The Driller Killer is a scabrous pustule of a film, grotesque, ugly, but transfixing despite this. It was the directorial debut of Abel Ferrara (best known for Bad Lieutenant), but there’s little to suggest future promise here, with murky, grimy cinematography and clumsy editing – plus a superfluous lesbian shower scene suggesting Ferrara’s porn pedigree.
The film is American Psycho via Taxi Driver and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, but nowhere near as good as that might sound. It concerns a struggling painter (played by Ferrara himself) who, for reasons not fully explored, begins to murder homeless derelicts with a power drill.
The erratic editing doesn’t make for a pleasant viewing experience, but it does capture the feverish, psychotic perspective of the protagonist, and the film is, if nothing else, a compelling historical document of the chaotic punk scene of late-‘70s New York. But it’s not connected to the film or incorporated into the subtext in any meaningful way, and putting yourself into the head of a character only goes so far when the film is not interested in reflecting on his actions.
I don’t necessarily regret watching The Driller Killer, but I wouldn’t watch it again and certainly wouldn’t recommend it.