Once upon a time, I lived in New York City. Life was indeed grand as I soaked up everything I possibly could (except, of course, communicable diseases) in the greatest city in the world. With a spring in my step and a camera in my pocket I set out to conquer...and then Dan moved into the apartment above mine. I'd managed a few lucky years in my home with no one living above me, and it was only natural that the apartment wouldn't stay empty forever. I knew I had a new upstairs neighbor when I heard the loud CLOMP CLOMP CLOMP of footfalls- so loud, in fact, that I said to myself, "Wow. I can't get mad about that noise- it's obvious that my new neighbor walks so heavily because he weighs 500 pounds. Poor guy!" When I finally saw my new neighbor, I was shocked that he looked completely normal-sized.
You're probably thinking that a few footsteps from above shouldn't really matter- just ignore it and get on with things. It wasn't just squeaky floorboards, however...no, you see, Dan pounded on the floor so much that my hanging picture frames got crooked. I could hear every single step he took in that apartment, always- I knew exactly when he came home because I could hear him pounding down the apartment hallway.
His repertoire soon moved beyond heavy steppin', however, to include turning the stereo up to full volume, blasting (Can't Get No) Satisfaction when he was getting ready to go out. Eventually, Dan got a girlfriend who came over every night. Hearing the squeaking bedsprings and the yelling was a novelty at first, but soon it was simply an annoyance as the girl got the ol' morning poke every single day. I began to feel as if my apartment wasn't an apartment at all, but rather an hourly room at some cheap motel like The Creative Pines.
I was moving heavily into making a go at working from home as a freelance artist and Dan made it virtually impossible. He was always home, and he was always loud. He became an invisible roommate who never paid any rent. New York City really is the city that never sleeps- there's constant noise, constant traffic, and you're always surrounded by people. That's fantastic- if you can get a respite once in a while. I don't think that's too much to ask- a little quiet in my own home. After Dan moved in, though, I never got a break. The noise simply wouldn't let up and I couldn't get away from it- it was some sort of sonic water torture. If I stayed in that environment much longer, I would've given up art, gone crazy, or killed my upstairs neighbor. None of those sounded appealing and I simply beat feet. My mental state is much better now and I'm living life as a freelancer, but I still can't bear (Can't Get No) Satisfaction.
The point to all this is that I could very much relate to the protagonist of Abel Ferrara's 1979 art-house slasher flick The Driller Killer. Ferrara (appearing as Jimmy Laine) is Reno, a temperamental painter living with his bisexual girlfriend Carol (Carolyn Marz) and her lover Pamela (Baybi Day). Money is extremely tight and the three are constantly on the verge of being evicted. Reno is struggling to complete his "masterpiece" in the hopes of selling it to gallery owner Dalton (Harry Schultz)- if Reno can make a name for himself, they'll all have it made. Bills will get paid and Pamela can get those snakeskin boots she's been jonesin' for.
Things get tougher for Reno when a punk band- Tony Coca-Cola and the Roosters- moves into the apartment below. The band is really, really awful and they practice virtually non-stop...the same riffs over and over and over as they attempt to get the songs right. Reno becomes increasingly irascible and distant with Carol...not to mention the fact that he's been sneaking around the streets of New York at night, using a power drill to dispatch members of the city's derelict population.
Eventually Reno manages to finish his painting but it doesn't evoke the reaction in Dalton he'd hoped it would. In fact, upon seeing it Dalton can barely contain the bile: "No no no! This is shit! Where's the impact? This is just a goddamn buffalo!" This failure is the last straw for Carol, who promptly moves in with her ex-boyfriend Stephen (Richard Howorth). Reno has a complete mental break and kills both Dalton and Stephen. The screen fades to red for the final minutes, leaving the fate of both Carol and Reno unresolved.
The Driller Killer is one of those movies I could sort of appreciate without actually enjoying, if that makes any sense. I could very much relate to Reno's plight- the economic strife and the frustration caused by the invasive sounds from the neighboring apartment. At the same time, however, I don't think the film really conveyed that frustration effectively- Reno spends a huge amount of time just hanging out- or even more strangely, actually going to see Tony Coca-Cola and the Roosters perform at a club- rather than trying to paint. The dialogue (which feels largely improvised) and the acting (atrocious pretty much across the board) certainly don't improve the drama.
The fact that Reno uses his drill almost exclusively on homeless men is interesting; rather than killing the sources of his frustration, a tactic we'd expect in a slasher flick, Reno kills those he fears he will become. The kill scenes aren't as notorious as the film's reputation would have you believe; in fact, they're rather silly. Reno runs around darkened streets and alleyways holding a huge power drill, randomly attacking street people. They say "Ahhhh!", there's some blood, and Reno runs away.
The Driller Killer works better as a glimpse into the late 70s New York lifestyle than it does as a particularly effective horror film. Everyone is delightfully smelly-looking and skanky in that way that really defines an era...back when 53rd & 3rd was a Ramones song and not the location of the CitiBank headquarters , or when Times Square was home to grindhouse theatres instead of The Disney Store.
I'm completely fascinated by that dirty and dangerous New York, so I'm gonna dig any movie that can capture it. If that's your bag as well, check out The Driller Killer; if you're looking for a great horror film or slasher flick, though...keep on truckin', baby. I give it 5 out of 10 hey, that coulda been me!s