The Driller Killer is the story of Reno, a starving artist, his girlfriend Carol, and her girlfriend Pamela. The three are on the verge of being kicked out of their grimy, dark Manhattan apartment since they are behind in their rent. In order to make some money, Reno has been working on a painting for an art dealer named Dalton.
Shortly after our story begins, Tony Coca-Cola and the Roosters, a punk rock band, move in to the same building. Thanks to their constant practicing Reno is unable to concentrate on his work and thus we arrive at the actual drilling killing.
It's probably no great surprise that The Driller Killer is in fact Reno (the movie sure doesn't try to hide this). So this is not your typical mystery slasher movie. It's a lot more like Combat Shock or maybe American Psycho, where rather than trying to figure out who the killer is, you just spend the whole movie watching the the lead character going insane. Less Nailgun Massacre and more Naked Massacre. In this movie the change is pretty sudden. In one scene Reno is working on his painting of the majestic buffalo, in the next he is drilling hobos to death in alleyways.
This movie actually has a lot in common with Combat Shock. You've got your absolutely filthy New York, swarming with gangs and violence and crazy homeless people. Was New York ever this awful? Who knows? Probably. But I do know this depiction makes for some skin-crawling gritty viewing and is extremely effective. NY is a character in this movie, just as much as Reno is or anyone else. In fact, it is probably the main character as I can't see this movie being pulled off anywhere else. Just like how Troll 2 could not take place in any other town other than Nilbog, kingdom of the Goblins. Well, I guess it probably could have taken place in Llort, kingdom of the trolls. That probably would have been more accurate.
So while The Driller Killer does not take place in Rellik Rellird, the kingdom of the Driller Killers, Manhattan is a good choice I guess. This is all helped by the dialog which is often terrible, but in a realistic way. I have read that it was all improvised, which explains a lot.
But you really have to be able to appreciate this gritty "NY as a character" thing, or you will probably not get much out of this movie. It is surprisingly not explicit, especially considering how it was banned in the UK back in the 80s. Sure, there is drilling (and killing), and yeah blood goes all over the place, but it could have been much worse. So I have to admit that The Driller Killer shows a lot of restraint, surprising considering the lurid title. Regardless of the sudden and unexplained lesbian shower scene, it is almost classy.