The oddball X-rated horror musical that had a troubled production but finally found an audience decades later.
In 1984, the Golden Age of adult movies was all but over – the encroachment of home video was already eating into not only the theatrical outlets like the Pussycat Theater chain but also the production values and budgets of movies, with videotape replacing film and production schedules being reduced to as little as a day.
But oddly, the crossover era of the final days of the Golden Age and the early days of the video era produced some decidedly oddball and eccentric movies – the work of The Dark Brothers and other eccentrics began to briefly take the industry in new, anarchic directions, making what had come before often seem staid and ordinary. As later porn producers would say, ‘this ain’t your dad’s XXX’.
Driller was one of these oddball outliers – a weird horror porn musical that was inspired by Michael Jackson’s Thriller video. The film explores the fantasies of Taija Rae, playing a fan of pop sensation Mr J., as she dreams about werewolves and zombies who perform dance routines and musical numbers. The result is a decidedly odd affair – hardly the sort of thing that was ever going to appeal to your average porn fan or your average horror fan – but guaranteed to fascinate anyone interested in oddball cinema.
The film was written, produced and directed by Joyce James – her only directorial credit, though she also wrote and produced Desperately Sleazy Susan and Vamp (a porn film, not the horror movie). James has helpfully turned up on IMDb to talk about the movie.
“At the time Thriller came out, my son was 4 years old and was simply obsessed with the werewolf transformation in the ‘behind the scenes’ of Thriller footage. I was sick to death of both MJ and Thriller and horror movies. I was also sick to death of porn movies with stilted plotlines–which were the staples of 70 and 80s porn. I foolishly thought I could turn everything on its ear–and make a gender-bending a Rocky Horroresque variation on Thriller.
“My goal? To work with a special effects guy, Arnold Garguilo, who made all the appliances for “the Driller.” Mostly – I wanted my son to see how FX and prosthetics worked. My son is still obsessed with werewolves – and has even played one in a horror flick!”
The horror flick in question is Rock ‘n’ Roll Nightmare, the movie that starred heavy metal muscleman Thor – and featured Joyce James in the cast under her real name Cindy Cirile, with her husband John Fasano directing. The son is Jesse D’Angelo, who has dabbled in the film industry as a special effects man, storyboard artist, actor and director.
Roger Watkins was brought in by me because he was a friend of mine. He assured me there was nothing to directing a movie–that he would help me, and things would be swell! NOT!! I had never directed more than photoshoots for magazines before–and I shot Driller IN 4 days, on a budget of $100,000. I was also encouraged by my friend, executive producer/Mr. UFO, aka Mr Creepo–Timothy Greene Beckley–that all would go swell! It didn’t.
Timothy Beckley has had a fascinating career – as Dick Howard, he directed porn throughout the 1980s and managed to marry no less than three porn stars – Christy Canyon, Kelly Nichols and Kimberley Carson. His career went considerably more downmarket in the early 2000s, when – as Mr Creepo – he directed zero-budget video atrocities like Skin Eating Jungle Vampires, Punk Rock Zombie Kung Fu Catfight and Sandy Hook Lingerie Party Massacre, all of which will give you a blinding headache if you are foolish enough to watch them. Roger Watkins, of course, also had a long – and rather more successful career as a porn director under the name Richard Mahler, though is better known for his grim and subversive horror movie Last House on Dead End Street.
The shoot was the worst 4 days/nights in my life. Everything took longer than I had expected. The illuminated dildos had long hideous cords on them – and the actresses refused to use them as dildos – just because their vaginas might be sensitive to the rough plastic!!! Can you imagine??? The circular stage they were supposed to spin on wouldn’t spin. My “Golden Girls” fantasy looks absurd. Roger Watkins had disappeared.
The crew mutinied. I had 45 minutes to shoot the entire zombie orgy in the graveyard scene. It was the worst–but I still love the utter insanity of that scene.
I also quite like the cave scene with the Gregorian chants over it – that’s pretty much the only scene that went as I envisioned it. I also like the nonsense of the opening scene where you meet Dan and Louise (Brad and Janet) and her complaining about having to take the obligatory cum shot in the face. “Ew! Dan! You got it on my glasses!” Is probably my favourite line…
Yeah – I threw in some Alice in Wonderland imagery as well. Oddly – I really thought this movie would one day become a cult film – not because it’s good – but because at least, it is different! Ironically – two other films of mine in another genre have become cult classics – and I thought they would just disappear! Have patience on my poor little Driller. I overreached with it, no doubt. But still – the first singing/dancing/horror x-rated flick?? Yeah – I know! What’s the market for that?
Well, Driller certainly struggled to find an audience. Perhaps sensing that this had more potential as a cult favourite than a regular porn film – similar, in fact, to Stephen Sayadian‘s Cafe Flesh and Night Dreams, neither of which did much with the adult audience but soon found a midnight movie following – Buckley tried to hire Theodore Gottlieb – aka Brother Theodore – to provide a voice-over. Theodore had already appeared in an X-rated movie, Gums, in 1976, but Screen Actors Guild rules had tightened up and moralised in the years since, and working on adult movies was forbidden, even if you were not involved in the action or seen on screen.
Driller would not be helped by utterly generic poster art that gave no clues to the weirdness within – VCA Pictures, a company that usually had more awareness of a film’s cult potential, failed miserably with this one. However, the film would slowly seep into the cult movie consciousness, even if few people actually saw it during the 1980s – references in US exploitation movie fanzines from people who had been fascinated by the concept invariably led to more people seeking the film out – not an easy find for a while, given that the film had long since sunk into obscurity, deleted from VHS. In 2011, Wild Eye releasing picked the film up for re-release on DVD, limited edition VHS and even a cassette soundtrack, bringing the film back to a whole new audience.