Abel Ferrara's opening divides New York City into the crimson glow of a church and the utter darkness outside: The protagonist is played by Ferrara himself, who, mesmerized by the lurid crucifix and freaked out by a man bearded like a prophet, scurries into the night. What follows is the richest dig at thriller expectations since The Killing of a Chinese Bookie (both have joke-titles as précis) and, along with Downtown 81, certainly the most vivid representation of New York's punk epoch on film. Ferrara is the high-strung painter who shares a squalid flat with a couple of gals (Carolyn Marz, Baybi Day) prone to shared showers; urban woe rattles inside his skull (a random stabbing is witnessed from above) and informs his project, a vast mural of a peeping bison that can never be finished. Tony Coca-Cola and The Roosters, a band of stompers (self-described as "a violin group"), settles next floor and rocks out all night long, amplifying the artist's insanity -- the breaking point comes first as a knife shoved into the skinned rabbit from Repulsion, then as a portable power drill directed at the torsos and foreheads of the homeless men who line the neighborhood. The analysis is of the deceptive divide between grindhouse and arthouse, with hophead grubbiness thrust toward Dalinian surrealism (a vision of Marz bleeding out of hollow eyes ockets, Day posed to bring to mind Gaby Rodgers in Kiss Me Deadly in a close-up or two) and absurdism ("Nighttime traveler, I see... Whatcha got in your hand, mister? A drill!"). Passive seamlessness is an offense in Ferrara's 'hood, being "simply a technician" is the worst insult that can be bestowed on someone. The blistering climax comes when Ferrara, as both filmmaker and protagonist, offers madness as an artistic statement, as befits his corruscating tale of a mind liberated by psychosis, to be played loud. Screenplay by Nicholas St. John. With Harry Schultz, Alan Wynroth, and Richard Howorth.
--- Fernando F. Croce