Thursday, October 3, 2013

Night of Terror #3: 'The Driller Killer'

With a name like The Driller Killer, you definitely expect a certain type of movie. Grimy, illicit, vaguely sexual thrills, with copious amounts of blood and maybe if you're lucky a little bit of suspense. But the brilliance of The Driller Killer is that the sequences from the movie in your imagination are only part of the story, and the only ones that give you or the protagonist any respite from his urban suffocation.

That protagonist is played to the hilt by Abel Ferrara, who also directed this pleasingly nasty piece of work. And his real-life insanity is employed to great effect both behind and in front of the camera. Then there's the rabbit-butchery scene, in which his craziness comes at you from all possible angles. You can't really blame him for being nuts, though, since early 80s New York is conveyed in all of its hellish glory - this is like what Travis Bickle was seeing in his worst nightmares.

The only time the movie falters is when it stops going for urban claustrophobia and gory drill-kills and starts going for heightened drama - it doesn't feel real (unlike the highly naturalistic vibe of the rest of the movie) when Ferrara's character is verbally eviscerated by an art dealer, or when he chases after his fleeing girlfriend. But even these sequences end up contributing to the feeling of "wrongness" in the City of Hope, as if Ferrara's grip on reality is coming even more unglued. The argument over pizza is pretty good though.

I guess since this is a Halloween blog I'll say a little more about those drill murders. They're the only parts of the movie that have any kind of conventional narrative traction, and they end up seeming like a break from the magnificently staged sequences of financial desperation, ennui, and repetitive mediocre punk rock riffs. I don't know if this was an intended meaning or not but it ends up being sort of a comment about why we like going to movies like this - how messed up is it that watching people get violently killed with a household appliance can count as escapism?

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