CHILLING CLASSICS MONTH – another take on Driller Killer (1979)

John S Berry says that he’s a pretty low key guy. He has a few articles on the Rupert Pupkin Speaks site. I asked him to tell me a little more about himself and he replied that he loves bargain bin horror movies, his cat Walter, Terry Gordy and most people.

One of my favorite themes in any version of storytelling is the duality of man. Nothing is absolute, Tony Soprano was a charming guy but he was also the same guy that killed a guy on his daughter’s college scouting trip. I love that feeling when you can spend years, seasons or most of a movie hating a character then you feel sympathy and compassion for this at times awful person. I felt absolute heartbreak in the UK office when David Brent says, “please don’t make me redundant.” After so many episodes of cringing and total jack ass behavior I suddenly felt for this jerk. Similar feelings came into play for me with Reno in The Driller Killer.

Ironically, after writing this opening paragraph I just blew up myself. I am usually calm (I think but wait did Reno think the same?) but after a nine-hour day and four hours of commuting I just snapped at everyone in the house. Of course, I usually cool off after a walk and it is not a walk where anyone is murdered by a drill (and I said my apologies just not in painting form).

Reno is a struggling, stressed out artist played by Abel Ferrera living with Carol and her girlfriend who seems to be strung out. Carol seems to be slumming or pretending to be outrageous when actually she is an ex-airline stewardess who has a milquetoast of an ex-husband that she knows will take her back unconditionally. Bills are due and the pressure seems to be on Reno who is trying to create his masterpiece which involves a bloody buffalo.

Watching Ferrera as Reno Miller I wish he would have acted in more films as he has a very interesting presence and jawline. I waffle between thinking he is funny to kind of scary (the dream lighting of him shaking the blood out of his hair is amazing)to a narcissistic asshole back to funny.

On the surface this film seems to be a straightforward plot; boy has girls, tries to make a masterpiece, loses mind and kills bums with a drill. But a little bit of research (not too much ruins the magic) the story has more depth to it and it kind of richens the experience of the movie.

The old man at the church in the beginning is supposed to be Reno’s derelict dad that is why he had Reno’s name and number on a slip of paper. Reno bails on the family reunion but is shaken by it and perhaps this encounter started the journey into his madness. Further odd research I found the actor who played the old man in the church was James O’Hara who was in Gunsmoke and The Quiet Man. I am not sure if he is a super method actor or he had really fallen on hard times but he certainly looked the part of wino deluxe.

Watching this film, you are treated to two types of ghosts; those images of the surely dead by now winos and what Union Square once looked like. This movie is a great example of we don’t need no stinking permits and mixes in shots of actual bums and crew members stunting as bums. They do a remarkable job, especially the bum at the bus stop (Ferrera friend/actor) and it is often hard to tell who is legit.

Reno at times shows an odd sense of compassion to the bums in his neighborhood early in the film. He has an almost pep talk about his dad with one passed out wino. The scene that Ferrara really kind of made me shift back into he is not that bad of a guy mode was when talking with a bum on the street asking him about his old lady and my favorite line: “How come you are on the street and not with the people that love you man?” He further shows some heart as he hides with the wino as another bum runs by being chased by hoodlums. Sadly, for Skid Row Reno’s attitude and approach would change soon.

The pressure of it all starts to get to Reno and his new neighbors The Roosters do not help his mental stage. The character of Tony Coca Cola again is another case of no way is that guy an actor. He really seems like a Dead Boy/ Stiv kind of guy. But fooled again he is an actor (and writer, director etc.) One great realistic moment is when Reno is struggling with his vision painting and he says not in an angry way “Come on guys it’s 2 in the morning.”

Reno continues to work on his masterpiece and tries getting an advance from an art dealer who is a total pompous creep. Tony blows up several times and lashes out at Carol only to later apologize in crude painting form. He keeps promising once this painting is done we are set, well…

Reno starts to go on his rampage when he finally reaches his breaking point at a Roosters show where they are playing songs he has already heard in every stage already numerous times. There is not a ton of context as to why he was so drawn to the power drill belt commercial but hey it is a cool title and look. But I suppose the rapid killing spree helps with inspiration and soon he is finishing his buffalo AND a Tony Coca Cola portrait (it’s rumored that the buffalo is in a museum in New Mexico, wonder where Tony’s ended up?)

The painting is finally done and Reno is ready to get paid. The dirtbag art dealer comes to see this masterpiece and poor Reno sitting there with a blank look and a tie take a verbal beating and you can just feel the sadness in the air. We just watched this guy brutally murder people and now I feel bad for this guy who has really worked and given his all to his vision only to have someone disrespect it.

Then Carol has decided she has had enough of this artist lifestyle and splits on Reno. In a sad scene Reno chases after her and pleads with her to stay. Reno has anger but then goes sad sack as he is sitting there with her suitcase calling after her (“Come back man. You need your stuff”).

This pushes the switch in Reno over there is no looking back. Sure, he probably is not going to end up like his old man in the streets drinking rotgut but that would have been a better path. There is a lot to process in the last act and I appreciate the fact that not everything is tied up with an absolute outcome (just watch and make up your own story I say).

The good folks at Arrow just recently put out a suped up version of the film, but I really think the first time to view should be with all the scratches, grainy picture and red boxes. It just feels right that it is on the Chilling Classics compilation (and about a million other bargain bin compilations that I love). The Driller Killer is tribute and homage to the old scary, gross New York City and the sleazy good old days.

2 thoughts on “CHILLING CLASSICS MONTH – another take on Driller Killer (1979)

  1. Pingback: CHILLING CLASSICS MONTH epilogue – B&S About Movies

  2. Pingback: Exploring: Video Nasties Section 1 (prosecuted films) – B&S About Movies

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