The Driller Killer (1979) Review


Famous for making the Video Nasties list of banned movies Abel Ferrara’s 1979 directorial debut feature (under his own name that is, he made an erotic movie as Jimmy Boy L) was not seen in the UK between 1984 and 1999 and then it was only in 2002 that a full uncut version was available.

Now thanks to the amazing Arrow Video you can bring this blood drenched horror into your homes with a special features packed Blu-ray including not only the theatrical version but a director approved never before seen pre-release version as well as commentary from Ferrara himself on how the twisted tale of Reno Miller came to be made.

Although not Ferrara’s best work when pitted against the likes of King of New York and Bad Lieutenant The Driller Killer is an interesting piece most comparable to two films also dealing with psychotic killers in New York, Scorsese’s 1976 Taxi Driver and Mary Harron’s adaptation of American Psycho from 2000.


Although one film was made before and the other way after there are many parallels and links to be made with longtime Ferrara collaborator Nicholas St. John’s script and story of New York painter Reno Miller (played by Abel Ferrara) and his descent into insanity his only outlet being horrific mass murders all perpetrated with a power drill.

Reno is a talented artist working on his latest painting, a huge buffalo, which he hopes to sell to his agent and solve the money problems he seems to constantly be getting himself in. It doesn’t help that he leads a decadent life style with his two girlfriends, the naïve and childish Pamela (Baybi Day) and the more cultured and confident Carol (Carolyn Marz) who funds their sex and drug infused lifestyle with alimony checks from her ex-husband.1

Determined to finish what he sees as his masterpiece Reno is tormented by strange and terrifying dreams and driven to distraction by the No Wave band The Roosters who have moved in above their apartment. Slowey Reno’s mind begins to slip away and his unusual obsession with his power drill is tipped over the edge one night when he sees an advert for a portable power pack on TV.

Sating his sudden drill related blood lust on a local tramp Reno realises that killing is the only thing that brings meaning to his life and as he descends into psychosis and paranoia his slaying becomes out of control and his choice of victims start coming from a lot closer to home.

Ferrara’s focus on Reno as the main character and the film being told predominantly from his perspective is the first identifiable relation to Taxi Driver and American Psycho putting the viewer in the mind of a maniac as much as possible and watching him transform into a murderer.


There are many more aspects that relate some overt such as the scene where Reno talks to his buffalo painting pulling a knife out on it at one point and saying “Are you looking at me?” and others less so obvious such as the films focus on the urban decay around the characters with the city itself seemingly slipping into chaos at the same time Reno does.

Even though Ferrara fills the screen with stylized shots and surreal moments there is a raw realism with many scenes feeling improvised and the roaming hand held camera capturing the filth and foulness on the New York City streets as well as the drop out counter culture of The Roosters and their obsessive groupies.

As in Taxi Driver and American Psycho the movie deals with humanities growing apathy towards violence shown by Reno pre-lunacy watching a day light murder that no one bothers to stop and the disturbing disregard for those on the outskirts of society with the homeless and the mentally ill easy fodder for Reno’s dark urge for death when it finally appears.


In comparison to the deadbeat alternative gifted artist from the late 70’s who becomes The Driller Killer Christian Bale’s Patrick Bateman may be a well-dressed and wealthy young investment banker in the late 80’s but his desire for excess be it through money, sex, drugs or ultra-violence to bring forth some kind of connection to the world around him is the same as Reno’s and the drive to take other people’s lives in order to feel alive oneself is explored in both films.

A disturbing meditation on madness The Driller Killer bores into your mind like the title characters power tool letting out a whole host of insightful nastiness against Seventies society along with the guts and gore.

Movie Rating: ★

★ ★ ☆ ☆ 



Alex Humphrey

Alex studied film at the University of Kent and went on to work for Universal Pictures in their Post Room gaining an inside look at the movie industry from the very bottom. Constantly writing reviews in everything from local magazines to Hip Hop sites Alex honed his critical skills even spending a brief period as a restaurant critic. Read more

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