The Driller Killer 2-Disc Special Edition (Blu-ray Review)

dk squareThe blood runs in rivers and the drilling keeps tearing through flesh and bone…now all on Blu-ray!  In career that has encompassed such controversial classics as Ms. 45, Bad Lieutenant and King of New York, none of Abel Ferrara’s films have quite managed to match the shock, extremity and downright notorious nature of The Driller Killer and now the infamous drill-in-head sleeve cover flick is hitting shelves with a special 2-Disc Edition from Arrow Video on Dec. 13.  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…Forget Taxi Driver, The Warriors and The New York RipperThe Driller Killer is the definitive look at NYC’s underbelly – a slasher that is as much at home in the arthouse as it is the grindhouse.  This new 2 Disc-Special Edition Blu-ray features a brand new 4K restoration from the original camera negative and includes both a presentation of the never-before-seen Pre-Release Version and the Original Theatrical Cut both with uncompressed PCM Mono Audio.  Extras include an Audio Commentary by director and star Abel Ferrara moderated by Brad Stevens (author of Abel Ferrara: The Moral Vision), also the featurettes Laine and Abel: An Interview with the Driller Killer with a brand-new interview with Ferrara, Willing and Abel: Ferraraology 101, a new visual essay guide to the films and career of Ferrara by Alexandra Heller-Nicholas, author of Cultographies: Ms. 45, Mulberry St., Ferrara’s feature-length 2010 documentary portrait of the New York location that has played a key role in his life and work and an Original Trailer.

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Prior to seeing the film in this 4K restoration Blu-ray, I’m ashamed to admit I had never actually watched The Driller Killer.  Not that I’m not a huge admirer of the work of famed oddball indie director Abel Ferrara who has made some of my all time favorite films (see Ms. 45, King of New York, Bad Lieutenant and Body Snatchers to name a few!), but the closest I had come to seeing The Driller Killer was merely glancing at the famed drill-in-head VHS cover while browsing the shelves with my overprotective parents.  So after all these years was it worth the wait?  Does this gory looking late 70’s slasher live up to the grotesque cover that truly haunted me as a kid?  And most importantly does this initial outing hold up against the cache of fine Ferrara work that followed? Read On.

Reno is a struggling artist living in New York City in the late 1970’s who is both low on inspiration and low on funds.  The woman he lives with is a cold and demanding gal, the new tenants downstairs are a rock band with an affinity for constantly practicing very loud and his latest painting is taking way longer than normal.  Coming to a head and reaching his breaking point the tortured painter dons battery belt and hand held drill and heads out in search of a little mayhem.

The above description comes at The Driller Killer from a very structured point of view, but the actual film is anything but.  More an incohesive avant-garde music video than a horror film, The Driller Killer can seemingly only be appreciated on an experimental level – and even then it’s a long haul.  Long dull scenes of Ferrara’s unruly and unsightly Reno (kind of an uncharismatic Vincent Gallo type character!) eating pizza with wild abandon and fighting with live-in girlfriends with a few memorable kills (which BTW don’t start until the twenty-seven minute mark!) thrown in between (yes, the ‘through the bus shelter glass drill down’ is cool!) is hardly the swan song of the man who made the provocative from beginning to end hidden gem The Addiction.  It does have oddities that make it stand out from the myriad of slice and dice 80’s fare, but frankly none are very good notables.

Seeing the film almost makes me wish I hadn’t, as there was more than enough visceral images flying through my head due to a creepy cover than there is in the actual film itself.  A flick given elevation in an oversaturated genre due to being different does not a classic make – some films are better left unwatched.  (This review serves for both the Pre-Release Version and the Original Theatrical Cut!)

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Encoding: MPEG-4 AVC

Resolution: 1080p

Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1 / 1.37:1

Clarity/Detail: The kills and thrills (depending on your own critique!) are pretty clear, but with a late 70’s grain that keeps it grounded.

Depth: Some in the more artistic and night shots.

Black Levels: Fiercely represented with most of the film mired in dark tones.

Color Reproduction: Not a ton of bright colors and those that do appear are appropriately muted.

Flesh Tones: When nudity rears it’s Abel Ferrara head the colors are always crisp and clean. (Go figure!)

Noise/Artifacts: Clean.

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Audio Formats(s): English Uncompressed Mono PCM Audio

Subtitles: English SDH

Dynamics: This being a music heavy flick with the initial screen direction of “This Film Should Be Played Loud” there are plenty of highs.

Low Frequency Extension: There’s a slight ambiance in the quiet street scenes before the drill comes out to play.

Surround Sound Presentation: Nobody likes a drill all around them – front and center!

Dialogue Reproduction: Slightly muted, but that’s most likely due to bad recording on set!

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The Driller Killer 2-Disc Special Edition Blu-ray/DVD comes with both the never-before-seen Pre-Release Version and the Original Theatrical Cut both from a brand new 4K restoration from the original camera negative, plus a Reversible sleeve featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by the Twins of Evil and a Collector’s booklet featuring new writing by Michael Pattison and Brad Stevens.

Audio Commentary

  • With Director and Star Abel Ferrara and moderated by Brad Stevens author of Abel Ferrara: The Moral Vision (It’s truly fun listening to Stevens heap high brow praise on the film and Ferrara knocking his own flick back down to base levels!)

Laine and Abel: An Interview with The Driller Killer (SD, 17:31) – A sit down with still the odd and eerie Abel Ferrara who cites past influential scares (Bambi?!), talks questionable crew (his producer also made Debbie Does Dallas!) and casting himself as the lead Driller Killer (“it’s not like we’re looking for Laurence Olivier!”) – interesting indeed.

Willing and Abel: Ferraraology 101 (SD, 34:19) – A tasty new doc that serves as a guide to the films (dude made a porno called 9 Lives of a Wet P@ssy!), career (he directed two Miami Vice episodes!) and life of Abel written and narrated by Alexandra Heller-Nicholas – a love letter to all things Ferrara.

Mulberry St. (SD, 1:27:52) – Ferrara’s full length 2010 doc that serves as a love letter to all things New York City that’s as wild and interesting as you would expect from the filmmaker of Bad Lieutenant.

Original Trailer (SD, 0:32)

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If you’re a fan of the film, this set is for you.  The film looks decent, sounds loud and has enough extras and artwork to make your genre loving friends jealous.  But for me I’m sticking with the original VHS cover, putting it one shelf and never watching again – it will keep the mystique intact for me forever.

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I'm a passionate and opinionated film critic/movie journalist with over 20 years of experience in writing about film - now exclusively for WhySoBlu.com. Previous sites include nine years at Starpulse.com where I created Forgotten Friday Flick back in 2011, before that as Senior Entertainment Editor for The213.net and 213 Magazine, as well as a staff writer for JoBlo.com. My other love is doing cool events for the regular guy with my company Flicks For Fans alongside my friend, partner and Joblo.com writer James "Jimmy O" Oster. Check us out at www.Facebook.com/FlicksForFans.

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