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The Driller Killer Blu-Ray Review [2]

December 14, 2016 | Posted by Joseph Lee
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The Driller Killer Blu-Ray Review [2]  

*Abel Ferrara as Reno Miller
*Carolyn Marz as Carol Slaughter
*Baybi Day as Pamela
*Harry Schultz as Dalton Briggs
*Alan Wynroth as Al the Landlord

Story: Abel Ferrara plays struggling artist Reno, a man pushed to the edge by the economic realities of New York living in the late seventies and the No Wave band practicing in the apartment below. His grip on reality soon begins to slip and he takes to stalking the streets with his power tool in search of prey…

The Driller Killer is not a film for everybody. It’s a film that is too violent for those seeking a proper arthouse movie and not violent enough for those looking for exploitation. The film is perhaps best known for its VHS cover, which many (including the director) believe is the only reason it wound up on the UK’s “Video Nasties” list. It’s one of those movies that’s considered grotesque by reputation, but hasn’t been seen by as many as its cult status would suggest.

The film follows Ferrara (under the pseudonym Jimmy Laine) as Reno Miller. He’s a struggling artist in New York who is barely making ends meet. Between the pressure of the bills, finishing his latest piece and the nonstop rehearsing of a band on another floor, it’s enough to drive someone insane. Which is exactly what happens, as Reno begins to kill the homeless with an electric drill.

The first thing you’ll notice about The Driller Killer, especially if you haven’t seen it before, is how raw it is. The film was shot on a shoestring budget and it shows, but it benefits from using the guerrilla filmmaking techniques exploitation filmmakers tended to use. It has the real life locations of New York. It uses a real New York apartment for the bulk of its setting. So while it’s clearly a low budget movie, it also has an authentic feel to it that only helps.

Ferrara also gives a strong performance as the lead. While he can come off as a little untested and wooden at times, he still gives an intense showing. You can buy that Reno could lose his mind because he already seems like he’s on the verge of it. Of course, he’s also written to be an unlikable loser but that doesn’t take away fro Ferrara’s intensity. He really throws himself into it, which is appreciated in movies like this. Far too often exploitation films of this nature go through the motions.

The Driller Killer is still a mixed bag, however. The gritty look and feel is great. Ferrara’s performance is pitch perfect most of the time. However, the script and the editing are huge flaws. First of all, not a single character in this film is one you really want to spend any time with. There’s no one to root for, no one to enjoy watching and no one to be interested in. It doesn’t help when Ferrara is the only person at least trying to give a notable performance. Several of his co-stars seem like they’re sleepwalking through the whole thing.

The script and editing join forces for a film that’s all over the place. Performances from a punk band take up roughly a good third of the film and are interspersed with the rest of the scenes at random. There are moments that are brought up once and have no bearing on the rest of the film (such as the opening in the church or Reno’s exploits making the paper). Even Reno’s killings seem random, as he dive into insanity happens spontaneously forty minutes in.

The film is a character study more than it is a slasher film, but it’s a weak character study. Intensity only goes so far and even a good performance can wear thin when the character isn’t someone we want to follow. Travis Bickle was captivating even if he was similarly flawed. Even when Reno begins to kill people, it’s just another thing he does. Only at the end does the plot get interesting and by that point the movie abruptly ends with no resolution.

The Driller Killer is a movie that should be a lot better than it. It has the elements to be a low-budget exploitation version of Taxi Driver but instead wallows too long in its filth to really mean anything. As it is, it’s a mildly interesting look into the early filmography of an acclaimed director. It has flashes of a good film in there, but it’s almost engulfed by clumsy editing, wooden acting and gore scenes that don’t live up to the promise of the image that caused an uproar over thirty years ago.

Film: 5.0

Arrow Video presents the film with LPCM Mono. The soundtrack is mostly noise, which doesn’t help the already frustrating audio. It’s not a fault of Arrow, as the movie sounded fairly bad to begin with. But it still makes for an irritating watch when the sound goes between too quiet to hear dialogue or too noisy to pay attention to.

Audio: 5.0

It holds up a bit better in the video department. This movie is in the public domain, so if you’ve ever seen it on one of those multi-film packs you know this is the best it’s ever looked. Once again, any faults are from the budget of the source material. Arrow does a commendable job cleaning it up, allowing the color to pop when it can while retaining the grimy look of the time period. It has an AVC-encoded 1080p transfer with either a 1.37:1 or 1.85:1 aspect ratio, depending on what you choose. Personally, I would go with the 1.85:1 to give it a more cinematic look but your mileage may vary.

Video: 7.0

Special Features

Pre-Release Version: A longer cut of the film with five extra minutes. It’s mostly just extended scenes but at least you have a more complete version of the film.

Audio Commentary with director Abel Ferrara: This commentary track is moderated by Brad Stevens. As Ferrara mentions, it’s really him doing the commentary. He has an interesting take on things and delivers some brutal honesty about how a lot of his film was made.

Laine and Abel: An Interview with the Driller Killer: If you didn’t get enough Abel in the commentary, this should help you out. It’s more of the same, a frank and honest interview about his career and the making of the film.

Willing and Abel: Ferrarology 101: A visual essay covering Ferrara’s entire career with criticism and trivia for each. There have been a couple of these on previous Arrow releases and they’re usually very interesting. This is no exception as you can see just how far Ferrara’s come. He’s worked with everyone from Asia Argento to Madonna.

Mulberry St: A documentary Ferrara shot in 2010 about locations that meant a lot to his film career in New York. Whether or not you’re a huge fan of his work will determine how much of this you can get through before you turn it off.

It also comes with a trailer.

If you’re a fan of The Driller Killer, just having a brand new cut should be reason enough to pick this up. But you also get Ferrara’s thoughts on the film and a bonus documentary that he directed. That’s an easy recommendation for fans, but it might be different if you’re just casually watching the film.

Special Features: 7.0

The final score: review Average
The 411
The Driller Killer benefits from an authentic, gritty feel and an intense lead performance, but the rest doesn't live up to its promise. It's ultimate a film that will be decided by the individual. Arrow Video's transfer is reasonable given the source material, with special features that provide two cuts of the film and the unedited thoughts of the director. Even with that in mind, this is recommended for fans only.

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The Driller Killer, Joseph Lee