I find television very educating. Every time somebody turns on the set, I go into the other room and read a book. - Groucho Marx

Britain's Video Nasties: Driller Killer

by Sakunthala Panditharatne
July 27, 2012

Driller Killer is known for being a cult favourite, a low budget independent flick and a pretty gritty exploration of the New York punk aesthetic. It’s also known for being so violent that it was originally banned in Britain when it first came out in the 80s. One of a list of so-called “video nasties,” the British Board of Film Classification made it illegal to distribute the film in the UK until as recently as 2002. Strangely, no such outrage existed in the USA, where the film was reasonably well-received as an oddball horror film.

One explanation of the British public’s violent (excuse the pun!) reaction to the film may have been the big, full-page adverts the distributors took out in some of the UK’s favourite movie magazines. The big glossy pictures of a man with a drill through his forehead caused a lot more outrage than the film itself. In addition, Britain was in the habit of banning low-budget horror films from the USA, as well as from Italy. The practice of banning videos was so common in the 80s that four characters buying a VCR just to watch a video nasty was the plot of an episode of a prime-time sitcom, The Young Ones (the fictional video nasty was called “Sex With the Headless Corpse of the Virgin Astronaut”).  British punk band The Damned even dedicated a song to the practice, singing the lyrics “I fell in love with a video nasty.”

It’s debatable whether Driller Killer was actually as violent and obscene as the other video nasties, but it definitely wasn’t nice. It’s become a cult hit, not because of a riveting plot or great acting, but because it was stylish. In the same way Slacker (1991) captured the culture of Austin in 1991, Driller Killer is a horror movie set against the grittier culture of New York in 1977. Like Slacker, which was made as a summer art project about the director and the people he knew in Austin, Driller Killer must have had some connection to it’s director. Minus the whole serial killer thing, of course. Much of the film was shot in or around director Ferrara’s Union Square apartment, and it sometimes feels as if the film’s characters could have walked straight out of CGBGs. While Slacker’s tone was mellow and casually philosophical, Driller Killer’s was intense, angry and sarcastic.

However, Driller Killer isn’t just about the disaffected New York youth. For a non-vampire horror movie, it’s pretty unusual too see Catholic iconography in a thriller. It’s soundtrack is also surprisingly eclectic: it uses a weird combination of punk rock and Johannes Sebastian Bach. It’s a strange indie flick, to say the least.
Sakunthala Panditharatne is a maths student and pseudo-Bohemian loser. She spends maybe 80-90% of her time programming, writing and starting awesome projects, like her tumblr, theimaginaryhackathon.tumblr.com . The rest of the time she spends watching Malcolm in the Middle. She likes long, complicated novels and believes in the power of self-organization. Dave Eggers used to be her hero, but she’s kind of past that phase now.