenes are obviously some kind of surrogate sex act, but even this has been done elsewhere.

If Ferrara had not later achieved a reputation, this film would be mercifully forgotten and out-of-print rather than in a collector's edition. Watching it, you will marvel that the director ever managed to achieve a directing career. If you had seen this movie in 1979, and then had met Ferrara and heard him tell you that he wanted to become a noted director, you would have thought he was deluded.

And, come to think of it, in a very real way, he was.

The Critics Vote

  • no major reviews online

The People Vote ...

  • With their votes ... IMDB summary: IMDb voters score it 3.7. Although that score indicates that people like it about as much as hairballs in their drain, I can't imagine how it could be that high. 
IMDb guideline: 7.5 usually indicates a level of excellence, about like three and a half stars from the critics. 6.0 usually indicates lukewarm watchability, about like two and a half stars from the critics. The fives are generally not worthwhile unless they are really your kind of material, about like two stars from the critics. Films under five are generally awful even if you like that kind of film, equivalent to about one and a half stars from the critics or less, depending on just how far below five the rating is.

My own guideline: A means the movie is so good it will appeal to you even if you hate the genre. B means the movie is not good enough to win you over if you hate the genre, but is good enough to do so if you have an open mind about this type of film. C means it will only appeal to genre addicts, and has no crossover appeal. D means you'll hate it even if you like the genre. E means that you'll hate it even if you love the genre. F means that the film is not only unappealing across-the-board, but technically inept as well.

Based on this description, this film is an F in this transfer. With a good widescreen version, it might be an E.

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