When it comes to the certain generation of blood-soaked, so-called depraved movies labelled “video nasties”, one of the most notorious of the bunch is Abel Ferrara’s The Driller Killer, originally released in 1979 but completely banned in the UK between 1984 and 1999. Whilst versions of the film have since aired on UK TV and been made available on home release, the great guys over at Arrow Video have now given this infamous little picture a new HD restoration for a packed Blu-ray release. The question is, though, is this much talked about movie all hype, and is this new release worth your time.
Plot-wise, The Driller Killer centres on Reno Miller (Abel Ferrara), a struggling New York City artist who’s using the brutal acts seen on local streets to inspire his masterpiece. With the pressure mounting and creative block setting in, Reno soon starts to lose his grip on reality as he takes matters into his own hands and starts to kill local homeless people in an attempt to get his spark back. Unaware that he’s carrying out such acts, we see Reno’s descent into madness, all accompanied by a blood-soaked canvas and his weapon of choice: a power drill.
The Driller Killer itself is very much Abel Ferrara’s picture. Unable to find someone to take the lead role, director Ferrara, who was making his feature film debut here, was left with no other option than to tackle the part himself. His Reno has roommates-cum-girlfriends Carol (Carolyn Marz) and Pamela (Baybi Day) for company, and punk bank Tony Coca-Cola and the Roosters and their all-day, all-night band practice reside in the apartment next door, but this picture is all about Ferrara’s Reno and his ever-diminishing grip on reality.
As a film, The Driller Killer is nowhere near as shocking as the notoriety around it would suggest. That’s not to say that there’s not some wince-inducing moments along the way, with one particular driller attack still as grim as it was the first time around, but Ferrara’s movie is one built on suspense and mental instability more than gore and gratuitous bloodshed. Considering Ferrara went on to helm such well-received efforts as Ms. 45, King of New York, Bad Lieutenant and The Funeral, this film isn’t up to the standards of those in quality; this is his first feature and it tells. Next-to-no budget and with a cast of complete unknowns, Ferrara managed to get the very most out of what he had at his disposal, and The Driller Killer has some surprisingly strong performances, coupled with a vibe and attitude that’s a great look into the gritty punk atmosphere of New York City at that time period.
Where this release really shines, however, is on the audio commentary with Abel Ferrara. From a personal point of view, this reviewer interviewed Abel earlier this year, and his thoughts and words are always fantastic to listen to. And that’s no different with the chat track included on this release, with Ferrara a mesmerising presence who is never anything but honest when looking back at one of the most infamous films in movie history. Similarly, the accompanying interview with Ferrara, the lookback at his filmography, and the Mulberry St. documentary that looks at the location so often used in his films are all great watches that add extra insight and work as the perfect accompaniments to this new release.
The Driller Killer may well be very much of its time, and it may not be as nasty as certain film boards would have you believe, but as a piece of film history it’s must-see, and this overall package is a fascinating look into one of the most notorious movies to have come out of the late 1970s and early 1980s.
Special Features: Commentary with Abel Ferrara / Laine and Abel: An Interview with The Driller Killer / Willing & Abel: Ferraraology 101 / Mulberry St. / Trailer
THE DRILLER KILLER / CERT: 18 / DIRECTOR: ABEL FERRARA / SCREENPLAY: NICHOLAS ST. JOHN / STARRING: ABEL FERRARA, CAROLYN MARZ, BAYBI DAY, HARRY SCHULTZ / RELEASE DATE: OUT NOW