Driller Killer, The (Blu-ray/DVD Combo Pack)
Released by: Arrow Video
Released on: December 13th, 2016.
Director: Abel Ferrara
Cast: Abel Ferarra, Carolyn Marz, Baybi Day, Harry Schultz, Alan Wynroth, Maria Helhoski
Purchase From Amazon
Rising to notoriety after the 'Video Nasties' scare in England during the early days of home video, Abel Ferarra's The Driller Killer garnered a reputation that hyped it up to be a gory and sadistic film with no redeeming social values whatsoever. While one could probably make a valid and convincing argument in favor of that theory, upon closer inspection there is actually quite a bit of social commentary (intentional or not) underneath the power tool deaths and the abrasive new wave music that permeates the film.
Ferarra, under the pseudonym of Jimmy Laine, plays Reno Miller. He’s a starving artist trying to finish what he hopes will be his greatest painting yet, while still managing to keep the phone from getting cut off. His two female roommates, Carol and Pamela (played by Carolyn Marz and Baybi Day), aren’t a whole lot of help and they sometimes don’t even have enough money for food.
When a new wave/punk band moves into the slummy apartment building where the three live and where he has his studio, Reno starts to get a little crankier than usually. Reno had a hot enough temper beforehand. He was prone to doing things like tossing the telephone out onto the street, smashing the window on the way by and generally just getting agitated and violent. Reno is not a sane man to begin with - add the pressures of obnoxious neighbors playing music into the wee hours of the morning and not being able to pay his bills, and it's obvious that he's a prime candidate for a breakdown.
And when it happens, what a breakdown it is. Reno gets himself a Porto-Pak which allows him to power his drill on batteries rather than having to have to plug it into a wall outlet. This allows him to wander the streets of New York City and lay waste to a good portion of its derelict population.
Eventually when he is finally happy with his masterpiece painting, he hopes to be able to sell it for enough money that he'll be ok for a while, at least as far as finances are concerned. But when the blatantly gay art dealer that Reno works with literally calls his newest work a piece of shit, a few more screws fall loose. Reno finally has enough of the world.
Bearing no small resemblance to Martin Scorcese's Taxi Driver, The Driller Killer is a gritty, dirty little film that seems to accidentally get a few things right. It was shot on weekends over a period of almost two years after Ferarra and Nicodermo Oliverio lived across from an area in Manhattan where a lot of derelicts were prone to staying. Eventually they came up with the idea of a story where someone snapped and started picking these guys off, putting them out of their misery.
While the films biggest flaw lies in the fact that it's quite predictable (it's never a surprise when Reno snaps - we know he's a nutjob from very early on in the film), it does have a few very inspired moments of weirdness that make it worth checking out. The murder scenes are inspired and even a little bit creative. Some of the cinematography is quite effective, especially the close ups of a manic Ferarra after he's done his evil deed. There’s an undeniable intensity to his performance that is completely watchable. He goes over the top a lot, but it fits in the context of the storyline. While there is way too much footage of the band (probably used to pad out the running time to a feature length of just over ninety minutes), the movie does a nice job of capturing a very seedy NYC, one that chews its populace up and spits them out without any regard to their social status or mental well-being.
It’s worth noting that this Blu-ray debut for the film includes the option of watching the theatrical cut of the movie (which is what has been contained on every home video release of the movie prior to this reissue) or the ‘pre-release version’ of the movie. This version runs five minutes longer and it includes some interesting material – a scene where Reno and Carol hang out in a church, a scene where Carol hands Reno some cash out on the streets, a scene with Reno and some binoculars on a rooftop, an argument between Reno and Carol and a few other bits and pieces. Ferrera did choose to cut this material from the film before it played theatrically but it appears on this release, culled from the original negative, with the director’s permission.
Arrow Video brings The Driller Killer to Blu-ray on a 50GB disc in AVC encoded 1080p high definition. Both the theatrical and pre-release versions of the movie are available to watch on the Blu-ray in 1.33.1 fullframe or 1.85.1 widescreen transferred in 4k from the original 16mm negative, save for some stretches where the negative material was lost (a 35mm print was used for these portions). As to the image quality, it’s a massive upgrade over the previous DVD editions. Colors look much stronger here and are reproduced with quite a bit of additional clarity. Detail is consistently impressive and there’s a lot more texture and depth evident here than on previous editions. Some minor print damage does remain but for the most part the picture is very clean, while still retaining its gritty, grainy aesthetic. There are no noticeable problems with noise reduction or edge enhancement and compression artifacts are never a problem. As to the framing, it’s great that both aspect ratios have been included here because each version has its own pro’s and con’s. The 1.33.1 version is clearly open matte so there’s extraneous head room in a lot of shots but it also opens things up in interesting ways. The more tightly framed 1.85.1 version is more cinematic in its look but it loses some of the additional information included in the open matte version.
Regardless of which version you opt for, audio chores are handled by English language LPCM mono with removable subtitles provided in English only. The audio has been cleaned up nicely here but not to the point where the mix loses its punch. This is still a very raw and aggressive sounding film, particularly in its use of music, and that very much still comes through. At the same time the levels are nicely balanced and the dialogue stays clean and clear.
Extras start off with an all new audio commentary by director and star Abel Ferrara moderated by Brad Stevens (author of Abel Ferrara: The Moral Vision). This is not the ‘Abel on drugs’ commentary that was on the Cult Epics DVD releases – that infamous track has not been ported over for this Blu-ray, so completists may want to hold onto the older disc for that reason. This plays over the theatrical version and was recorded in London in 2016. Stevens talks about seeing the film for the first time and the impression that it made on him while Ferrera sort of just goes on about whatever he feels like. This track is never dull. Stevens tries to guide the conversation but Ferrera is Ferrera and his thoughts on the picture come across in a very ‘stream of consciousness’ style. As this plays out we hear about the casting, the locations, shooting the movie on a low budget and with limited resources, what drives Reno to act the way he does in the movie, the documentary style of certain aspects of the movie and how this movie, in Abel’s words ‘put the 42nd Street audience to the test… right to the fucking test!’ It’s a pretty nutty track and well worth listening to.
Also included on the disc is a brand new interview with Ferrara entitled Laine And Abel that runs seventeen and a half minutes that starts off with Ferrera talking about his mom taking him to see Bambi in the theater as a kid! He then talks about growing up with more interest in cinema than in television, the New York City filmmaking scene he got his start in, how he went about getting film equipment, how The Driller Killer came about, the influence of Nicholas Ray (“the most rock n roll motherfucker you’ve ever seen!”) and quite a bit more. A featurette called Willing And Abel: Ferraraology 101 is a ‘new visual essay guide to the films and career of Ferrara by Alexandra Heller-Nicholas, author of Cultographies: Ms. 45.’ This thirty-four minute piece, narrated by Heller-Nicholas, talks about Ferrera’s tendency to provoke, his notoriety for being difficult and the complexities inherent in his work. From there the piece goes on to explore many of his film including his short films, his adult film Nine Lives Of A Wet Pussy, Ms. 45, China Girl and pretty much all of his features. It’s an interesting and insightful piece with an academic bent that treats the director’s output with respect.
However, the best extra on this release is Mulberry St., a 2010 feature-length documentary directed by Ferrara that examines many of the New York City locations that have always been such a big part of what has made his work as unique and personal as it is. This documentary appears on home video in North America for the first time with this release. It starts off with some footage of Ferrara wandering the streets of Little Italy, talking to its populace as those around him prepare for a street fair. From there the camera explores the area, getting recommendations for cannolis, visiting a barbershop and getting in on an intense conversation about De Niro, and then moving over to other areas in and around the Lower East Side. He talks about shooting Nine Lives Of A Wet Pussy, he sings an old Italian folk song with an old man, he talks finances with some locals, he heads into a local restaurant and talks with Danny Aiello, he heads into a recording studio and cuts a track, he has a conversation about a man’s connected uncle, catches a performance from the infamous Naked Cowboy, sits in on a panel with comedian Pat Cooper and complains about a friend’s Hummer. It’s a fascinating fly on the wall look at Ferrara’s home town through his own unique vision. It’s essentially plotless but it’s a very cool and personal look at the city and the people that clearly influenced and shaped his personality and his cinematic output.
Rounding out the extras on the disc are the film’s original theatrical trailer, animated menus and chapter selection. The short films that were on the Cult Epics special edition DVD release from years back are unfortunately not carried over to this release.
As this is a combo pack release we also get a DVD version of the movie that includes extras identical to those found on the Blu-ray. Included inside the clear Blu-ray case along with the two discs is a full color insert booklet that includes an essay by Michael Pattison called All Around, In The City and a piece by Brad Stevens entitled The Memory Of A Reality as well as credits for the feature, credits for Mulberry St. and credits for the disc. Also included in the booklet are some notes on the pre-release version that explains what was included in the additional five minutes of footage and where to find that footage within the film. Arrow has also provided reversible cover art for this release with some newly created artwork on one side and the infamous ‘drill to the head’ artwork on the reverse.
The Final Word:
The Driller Killer remains one of Ferrara’s most confrontational films, a nasty and gritty mix of arthouse style and exploitation movie tropes highlighted by the director’s own performance in the lead role. Arrow Video’s Blu-ray/DVD Combo Pack release is an impressive one, presenting the film in fantastic shape and with a load of great extra features.
Click on the images below for full sized Blu-ray screen caps!