The dirty, screaming stench of a city coursing with cynicism, hypodermic needles and widespread poverty, gay men rendezvousing in abandoned warehouses, hookers, muggers, rapists and the kind of on-screen halitosis one can usually only find in gritty portrayals like Maniac... ahhh 1970s New York, where $200 could commission an art piece and buy you an abortion. There's really nothing like an Abel Ferrara film to make you never want to move to New York City. Driller Killer is reeking of punk, sex and death. A New York City that few like to remember. One of seedy vulgarity with vile woman of ill repute, crawling out of disco and into broken glass.
Abel Ferrara seems to almost pull off the greasy, devastatingly nihilistic sleaze we see in his later work, here directing and playing artist turned bum-murdering fix-it man, Reno Miller in Driller Killer. Widely noted as Ferrara's debut film, though considered just as shameful by Ferrara himself as his actual first feature Nine Lives of a Wet Pussy (1976), Driller Killer is the sordid tale of a discontented New York artist (Reno), his annoyingly inane girlfriend Carol (Carolyn Marz) and her lover Pamela (Baybi Day) trapped in the sort of Lustigian hell only New York could offer. Not quite as admired as Taxi Driver nor as masterful as Ferrara's follow up Ms. 45, this film does offer a lot of the same crushing, social injustice but with more blood and more lesbians.
The depravity is set in motion when Reno runs into an old, degenerate bum reminiscent of his father while repenting his sins in a Catholic church. This, combined with Reno's struggle to pay the rent and his girlfriend and her lover's long distance phone bill, is seemingly the only justification for the string of homeless men he then sets out to drill in the hands, chest and face. The struggle of living in crime infested Union Square and his fear of becoming indigent like his father, bleed dry his last ounce of humanity. Another standout feature of the film would be the often idealized, highly influential music scene in New York at the time, represented by neighboring, no wave punk band The Roosters and front man Tony Coca Cola, who move into a nearby scum-infested apartment driving Reno insane with their laborious "practices". No drugs, no money, no dope, no friends, just television and a heart full of broken dreams. A man beside himself, his pet rabbit and his artistic masterpiece... a poorly received painting of a buffalo. The obvious solution? A porto-pak and a power drill.