30 Day Horror Review – SPLATTER FILM – The Driller Killer (1979)

An artist slowly goes insane while struggling to pay his bills, work on his paintings, and care for his two female roommates, which leads him taking to the streets of New York after dark and randomly killing derelicts with a power drill. (IMDB synopsis)

My research tells me that this was one of several ‘video nasties’, deemed to be so gratuitously bloody and hideously offensive that people tried to get it banned. Surely people’s sensibilities have altered over the years – would this film be so disgusting by today’s standards? Let’s have a look.


I suppose I HAVE been giving a lot of positive reviews lately.

If it were up to me, I’d give this one a downright negative review – I thought it was badly made, even for cheap, it sounded ugly and had several pointless scenes that didn’t move the story forward at all. But it’s not as simple as that. I have a friend who enjoys so-called exploitation films – Craig – and I’ll probably get a talking to if I don’t at least take this film in the context in which it was made.
Now, according to my small amount of research, The Driller Killer comes under the umbrella of grindhouse cinema. Here’s what Wikipedia has to say about that.
“Grindhouse films characteristically contain large amounts of sex, violence or bizarre subject matter. One genre of film featured were “roughies” or sexploitation, a mix of sex, violence and sadism. Quality varied, but low budget production values and poor print quality were common. Critical opinions varied regarding typical grindhouse fare, but many films acquired cult following and critical praise.”
There we are. Now, watching The Driller Killer, I could see that there were some stylistic choices to be appreciated. Drowning out some shots with bright red and other garish colours was one such choice, and it did look interesting. On the other hand, several other shots were so dark and grainy, I could barely make out what was going on. And it was the same with the dialogue. I found the sound design on this film to be atrocious – the music blares, the characters mumble and talk over each other, and some characters basically resort to making Dumb and Dumber’s most annoying sound in the world for two straight minutes. The audio was SO bad, in fact, that I had to put on French subtitles so I could understand what was being said (bizarrely enough, there were no English ones on my disk).
I realise that normally when I review something, I start with the plot and THEN talk about form and style, but there’s not much plot to be had. Our main character is Mr. Reno Miller (wait, so he’s Miller the Driller Killer? Boy, oh boy). He’s a starving artist living with his girlfriend Carol, and HER girlfriend Pamela, who has a dim whiney voice throughout the picture. Reno’s convinced that if only he can paint a couple of masterpieces, their money worries will be over, but the gallery owner won’t give him a monetary advance, and there’s a No Wave band called the Roosters who constantly practice their sets downstairs. These things are what drives him to go on several ‘drilling sprees’, attacking mainly homeless people with an electric drill connected to a PowerPak.
Now, about those elements of exploitation. The film has them in a few different flavours; there’s a lesbian shower scene, a load of religious iconography, including some blasphemous imagery, and of course, plenty of bloody violence and gore. The gore effects are actually pretty good, and I guess this is what got it banned in the UK, but there’s no real substance. That is to say, it’s all rather mindless. That’s probably to be expected in a goresploitation film, but if anything, it causes a decrease in my level of interest. The drilling sprees come out of nowhere – I understand that they’re fueled by Reno’s contempt for the poor, but I don’t care about him, I don’t care about these drunken, jabbering vagrants, so what’s the point?
And another thing – there’s no real character development. The actors don’t seem to be invested in their parts, or even in their lines. I have a feeling they glanced at their script once and just rattled off whatever came into their head. There’s a scene after the drilling spree where Reno, Carol and Pamela are eating pizza, and the film has an opportunity to show tension, suspicion, maybe some residual feelings of disgust or regret from Reno – maybe the three of them could talk about something that actually matters. But no, Reno just gobbles down his slice of pizza, NOM NOM NOM SMACK SLURP MUNCH MUNCH MUNCH CHEW NOM NOM NOM, and then Carol throws pizza in his face and says “I hate him, I hate him, I hate him”, which is not quite the same thing. Why does she hate him? What, for eating all the slices that had peppers on them? Is that why?!

Final Verdict:

This film gave me a headache, earache and general faceache. It just looks and sounds terrible to me, and if there was anything important said about religion, redemption, poverty, artistic integrity, or anything else for that matter, I literally couldn’t hear it. I imagine the main draw of films like these is that you’re a teenage boy and you have a copy that you watch on VHS with your friends while your parents are out. Maybe The Driller Killer did pave the way for better films, and maybe it does have a sizable cult following, but that doesn’t mean I have to like it.


4 jam sandwiches.

Edit: Boy, do I feel silly. As it turns out from watching other people review this film, their copies of Driller Killer are fine, and mine is, once again, the version that was recorded with a potato. (Curse you, eBay seller!) Anyway, since the visual and audio quality is apparently much better than I made it out to be, I’m going to award this film a slightly higher score.


5 jam sandwiches.


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