The Driller Killer

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This article is about the 1979 horror movie. For the hardcore/crust punk band, see Driller Killer (band).
The Driller Killer
Theatrical release poster
Directed by Abel Ferrara
Produced by Rochelle Weisberg
Written by Nicholas St. John
Starring Jimmy Laine
Carolyn Marz
Baybi Day
Harry Schultz
Alan Wynroth
Music by Joseph Delia
Cinematography Ken Kelsch
Edited by Bonnie Constant
Michael Constant
Orlando Gallini
Jimmy Laine
Distributed by Cult Epics
Release dates
  • June 15, 1979 (1979-06-15)
Running time
96 minutes
Country United States
Language English

The Driller Killer is a 1979 horror film directed by and starring Abel Ferrara. It was on a list of banned so-called "video nasties" in the United Kingdom. The film was banned in the UK from 1984 (due to new censorship laws) until 1999, when a version omitting 54 secs from the head-drilling scene and 2 earlier murders was approved for an 18 (years of age) certificate. The full uncut version was finally passed by the BBFC in November 2002. On 10 June 2010 it was re-released as video on demand (VOD).[1]


A young artist, Reno Miller (Abel Ferrara) and his girlfriend Carol enter a Catholic church. Reno approaches an elderly bearded man kneeling at the pulpit. Although Reno seems to recognize the man as his long-lost father, he is merely a derelict. After the man seizes Reno's hand, Reno grabs Carol and runs from the church. The derelict had a paper with Reno's name and phone number and requested a meeting with him.

Later, in the Union Square (New York City) apartment he shares with Carol and her lover Pamela, Reno receives a large phone bill and cannot pay his rent. He hates his crime-infested, derelict-filled neighborhood.

Reno visits Dalton, a gallery owner, and tells him that he is currently painting a masterpiece. Reno asks for a week’s extension and a loan of $500 to cover the rent. Dalton refuses, saying that he already lent enough money to Reno. However, if he finishes a satisfactory painting in one week, Dalton will buy it for the necessary amount.

The following day, the Roosters, a No Wave band, begin practicing their music in a nearby apartment. The loud music makes Reno more unnerved and frustrated. That night, Reno, Carol, and Pamela watch a TV advertisement for a Porto-Pak, a battery pack which allows portable use of corded electrical appliances.

At 2:00 a.m., while painting, Reno becomes more agitated from the Roosters' music. After seeing his own image saturated in blood, Reno walks in the dark. He sees an elderly derelict sleeping in a garbage-strewn alley. It seems that Reno plans to accost the man, but instead, he takes him down an alley where they see gang members chasing another bum. Reno drops the bum and vows that he will not end up like him or his derelict father.

The next day, Reno complains about the Roosters to their landlord. However, the landlord refuses to act because the music does not bother him. He gives Reno a skinned rabbit for dinner, but demands the rent money. Reno takes the rabbit home and repeatedly stabs it while preparing it.

Later, Reno buys the Porto-Pak. During a brief reprieve from the music, Reno hears voices calling his name and sees an image of an eyeless Carol. That night, Reno goes out with the Porto-Pak and his drill attached to it. He sees another bum sleeping inside an abandoned diner and kills him by drilling into his chest.

The following evening, Reno, Carol, and Pamela see Tony Coca-Cola and the Roosters at a nightclub. As the Roosters play, Reno becomes agitated by the loud music and crowd. He leaves as Carol and Pamela dance and make out.

Reno returns to his apartment, grabs the drill and Porto-Pak, and goes out on a drilling spree. He kills a number of bums before returning home to sleep. Later, Tony visits Reno’s apartment and asks Reno to paint him. Tony agrees to pose that instant for the $500 rent bill.

As Reno paints, Tony poses, playing his guitar and making out with Pamela. A bum in a nearby alley, upset by the noise, is attacked by Reno who drills his hands to a wall in a crucifix pose before killing him. Afterward, Reno works on his painting. After a night’s work, he wakes Pamela and Carol to tell them it is finished.

Reno and Carol show the painting to Dalton, who leaves after declaring it “unacceptable.” Carol yells at Reno for sitting with a blank expression. The next morning, Reno awakes to find Carol is leaving him for her ex-husband, Stephen.

An over-the-shoulder shot from the murderer's perspective as Reno approaches Dalton to kill him with the drill.

That evening, Reno calls Dalton and invites him to see another piece. When Dalton arrives as the Roosters are practicing, Reno drills him. After visiting the Roosters, Pamela returns to find a bloody drill bit in front of the door and Dalton’s body inside. Pamela backs away screaming, but Reno grabs her.

Across town, Carol is back with Stephen. She takes a shower while Stephen prepares tea. Reno sneaks in, drills Stephen in the back, and hides his body behind the counter. Carol, done showering, walks to the bedroom where Reno hides under the bed covers. She turns out the lights, gets into bed, and tells "Stephen" to "come here..."


  • Abel Ferrara (credited as Jimmy Laine) – Reno Miller
  • Carolyn Marz – Carol
  • Baybi Day – Pamela
  • Harry Schultz II – Dalton Briggs
  • Alan Wynroth – Landlord
  • Maria Helhoski – Nun
  • James O'Hara – Man in church
  • Richard Howorth – Carol's husband
  • D.A. Metrov (credited as Rhodney Montreal) – Tony Coca-Cola


An example of the use of cross-cutting POV shots in the film as the protagonist Reno (on the right) plays pinball while Pamela looks on.

The Driller Killer is a low-budget, independent feature, with a cast of unknown actors, produced by Ferrara's own Navaron Films company 1977–78. It was filmed on 16mm film and utilised Ferrara's Union Square apartment and adjacent streets as locations.[2] It features many of the elements that became trademarks of Ferrara's later films. These include Catholic iconography, lesbian scenes, gritty urban locations filmed at night, an eclectic soundtrack combining punk rock and Bach, scenes of extreme violence and a religious theme of redemption, salvation and damnation.[3] The punk rock band in the movie reflects contemporary New York punk bands such as the New York Dolls and Television.[4]

In the Driller Killer trailer, Reno is heard to say a line from a scene that does not appear in the finished movie: "It's just a window, Dalton." [5]

The uncut version of the movie cuts to a black screen during the scene in which Dalton is murdered, as well as during the end scene in which Reno hides under Carol's bed covers. Instead of a black screen, the British BBFC 18 version cuts to a red screen during these two scenes.

Ferrara claims that Bruce Willis appeared in the film.[6][7]


The Driller Killer was met with positive reviews, earning a 70% approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes.

The film was released theatrically in America without controversy in 1979. In the United Kingdom, however, the reaction to the video release was very different.[8] In 1982, the UK distributors of Driller Killer, Vipco (Video Instant Picture Company) took out full page advertisements in a number of movie magazines showing the video's violently explicit cover, depicting a man being drilled through the forehead by the Driller Killer.[8] The tagline for the advertising and video box was: "There are those who kill violently."[5]

The advertising resulted in a large number of complaints to the Advertising Standards Agency, and opposition to the film from the press and elsewhere; however, it seems that very few of the complainants ever saw the film but based their opinion on the poster and title.[8]

The film was lumped together with other "video nasties" released at the time and a vociferous campaign was launched by the press to ban them all. Driller Killer was added to the list of banned UK films on 4 July 1983, just a year after its release date.[5] According to Mike Bor, the Principal Examiner at the British Board of Film Classification, "The Driller Killer was almost single-handedly responsible for the Video Recordings Act 1984" under which it and others of the "video nasties" released at the time were banned in the U.K.[8] According to Brad Stevens, author of a biography on Abel Ferrara, the banning of the film was "almost entirely due to the cover of the video." [5] The film was classified R 18+ in Australia by the Australian Classification Board and released uncut on home video on April 29, 1985. It was released on DVD twice in the country: first by Umbrella Entertainment and again on August 9, 2013, when it was re-rated MA 15+.

The movie was not officially released uncut in the UK until 2002.

Remake plans[edit]

In 2007, it was announced that the film would be remade by British film maker Andrew Jones.[9] It was reported that this new version of the film would also feature many unusual cameos and an original musical score. The remake would have moved the setting from New York to London and starred David Hess. Andrew Jones contacted Baybi Day to help co-produce and have a small acting role in the remake of Driller Killer. The title of the remake was designated Driller Killer Redux. The project came to a halt after a financial deal between the executive producers and the two people who held the rights to the original movie could not be reached.[10]

See also[edit]



  1. ^ "Killer Online Double Feature on Friday!". Retrieved 2010-12-26. 
  2. ^ Nick Johnstone (1999). Abel Ferrara: The King of New York. Omnibus Press: 8-9
  3. ^ Nick Johnstone (1999). Abel Ferrara: The King of New York. Omnibus Press: 2
  4. ^ Nick Johnstone (1999). Abel Ferrara: The King of New York. Omnibus Press: 46
  5. ^ a b c d Video Nasties: The Definitive Guide. Nucleus Films
  6. ^ "The Driller Killer (1979) Review". 7 October 2009. Retrieved 11 May 2015. 
  7. ^ "This commentary should be played L O U D". Retrieved 14 June 2015. 
  8. ^ a b c d Nick Johnstone (1999). Abel Ferrara: The King of New York. Omnibus Press: 13
  9. ^ Felix Vasquez Jr. (18 January 2007). "UK remake of cult classic 'Driller Killer'". Retrieved 17 January 2012. 
  10. ^ MJ Simpson. "MJ Simpson Interview with Andrew Jones". MJ Simpson. Retrieved 28 January 2012. 

External links[edit]