Driller Killer is yet another guilty pleasure of mine when it comes to cinema. This slasher was Ferarra's debut in 1979. It was aloof enough from the conventional exploitation slasher to define a name of its own, and eventually lead Ferarra to directing such masterpieces as the unflinching "Bad Lieutenant" with Harvey Keitel at its best hardly a decade later.
With its often inventive, raw and unpolished cinematography, idiosyncratic editing and sound design, along with its loosely tied story--an intimate look into struggling art culture, punk culture, and NY bum culture. Add all around competent acting, especially from Ferarra himself who is as capable a rabid actor as he his a director, and this public domain exploitation flick should spell "underrated" instead of "unrated" on its cover.
What makes me consider Abel was much more... "able" and intelligent in his approach to this so-called video nasty than many would imagine to give credit for is one particular segment where Reno's art dealer comments on his latest painting: "Where's the impact?! It's just a goddamn buffalo! This is nothing like your other work [...] Reno, the worst thing that can happen to a painter is happening to you, you're simply a technician!" Perhaps this is a cleverly translated self-reference Ferarra coded in as commentary on his own flick: "Abel, this is just a goddamn silly slasher! This is nothing like your other work will be, just a high-octane entertaining precursor to masterpieces which will follow. Abel, this is what they say the worst thing that can happen to you as a filmmaker... you're just a technician using your brush strokes to paint a senseless slasher flick! But I'm going to let it indulge in all of its self-absorbed gory glory." Abel knew the kind of film he was making, and its apparent self-aware nature helps it jump the genre's stiffest hurdle.
It is exploitative, gory, unabashedly shameless and above all morally apprehensible in many ways. But the ease in which it is executed--acted, directed and pieced together--puts it on a pedestal to where it can easily laugh at its gory exploitation peers like the sick joke without a punchline "Cannibal Holocaust," modern examples like the "Saw" franchise, and even earlier exploitation "classics" as "Blood Feast." I dare say it even supersedes other low budget trashy horror cult classics as "The Evil Dead." Filled with self-aware glaring flaws, Driller Killer is a scatter-shot film. It is miles from cinematic perfection, but God I freakin' love it for its oddball merits, and it marks the debut of a historically important director.