Blu-ray Review: The Driller Killer



Abel Ferrera captured New York City at its gritty prime in the late ’70s. While Woody Allen and Martin Scorsese were creating cinematic love letters to the Big Apple, Abel was cutting out letters for ransom notes. He reminded us that America’s largest city was something to be feared with danger around every corner. Sometimes that danger was him. The decaying metropolis was a viper pit where you could be attacked around every decrepit corner. Your dreams were easily crushed by people who you mistook for friends and mentors. The Driller Killer was Ferrera’s first feature film and it let everyone know that he was director who didn’t mind getting his hands dirty on screen.

Reno Miller (Ferrera) should be living the dream life. He’s an artist with a gallery owner fronting him money for his latest painting about a buffalo. He’s living in an apartment in the Union Square section of New York City with two women. But like everything in Manhattan, the dream can flip into a nightmare without much warning. The money is getting tight since Reno won’t admit that his painting is done. The gallery owner doesn’t want to advance anymore cash on the unseen work. The landlord needs wants his rent and not excuses. Reno can’t focus because the landlord has rented a nearby apartment to a punkish band that enjoys rehearsing at all hours. The pressure starts getting to Reno. He fears that he will end up on a bum living in an alley. The pressure builds when his artistic plans hit a speed bump. He starts to lose his sanity around the same time that he buys a battery belt so he can use his drill without an extension cord. Is he really going to go around New York City putting holes in the heads of people he hates? Is this a fever dream or has Reno gone completely over the edge?

The Driller Killer is a gruesome film that was meant entertain the Times Square crowd that wanted a horror experienced that wouldn’t be watered down by studio executives. This has the same nasty feel of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre or I Spit On Your Grave. Ferrera’s cinematic vision makes it feel like a rumored snuff film with its grab and go cinematography. The film eventually found itself banned in England as part of the infamous “video nasties” list of tapes that couldn’t be distributed. This time was captured on The Young Ones episode “Nasty.” The outlaw status is well earned. His New York City of The Driller Killer would continue with Ms. 45, Bad Lieutentant and King of New York. He wanted the world to know that this place is dangerous and he’s part of the threat.

The videos is 1.85:1 anamorphic. You also have the option to watch it in 1.37:1 to remind you of the times you rented it on VHS from Dave’s Videodrome. There’s plenty of grit in the transfer since it was shot on 16mm. Audio is Uncompressed Mono PCM audio. This was a low budget production shot on location so the sound varies with the space. The movie is subtitled.

Pre-thearical Verision is 101 minutes long with a few more gruesome touches.

DVD has all the features of the Blu-ray at a lower resolution.

Laine and Abel: An Interview with the Driller Killer (17:31) opens with the director remembering his mother taking him to see Bambi. He brings up “Million Dollar Movie” in New York City and seeing a lot of Japanese monster films. He talks about how his band got into shooting movies in the mid-60s. He enjoys mentioning how experimental filmmakers influenced him.

Willing & Abel: Ferraraology 101 (34:19) is a video essay on the director’s work. This is a fine primer about how he went from harsh indie movies to episodes of Miami Vice.

Mulberry St. (87:52) is a feature length documentary on the area of New York City that occupies the works of Abel and Scorsese. He captures the section of Little Italy as it gets ready for a Saint’s festival. This is great for old guys talking dirty.

Trailer (0:32) promises a drill in your chest!

Audio commentary by director and star Abel Ferrara from London. He’s interiewed by Brad Stevens (author of Abel Ferrara: The Moral Vision) keeps the talk going. Abel remembers how they made the camera dollie for the opening scene. He points out the places that are gone. The apartment was his place of residence for 20 years.

Steelbook is available for a limited release of 2,500.

Arrow Video presents Driller Killer. Directed by: Abel Ferrara. Screenplay by: Nicholas St. John. Starring: Abel Ferrara, Carolyn Marz, Baybi Day, Harry Schultz and Alan Wynroth. Running Time: 96 minutes. Rated: Unrated. Released: December 13, 2016.

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