Video Nasties (part 3)

Posted: March 31, 2009 in Films, The Horror
Tags: , , ,

Whilst some may scoff at the idea that a society can be improved by banning horror films, the British Department of Public Prosecutions saw things differently, and in 1984 outlawed the ditribution of 39 films. Now they are readily available on DVD and violent crime is perceived to be spiralling out of control. Coincidence? So today, how many of the 39 are truly likely to deprave and corrupt? Find out in…



dkoriginalThe Driller Killer (1979) is widely revered as video nasty royalty, possibly the best known of the 39, with the bloodied bearded face of the iconic VHS sleeve enticing a generation to stare longingly into video store frontage. Vilified by the media, the film became tabloid legend and in 1990 it’d be scoring a perfect 10. However, the film was to become a victim of its own infamy, as casual viewers watched the video re-release and TV showings through the 90s. They would soon wander what the fuss was about, and why such a film should be banned. Hoping for 90 minutes of gory cheap thrills, and getting something more akin to Scorsese-lite, the curious left disappointed. The truth was out. 8/10 

The Toolbox Murders (1977) saw little outrage here, although the UK DVD release quietly lacks the 1m46s cut from it’s 2000 BBFC submission. Much more publicity was had in the US, though, for its apparently misogynistic violence. Covered on mainstream TV shows such as 60 Minutes and Donahue, the marketing was spot on. The cash-in chain was completed by a remake in 2004. 5/10

DVD editions

2008’s uncut UK edition of The Driller Killer features an alright transfer of the film, along with a commentary by, and shoddy filmography of, director Abel Ferrara. A cheap package, the sleeve looks like it was knocked up in Photoshop in somebody’s lunch break. Ferrara fans will prefer the double US DVD featuring his early short films, but it is a relatively expensive collector’s item. 2/5

Blue Underground have lovingly restored The Toolbox Murders, and reunited various members of cast and crew for decent extras. Forget the truncated UK Vipco release. 4/5

The Films

The Driller Killer is more interesting than your average slasher, featuring a charismatic lead played by a young Ferrara, who would go on to make such films as The King of New York (1990), Dangerous Game (1993) amongst many others, even directing a couple of episodes of Miami Vice. Temperamental artist Reno, driven insane by lack of money and a rock band moving in upstairs, buys a Porto-Pak (an amusingly TV advertised battery back-pack) for his electric drill and goes on a rampage against New York’s homeless population. In a change from most films featuring oil paintings, Reno’s look to be genuinely brilliant, leaving one not quite sure whether he’s your usual loser artist, as the script would suggest, or some kind of visionary. In one particularly manic episode Reno addresses his girlfriend (who criticises the time he is taking over a haunting bison study) thus;

“Since when did you become such an expert on painting? What do you know about painting anyway? I’ll tell you what you know about painting, man. You don’t know nothin’ about painting, man. You know what you know about? You know how to bitch, and how to eat, and how to bitch and how to shit. But you don’t know nothin’ about painting!”

Lots of fun, this type of dialogue is not standard video nasty fare, and indicative of Ferrara’s work to come in the brilliant Bad Lieutenant (1992). He clearly had much more interest in the likes of  Taxi Driver (1976) and Mean Streets (1973) than anything from the horror genre. Despite such flourishes, though, The Driller Killer remains a fundamentally slow experience due to long periods with little action and sloppy editing. Had it played as a 45-60 minute short it would’ve been great, but then perhaps Ferrara would’ve been denied his break, and the world his subsequent work. 5/10

The Toolbox Murders is undiluted exploitation trash, made to cash-in on the success of the vastly superior (and not banned) Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974), which producer Tony DiDio claims he would not watch unless he was “being paid.” A red and white-striped balaclava wearing Cameron Mitchell (a Hollywood star before turning to low budget films and alcohol) kills women for the first half hour, before the film mutates into a god-awful teen detective drama, with script and plotting reminiscent of a poor episode of Quincy. The makers evidently remain cynical as ever; on the commentary star Pamelyn Ferdin gushes over Mitchell’s performance, despite earlier admitting to never having watched the completed film. 3/10


Porto-Pak at the ready, the lovable Reno drills out a handful of hobos, with a few visible holes and bright blood splatters. 4/10 

Murders from the toolbox: Battery powered electric drill (Porto-less, with a flexible bit) 5/10. Claw hammer 4/10. Philip’s headed screwdriver 3/10. Nail gun (administered to woman masturbating in bath) 6/10. Glove (suffocation) 1/10. Mark deducted for nothing happening for 45 minutes and re-added for the ending gives us an average of 4/10.


“THIS FILM SHOULD BE PLAYED LOUD” heralds a static screen at the start of The Driller Killer. Doing so reveals a lot of background hiss. Some nice antique synths score the killings, and there is extensive footage of punk band The Roosters, who play the kind of bad-Blondie much loved by NYC locals. One of the songs is very reminiscent of the B52’s Planet Claire(1979), which is also takes the bassline from Henry Mancini’s theme from Peter Gunn (1958). 3/5

No such interest for The Toolbox Murders – just mundane title music and minimal scoring. 1/5



The Driller Killer may not live up to the controversy or bloody promise of the title, but it stands as an interesting early work of a great film maker-to-be. The Toolbox Murders was made purely for financial gain, and while the first half hour may bounce along merrilly baiting the censors, the cynicism of the film’s remainder still leaves one feeling short changed even 32 years after it was made.




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