Public Domain Movies

Public Domain Movie: Driller Killer (1979)

Driller Killer — Review

Well, this is it, the original video nasty, Driller Killer. I cannot comment on how the film was received in the rest of the world, but here in the UK it caused quite a stir and the name ‘video nasty’ was invented especially for films like this.

The filming of Driller Killer began in 1977 and finished in 1978, but the film was not released until 1979. The trouble in the UK began in 1982 when the UK distributors of the film, Vipco (Video Instant Picture Company), took out some full-page advertisements in a number of movie magazines. The advertisements showed the video’s violently explicit cover and this caused a large number of complaints to the Advertising Standards Agency. Wheels were set in motion and by 1984 video nasties were banned in the UK.

Things have relaxed a little since then and in 1999 Driller Killer was available to buy, but only as an edited version; it was not until 2002 that the full uncut version was unleashed for the British market (you can watch it lower down the page).

The story is set in New York and the central character is an artist named Reno Miller. At the beginning of the film a rather nervous looking Reno walks down the aisle of a church and kneels next to a mumbling bearded man. The man tries to take hold of Reno’s hand and Reno flees the church. His girlfriend Carol asks him who the man was and Reno says that it was just some bum, but according to the nun in the doorway, the bum in question had Reno’s name and address in his pocket, and if Reno did not know the man why did he go to meet him? It is generally believed that the bum in the church is Reno’s father. Although this seems probable I never noticed anything in the film that confirms this, but, either way, Reno definitely has some issues with derelicts and spends a considerable amount of time watching them or talking to them.

Reno’s strange fascination with the homeless is interesting because he is behind on his rent and if he is not careful he will be homeless himself, so he needs to sell a painting. He is busy working on a huge picture of a buffalo and if he can sell that he will make enough to pay a few bills, but he will have to finish it first and the buyer will have to like it when it is finished. Meanwhile the bills keep coming in and the phone bill is huge, but that shouldn’t be surprising, he is living with not one, but two girls and girls like to talk. Carol is Reno’s official girlfriend and Pamela is the lodger, but she and Reno seem pretty close and he does not seem to mind the fact that Carol and Pamela sleep together, so one can only presume that it is share and share alike. Despite this less than conventional set up, however, there are not many sex scenes in the film and the only scene that might offend those of a puritan nature is the one where Carol and Pamela get nipple to nipple in the shower.

Anyway the three of them share the flat, but it is Reno’s flat and he cannot pay the rent so Carol pays it out of her alimony cheque. It takes the pressure of a little, but they are still behind and cannot afford to go out anywhere, so they have to stay home and watch TV and it is while they are watching TV that Reno first sees an advertisement for a battery pack that you can wear around your waist and plug your electrical appliances into. It is called a Porto-Pack and Reno seems unusually interested in it (there was no such thing as a cordless drill in the eighties).

Driller Killer Movie Poster
Driller Killer Movie Poster

Reno’s lack of money is not his only worry, a band of punk rockers have moved into the building and they are rocking around the clock each and every day and well into the night, so it is hard for Reno to concentrate on his work. A lot of people think that it is all the noise from the band that finally pushed Reno over the top, but in my opinion he was already a pretty sick puppy and no amount of punk rock blasting up through the floorboard would have made him hallucinate the way he does. Anyway, for whatever reason, Reno finds the cash for a Porto-Pak, plugs his drill into it and goes out and kills a bum, riding the bum’s body like a bucking bronco as he drills a hole in his chest. It’s messy work, but Reno seems to like it. The next time Reno takes his drill out he kills lots and lots of people and all of them are bums.

I never saw Driller Killer when it first came out and I was imagining something that was almost akin to a snuff movie, but do you know what? It isn’t that bad. There are a few scenes that are pretty gruesome, especially the one where Reno drills a hole in someone’s head, but overall there is little in Driller Killer that cannot be found in many modern horror films. Rob Zombie’s House of 1000 Corpses, for instance, is a lot more gruesome.

So it’s a film about a painter with a drill and a lust to kill, but is it art? You will have to decide that for yourself, but one thing is for sure, if you do watch the film you will never want to fall asleep in a shop doorway again. Ever!

Additional Information

Director: Abel Ferrara


Abel Ferrara … Reno Miller
Carolyn Marz … Carol Slaughter
Baybi Day … Pamela
Harry Schultz … Dalton Briggs
Alan Wynroth … Al the Landlord
Maria Helhoski … The Nun
James O’Hara … Man in Church
Richard Howorth … Stephen (Carol’s Husband)
Louis Mascolo … Knife Victim
Tommy Santora … Attacker
Rita Gooding … TV Spot
Chuck Saaf … TV Spot
Gary Cohen … Voice-over (voice)
Janet Dailey … Girl at Audition
Joyce Finney … Girl at Audition
Butch Morris … Sidewalk Begger
Paul Fitze … Kid on Street
John Fitze … Kid on Street
Karl Metner … Kid on Street
Chris Amato … Kid on Street
Rich Bokun … Kid on Street
Michael Canosa … Kid on Street
Greg Schirrira … Kid on Street
Thomas Baeza … Kid on Street
Frank Hazard … Man Waiting for Bus
John Paul McIntyre … Man Waiting for Bus
John Coulakis … Hallway Derelict
Lanny Taylor … Rooftop Derelict
Peter Yellen … Bus Stop Derelict
Steve Cox … Empire State Derelict

Stephen Singer … Street Corner Derelict
Tim Constantine … Street Corner Derelict
Anthony Picciano … Sidewalk and Street Derelict
Bob DeFrank … Fire Escape Derelict
D.A. Metrov … Tony Coca-Cola (guitar)
Dickey Bittner … Ritchy (bass)
Steve Brown … Steve (drums)
Laurie Y. Taylor … Tony’s Girlfriend
Trixie Sly … Manager
Andrea Childs … Friend
Hallie Coletta … Friend
Victoria Keiler … Friend
Claire Mailer … Friend
Paula Nichols … Friend