Arrow Video brings Abel Ferrara’s amazing The Driller Killer back to life
In anticipation of Arrow Video’s Blu-ray release of New York filmmaker Abel Ferrara‘s signature ’70s film The Driller Killer, this writer reached out to the eccentric artist for an interview.
Here was our verbatim email exchange:
Me: Hey Abel! Would you have time this week for a chat about Driller Killer and your upcoming work?
Abel Ferrara: My films aren’t a slice of life, they’re a slice of cake. Hitchcock.
Me: Er, so, what does your week look like?
And that was that. I never heard back from him. Admittedly, I was amused buy the non-interview because it was a great Ferrara moment. His reputation as a bit of an “out there” dude is well recognized and such an anecdote fit perfectly within my conception of his myth. But then I got the check disc of The Driller Killer for review purposes and, well, I got it.
There would be no point whatsoever in interviewing the director about the movie. Because Arrow’s Blu-ray is the ultimate Ferrara/The Driller Killer experience. The man is on this thing from stem to stern and coming out of the back end, one emerges as an authority on the movie and all questions about the movie are answered.
But maybe you’re not even aware of The Driller Killer. Allow me to brief you.
When Ferrara was a failed rock star and art school kid bumming around New York in the early ’70s, he turned his attention to filmmaking, first making a stab at hardcore porn and then moving on to a post-Mean Streets and Taxi Driver, NYC-centric psychodrama about an artist (played by a lanky Ferrara himself under the phony name Jimmy Laine) pushed so far past his stress limit he picks up a drill and just stars-a-killing. With no money but with ample resources, Ferrara and his whack pack hit the streets and just went for it, sculpting a free-wheeling, experimental pulp meltdown filled with blood, sex, mania and tons and tons of sloppy rock and roll.
As Ferrara admits in the hilarious, insightful and totally berserk commentary (moderated by an amused and sometimes flustered Brad Stevens), “I woulda shot the director, if I went to a movie called The Driller Killer and…” He trails off but his sentiment refers to the fact that the actual murders don’t take place until almost an hour into the movie and those horror fans looking for a grindhouse body count shocker would be bound to be let down. But despite the fact that the film landed on the UK’s Video Nasty list, there’s so much more to The Driller Killer than gore and cheap thrills. Sure, when the shocks hit, they hit hard, but moreso because of the slow burn, skeezy build up. You can feel the pressure mount and you get lost in the grime and drugged-out desperation of the punk-era scene that these shallow, empty and drifting youths bump around in. As in all later Ferrara films, these elements and the underlying oppression of Catholic iconography gets so thick that the violence feels like a release. And here, as vulgar as the skillfully orchestrated murder sequences are, you genuinely feel good when that drill burrows into its screaming, bleeding victims. You become complicit in the character’s angst and you share his almost sexual tension-break when he transgresses. Most horror movies try to capture this voodoo, but so few do. The Driller Killer does this better than any film I’ve ever seen.
And again, that aforementioned feature-length commentary is a joy. Ferrara’s mind is like jazz, jumping from thought to thought, skipping from tangent to tangent, but it’s only chaotic on the surface, His through process is actually sharp and organized and he is always aware, always finding his way back to his original point. It’s fun to listen to Stevens suggest routes for the director to take, then just surrendering when Ferrara goes rogue and just riffs on what he wants to riff on and go where he wants to go. It’s gold. And the movie plays exactly like its creator’s brain functions. It has its own rhythm and feels totally authentic and lived in, which it is; Ferrara didn’t make sets for his glam miscreants to move around in, he just invaded habitats and took over. You feel that. And it feels great.
Also on the disc is an even more crazed new on-camera interview with the director where he just loosely jumps around from unfinished anecdote to unfinished anecdote. The man is not a linear storyteller. He’s an impressionist painter using words and memories as colors on his palette. Wild stuff.
Arrow includes two cuts of the film, the shorter theatrical film and the full pre-release version, an insightful video essay with writer Alexandra-Heller Nicholas examining Ferrara’s work and an amazing feature length doc Ferrara made about the Mullberry St. area of New York, where The Driller Killer and many of his subsequent movies are shot and take place.
I love Abel Ferrara. And I love The Driller Killer. And even if you haven’t seen it, you will love it too after diving deep into this amazing package.