A mere 30 years ago, The Toolbox Murders was considered so shocking and controversial that it was banned in the UK. Sadly for the Blue Underground marketing department, that ban ended ten years ago – there’s not much cache in announcing “A movie so shocking it was banned for a while some years ago!” But truth be told, this movie still has some kick to it. Not a whole lot – much of it plays as a sort of TV melodrama – but enough to warrant a look if you’re a fan of the exploitation.
A rash of brutal murders occur in a California apartment complex, carried out by a ski-masked man carting around a toolbox. And he dispatches each victim with a different tool. These days, with all our criminal profiling shows, we know this would never happen in a million years, but in 1978, maybe serial killers switched up their m.o.’s all the time. Regardless, several murders happen right off the bat – the lunatic goes from one apartment to another, slipping in unseen and hammering or nail-gunning his way through the occupants, usually (and unusually) to the strains of late ’70s soft rock. For some reason, one young resident named Laurie (Pamelyn Ferdin) is kidnapped instead of killed.
The cops are called in, including one particularly incompetent detective, Jamison (Tim Donnelly), who seems to spend most of the movie with the victims’ friends, saying things along the lines of “Well, I’ve got nothing. Who do you think did it?” And when someone suggest who might’ve done it, as Laurie brother Joey (Nicolas Beauvy) does, it is met with a resistance. Oh well – guess it’s up to Joey to find out who this masked madman is.
There’s no real tension to this part of the plot, sadly, as it is crystal clear who the killer is the moment he shows up on screen (just for giggles, I won’t spoil it for you). What is less clear is why he’s doing it, though this is taken care of in an extra long scene where he pours his heart out to Laurie, who has been gagged and tied to a bed. The explanation is entirely goofy and played for the cheap seats, which turns out to be the perfect tone for the movie – if you’re insane in The Toolbox Murders, you act insane, dammit!
There are some nice twists to the story as it wraps up that take it to a suitably dark and over-the-top place. Cameron Mitchell as Kingsley, the apartment handyman, just chews the crap out of the scenery – whatever they paid him, it wasn’t nearly enough. Other than that, the acting tends to be on par with most exploitation cinema and neither lowers nor elevates the material. It is what it is, and if it’s your cup of tea, you may well ask for another.
The film is presented in 1.66:1 anamorphic widescreen 1080p and looks quite sharp for a 30-year-old grindhouse movie. Details disappear in darker scenes, but overall the look is great. The audio is presented in English 7.1 DTS-HD and English 5.1 Dolby Digital Surround EX, English Original Mono, with English, French and Spanish subtitles. All tracks tend to sound distorted in louder sections, but they do the job.
Audio Commentary with Producer Tony Didio, DP Gary Graver and star Pamelyn Ferdin – Pretty interesting stuff, hearing from the people who know about the filmmaking climate back in the day. An informative commentary that has everything you could possibly want to know about this movie.
I Got Nailed in THE TOOLBOX MURDERS – Interview with star Marianne Walter – Not a half bad interview with the actress/model who gets taken down with a nail gun in the opening of the movie. Apparently the written sequence was much shorter, but on set, with Walter completely nude and being chased around the apartment by the killer, the makers decided this scene deserved more screen time. (8:00)
Theatrical Trailer – (2:19)
TV Spot – (0:30)
Radio spots – (both 0:30)
The Toolbox Murders won’t let exploitation fans down. If this is your genre, you should own this.
Blue Underground presents The Toolbox Murders. Directed by: Dennis Donnelly. Starring: Cameron Mitchell, Pamelyn Ferdin, Wesley Eure. Written by: Robert Easter and Ann N. Kindberg. Running time: 94min.. Rating: Not Rated. Released on DVD: January 26, 2010. Available at Amazon.com.
Tags: Blue Underground, horror