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Driller Killer, The
It's been too long since I've watched a movie that made me want to take a cleansing shower afterward. On the other hand, maybe I've spent too much of my life watching such movies. It's never too late to change, right? Not that Abel Ferrara's feature debut, The Driller Killer offers up much hope for change. The movie ends with an ironic dedication to New York City, "the city of hope", a city, in Ferrara's vision, populated by self-centered idiots and derelicts in need of pointless killing.
Reno Miller is a Bowery artist on track to become a big thing, if only he can complete his latest masterpiece for his pink-shirt-and-necklace-wearing chump of a dealer. Unfortunately, he's got no money, he's a real jerk, and a crazy band called The Roosters just moved in upstairs, practicing skronky No Wave music at all hours of the night. What's a hair-trigger slob to do but take inspiration from an ad for a belt-worn battery pack that will allow him to run around in the middle of the night killing bums with a power drill? What indeed?
The Driller Killer landed on the U.K.'s Video Nasty list, though in reality it's not all that gory. While a fair amount of blood is splashed about, most of Reno's killing is the drill-in-the-back variety, easy to accomplish and not terribly graphic. What's offensive is the relentless, shrill grinding of Reno's life, and the endless songs by the Roosters, which are actually pretty good, though not what your average gorehound is looking for.
Ferrara's trademark hypnotic style is in evidence, a style that found serious success in classics like Ms. 45 and Bad Lieutenant: dark, endless scenes with stroboscopic lights, sounds, and nowhere to run. Reno (Ferrara in a pseudonymous turn) makes it clear that there's little out there for even the most convivial of our most vulnerable; friendly transients whose offers of a pull off the old bottle are greeted with sadistic death. If you're looking for morals or comeuppance, you might keep looking, as even a lout like Reno, a jerk that will eat half of the damn pizza before offering you a bite, never seems to get it.
The Driller Killer isn't really a gore or slasher movie, it's an hypnotic nightmare of being stuck on the streets afterhours, in a city that doesn't care if you live or die. If you can handle a movie in which half the runtime is consumed by poorly recorded practice sessions of a band fronted by a jerk you'd like to punch in the face, followed by a jerk you'd like to punch in the face running around putting holes in bums, then this one is for you. Horror aficionados of serious intent will find this extras-packed Arrow Video release Highly Recommended. Just beware, this might be the movie that pushes you over the edge into gardening and reading Nicholas Sparks.
This 4k restoration from the original camera negative looks pretty spanky for a decades-old movie shot on 16mm film. You'd probably guess that there is a lot of film grain present, and you'd be right about that, however, it is purely film grain with a film look and nothing in the way of digital grain or noise. You'd also be right in assuming that details aren't going to be all that sharp, although they hold up quite well such as they are. Damage to the negative is hardly present at all, although a big piece of dirt hugs the edge of a few frames during some of the extended band practice scenes. Additionally, the movie comes in 1.35:1 and 1.87:1 ratios. I chose the 1.35:1 version, for more of a grindhouse feel.
Original uncompressed mono PCM audio also preserves that good old grindhouse feel. Though not overly scratchy or distorted, (except when that punk band is playing) there is of course little in the way of dynamism in the mix. Sometimes dialog is clear and up front, sometimes the actors mumble, and things are a bit harder to hear. The music isn't up to audiophile standards of recording either, but the band actually sounds kind-of cool. As a whole, a very lo-fi, mid-range aesthetic prevails.
As usual, Arrow Video packs this release with a nice boatload of extras. Start things off with the Pre-release Version of the film with five extra minutes of band rehearsal footage, transients passing the bottle, and other artiness. You then get a Commentary Track (for the theatrical release version) with director Ferrara, moderated by author Brad Stevens, and recorded exclusively for this release. It's a rambler of a track, at times chaotic, at other times quiet, with Ferrara genially reminiscing while also fielding Stevens' interpretations of the work. Laine & Abel is an 18-minute Interview with Ferrara, which finds him talking about his youth and early efforts in filmmaking, among other stuff. Willing & Abel: Ferraraology 101 is a 34 minute British program that observes and analyzes his entire career, and is quite fun for big-time fans. The best extra of all is the inclusion of Mulberry St., Ferrara's 2010 feature-length documentary about the street featured in so many of his films. What amounts to 90 minutes of Ferrara knocking about the street during the Feast of San Gennaro, it's a revelatory portrait of the neighborhood, and a perfect bookend to the feature. One might argue it's even better and more entertaining than the feature, albeit entirely different. Finally, you get a Theatrical Trailer too. This version of The Driller Killer comes in a clear keepcase with Reversible Cover Art by Twins Of Evil, and a Collector's Booklet, plus a DVD Copy of the release.
The Driller Killer isn't really a gore or slasher movie, it's an hypnotic nightmare of being stuck on the streets afterhours, in a city that doesn't care if you live or die. If you can handle a movie in which half the runtime is consumed by poorly recorded practice sessions of a band fronted by a jerk you'd like to punch in the face, followed by a jerk you'd like to punch in the face running around putting holes in bums, then this one is for you. Therefore, horror aficionados of serious intent, and suspect bent, will find this extras-packed Arrow Video release Highly Recommended.