Abel Ferrara's grindhouse/arthouse debut THE DRILLER KILLER splatters the Blu-ray format in standard and limited steelbook combos from Arrow Video USA.
Laboring over perfecting his masterpiece at the expense of the rent and the telephone bill, avant-garde artist Reno Miller's (director Ferrara under the pseudonym Jimmy Laine) fragile ego is further eroded by his girlfriend Carol (Carolyn Marz) having to spend her alimony – and possibly resorting to prostitution as an alternative to Reno bending over for art dealer Dalton (Harry Schultz) whose critical approval he craves – to keep them afloat. When Carol's live-in lesbian lover Pam (model Baybi Day) is instrumental in moving punk band "The Roosters" into the apartment upstairs, their constant rehearsals and vulgar display of material success drive Reno to lash out against the city's derelict population as substitutes for his mentally-ill father (who has also possibly been living among the city's homeless if he is still alive at all). When Dalton rejects his masterpiece outright and Carol leaves him for her ex-husband (Richard Howarth), Reno brings his murderous urges closer to home. Seemingly as much inspired by REPULSION as TAXI DRIVER, THE DRILLER KILLER sounds like and looks like grindhouse fodder but caters as much to the arthouse with its deeply personal characterization of both protagonist and its sense of place. The gritty pre-Giuliani New York of THE DRILLER KILLER is organic both to Reno's creativity and his psychosis, also spawning characters as varied as The Roosters' lead singer Tony Coca-Cola (D.A. Metrov) and Reno's simultaneously sleazy and nebbish building super (Alan Wynroth). Ferrara's preoccupations with religion are given voice here as he violently rejects a meeting in a church with a derelict who claims to be his father and crucifies another with drill bits later in the film.
Released on home video in the early 1980s by Charles Band's Wizard Video and then in the mid-1980s by Magnum Entertainment, THE DRILLER KILLER was then the recipient of two problematic DVD editions from Cult Epics. The first was a single disc edition with "free association" commentary by Ferrara over an old fullscreen master while the second two-disc limited edition boasted more interesting extras but the new letterboxed transfer was non-anamorphic although less-featured discs overseas carried over the commentary with a newer anamorphic transfer. Arrow's dual-territory release – available in both standard and limited steelbook combos – presents the film on Blu-ray in four versions: the theatrical cut (95:52) and the pre-release version (100:59) through seamless branching in two separate unmatted 1.37:1 and 1.85:1 encodes. The additions are interesting but not really necessary, including a shot preceding the disorienting first shot in the theatrical version in which the nun explains why she contacted Reno (information reiterated by Carol in the subsequent taxi scene), as well as a scene preceding Reno's visit to Dalton in which he reluctantly accepts some cash from Carol. Transferred from the original 16mm A/B roll negatives, THE DRILLER KILLER is still gritty and grainy as before, but with an enhanced sense of texture and vibrancy of color, as well as some close-ups that really pop compared the earlier transfers (notably, poor Pam as she tries to comprehend the bloody drill bit sticking out of the apartment door late in the film). The LPCM 1.0 mono is cleaner – with the scoring and punk music as grating as ever – and optional English SDH subtitles are available for both versions.
The theatrical version is accompanied by a brand new commentary by Ferrara, moderated by Brad Stevens (author of ABEL FERRARA: THE MORAL VISION), who establishes that the film is virtually a documentary on the life of Metrov who created Reno's paintings and co-wrote several of the film's songs with Ferrara before embarking on his own writing career (his only filmed feature screenplay would be SOLARBABIES but he has continued making short films and writing young adult novels). They discuss New York as it was during the filming, changes that occurred in between the ten month shooting gap (with mention of DP Ken Kelsch's resentment that another photographer was brought on for some of the shoot), and the apartment setting where Ferrara would live for twenty years. "Laine and Abel" (17:31) is a brand new interview that cover much of the same ground in a less focused manner as Ferrara discusses his childhood and friendship with screenwriter N.G. St. John (THE FUNERAL), his extended stay in college film programs both to get access to equipment and stay out of Vietnam, and the UK exchange program that enabled him to shoot 35mm sync sound and make a short for the BBC. He touches upon his actual feature debut NINE LIVES OF A WET PUSSY – porn, like horror, being a cheap way to get into filmmaking with a good chance of obtaining distribution for the finished product – and the influence of TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE on THE DRILLER KILLER. He reveals that he originally wanted singer David Johansen of New York Dolls for the lead but could not expect him or any other actors to adhere to his schedule of weekend shoots for who knows how long. He surmises the film as a "good warmup" to his subsequent work.
The visual essay "Willing & Abel: Ferraraology 101" (34:19) by Alexandra Heller-Nicholas traces the themes of class, poverty, substance abuse, religion, and desperation through his entire filmography from his early short films through his lesser-seen more recent works like R-XMAS, MARY, GO-GO TALES, NAPOLI, WELCOME TO NEW YORK (his take on the Strauss-Kahn scandal), and his PASOLINI biopic. More than just a clip filmography, it makes a case for the carryover of his themes in his more mainstream TV work like MIAMI VICE and CRIME STORY where he developed and honed his craft for action filmmaking, while also making a case for re-viewings of CAT CHASER (the original three hour cut of which has been screened at festivals), DANGEROUS GAME (disparaged by Madonna despite likely being her best acting work), THE BLACKOUT, and NEW ROSE HOTEL. The feature-length documentary MULBERRY ST. (87:52) following the director around the street where his career began in 1975 as the neighborhood prepares for the Feast of San Gennaro, showing Ferrara mingling with restauranteurs, shop owners, workers, artists, and entertainers throughout the day and night. Actor Matthew Modine (VISION QUEST) makes an appearance – which leads to a roundtable discussion of the reason why MARY remains undistributed as well as some out-of-earshot comments by friends and partners on the director's lack of business sense in regard to the rights of BAD LIEUTENANT – and Ferrara drops in on Danny Aiello while he is preparing for an appearance and they discuss his collaboration with Spike Lee on DO THE RIGHT THING and the difference between authorship and improvisation. The short theatrical trailer (0:32) is also included. Not supplied for review was the reversible sleeve featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by the Twins of Evil, and the collector’s booklet featuring new writing by Michael Pattison and Brad Stevens included with the first pressing. The release is also available in a limited edition steelbook edition. (Eric Cotenas)
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