Sunday, 10 July 2011

Video Nasty #16 - The Driller Killer

In the hierarchy of the Video Nasties list, The Driller Killer takes one of the top slots. For Britain's moral guardians, that once-in-a-lifetime title and VIPCO's outrageously gruesome VHS sleeve perfectly encapsulated the scourge of Video Horror that was sweeping the nation...

The Driller Killer is usually cited as Abel Ferrara's first film, when in fact it was his second outing behind the camera, following his debut film in 1976, 9 Lives of a Wet Pussy, a hardcore porn flick. By the time shooting began in 1977, the original idea for The Driller Killer, about a night stalker killing the homeless of New York with a hammer and nails, had mutated into a story about a disturbed oil painting artist named Reno Miller who's solution for dealing with the pressure of artistic frustration, the threat of almost certain poverty and the loud punk rock band next door, involves killing off the city's derelicts with a portable drill...

Director Abel Ferrara as Reno, getting ready to paint another crimson canvas
It's not quite the heir apparent to Repulsion as some would have you believe (although it does make a visual pun on the Polanski film with the inclusion of a skinned rabbit), but seen in the context of the other films on the DPP list, Ferrara's film looks refreshingly out there, occupying its own idiosyncratic space somewhere between grindhouse and arthouse with its schlocky title, splashy gore and surreal dream sequences - all of it shot with a grungy, improvised, hard New York style that gives the film a powerful sense of immediacy. The film has a number of intriguing aspects that further distance itself from the slew of serial killer films from the late 70's, like Maniac and The Toolbox Murders - the film shows no actual violence towards women, an absolute rarity for the genre. Also the cutaways to the film's inhouse punk band The Roosters, with their three-chord garage minimalism, filmed at Max's Kansas City, makes The Driller Killer an important artifact from the punk era, alongside Jubilee, The Blank Generation, Liquid Sky and Smithereens.

Of the many DVD releases of The Driller Killer, Cult Epic's 2004 2-disc edition remains the best edition, with a fine 1.85 anamorphic transfer that correctly frames the film (unlike the disastrous French disc that cropped the lower part of the frame). Audio is a little weak on dialogue but good on music, and as the title card that prefigues the film suggests, "This film should be played loud". Disc 1 also includes Ferrara's now legendary rambling, self-deprecating audio commentary. The second disc of the set is devoted to some of Ferrara's early short films - Could This Be Love (1973), The Hold Up (1972), Nicky's Film (1971), (all with optional director commentary) as well as a trailer for Nine Lives of A Wet Pussy.


  1. As you say, Wes,if ever there was a film mis-sold by its advertising, title and reputation it has to be his one! God knows what the average video nasty punter made of this back in the early 1980s! Keep up the good work, Wes and have a great summer.

  2. This is another VHS flick I ALMOST rented several times - it was a big box release with the same picture as the one you have above. I'm sure I will somehow see it - I'm not avoiding it - but I'm not working hard to make it happen either.

  3. Craig, if anything see this one for Abel Ferrara in the lead role, as he's quite crazed and therefore fascinating in the lead role. Ms.45, made less than two years later looks so much more polished. This ties in more with music than film, but Driller Killer is one of the great NYC No-Wave films.