Another serious contender for the title of ‘The Most Controversial Video Nasty’ (the film shared that title with The Evil Dead).
And whilst the film does have its shocking moments of lurid horror (yes involving an electric drill) this is more a slow and meticulous study into alienation, the descent into madness and mental illness amidst a gritty 70s New York backdrop. File this movie more under ‘arthouse’ than ‘video nasty’.
Reno is an artist living in an apartment but finding it hard to survive on next to no money with bills arriving and his utilities about to be switched off. He lives there with his two girlfriends (how very bohemian!) and is regularly disturbed in his work and his sleep by the punk (or at least they think they’re punk) band living in the same apartment block. He goes out of his apartment to witness the violence on the street (on one such occasion he witnesses a stabbing) and also watch the homeless (he is seen drawing them in one scene).
This film is like Roman Polanski’s Repulsion transported to 70’s New York. The slow journey into madness is there for all to see- the film even shares the motif of the skinned rabbit with Repulsion. Director Abel Ferrera does an amazing job of depicting the slow building tension that eventually explodes.
It was the film’s UK VHS cover that sparked the controversy in the early 80s. The lurid and graphic artwork was designed to entice the viewer into renting the film whilst it competed with other lurid video cover artwork that also wanted to catch the browsers eye. Initially this backfired- the film was held up by Mary Whitehouse and Graham Bright as some kind of totem regarding the filth that the proles could get their hands on and watch in the privacy of their own homes. Conversely though this worked in the film’s favour- the film was given a platform and free publicity.
And it deserved it- its a great movie. This isn’t all blood and guts but a great character piece. It also serves as a great time capsule of a New York that is long gone. A New York that was on the verge of bankruptcy, is crime ridden and a place of real danger (check out the scene where Reno sees that his friend is sleeping rough. They are suddenly interrupted by a stampede of youths running riot on the streets who they hide from). It also captures the music scene of New York at the time- punk turning into No Wave/New Wave. There is even a trip into Max’s Kansas City.
Mary Whitehouse didn’t want you to see this. Arrow Video have just announced the release of a 4K Blu ray. This I can’t wait for. The film is finally getting the kind of restoration that it deserves after spending far too long in Public Domain limbo. The film’s legacy will now continue to grow.
And I’ll always side with Arrow Video over SS Whitehouse when it comes to film.
You can buy Arrow’s edition of Driller Killer HERE
4 out of 5..