The Driller Killer (1979)

This film may or may not feature Bruce Willis in possibly his very first, obviously uncredited, film role. Or Abel Ferrara may just have been high or something when he said that. Either way, it’s a detail that’s more interesting than almost anything else in the film, which I will give points on account of the comparative novelty of the titular murder weapon… I didn’t really expect a masterpiece but I did expect to like it at least a bit better. On reflection, I think I have a similar problem with this as I do with Taxi Driver, i.e. it’s basically an exploitation film that’s trying not to be and failing. Only Scorsese’s film is better made, so Ferrara’s fails worse (and I don’t think the budgetary differences and technical issues satisfactorily explain it). I suspect some of the problem is Ferrara himself in the lead role; he claims to have, er, performed in his disavowed hardcore debut, so he seems to have thought that was enough to cast himself in his “first” “real” film. The problem is, he’s actually quite bad in the role. The further problem is, no one else is much better in theirs either. There’s an IMDB comment on the 9 Lives entry which notes that both it and this film look like Ferrara’s real interests were frankly somewhere else, like he didn’t really want to be making either porn or horror. And maybe Ferrara did conceive the film as a seriously intended tale of an artist cracking under the general pressures of life in late 70s New York who relieves himself by, you know, murdering homeless people with a drill. Certainly none of the kills (except maybe one) demonstrates any particular imagination, and the film generally gives little indication that Ferrara had any real interest in the genre. Unfortunately, like I said, Scorsese did a better job at trying at least to live up to his evident higher ambitions for Taxi Driver than Ferrara did for Driller Killer.

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