The Toolbox Murders (1977)
By: CJ on September 16, 2002  |  Comments  |  Bookmark and Share
Blue Underground (USA). All Regions, NTSC. 1.66:1 (16:9 enhanced). English DD 2.0 Mono. 94 minutes
The Movie
Director: Dennis Donnelly
Starring: Cameron Mitchell, Pamelyn Ferdin, Wesley Eure and Nicolas Beauvy
Screenplay: Neva Friedenn, Robert Easter and Ann Kindberg
Music: George Deaton
Tagline: 'Bit by bit…by bit...he carved a nightmare'
Country: USA
Calling all DIY fanatics! Now this is how to get the most out of the implements of that toolbox of yours, and director Dennis Donnelly amply illustrates how.

Joking aside, The Toolbox Murders is one of the first releases from the newly formed DVD house Blue Underground, a company run by none other than Bill Lustig, who used to work for Anchor Bay (and may well still). The disc itself is a gem, perfectly remastered with a handful of extras. To all intents and purposes, this looks just like an AB disc with a Blue Underground motif. Not that that's a bad thing, because when AB are good - they're very good. And this disc definitely falls into that category.

But what about the film? Is it any good? Well, good may be the wrong word to use here as it's hardly a cinematic masterpiece (since when has that bothered us?), but for sheer entertainment value it scores top marks.

The premise is very basic and will hardly strain the grey matter (though the ending was a bit muddled). A block of apartments, which is home to lots of pretty young girls, becomes the target of a maniacal killer who uses the utensils in his toolbox for homicidal purposes. The film wastes no time in setting the scene by throwing us straight into a succession of grisly and brutal murders, the most notorious being the nailgun slaying - which is, admittedly, pretty grim stuff. But hey! If you're not going to kill people with your tools - what use are they? Though I had to laugh at the fact that when we first see the ski-masked killer he's having trouble getting the thing on straight and ends up looking out with both eyes through one hole.

After doing some bloody DIY on these ladies, the final victim, Laurie Ballard (Pamelyn Ferdin), is abducted rather than killed. The story then spirals into the hunt for the missing girl, with the girl's brother, Joey Ballard (Nicolas Beauvy), and the Landlord's nephew, Kent Kingsley (Wesley Eure), making their own enquiries. We are then shown the Landlord, Ben Kingsley (Cameron Mitchell), holding the girl captive, apparently she is a replacement for his daughter who was killed in a car accident. Ben rambles incessantly about how evil the world is and how it must be rid of those sinful women. From this point on, the film wanders slowly to its conclusion with a twist or two along the way.

Although not as gory or blood-soaked as its title (or reputation) suggests, there are still some pretty nasty moments. The nailgun murder is quite brutal, as is the clawhammer sequence, but the violence is not relentless and slows after the first half-hour. However, Mitchell manages to sustain the viewers' interest with his over-the-top, self-righteous and maniacal performance - worth the admission price alone in my opinion. Nicolas Beauvy as Joey Ballard gives a rather half-soaked performance that lacks any enthusiasm for the role whereas Wesley Eure gives a startling performance as Kent Kingsley. The cast is variable, actually, ranging from pretty good to fairly bad.

Having said all that, the film works extremely well on its own terms and director Dennis Donnelly manages to present a film that although sleazy and cheesy is also highly entertaining - with its fair share of nasty violence. The main problem with the film overall is that all the grisly action is packed into the first half-hour and then trickles away to nothing, until the end. The violent set pieces might have worked better if they had been evenly spread throughout the course of the film.

So, good film or bad? I wouldn't say it's a particularly good film, but it's 100% entertainment for lovers of trash cinema. Also, considering it was made in 1977, it's an obvious forerunner of the forthcoming American slasher cycle, which peaked in the early to mid-eighties. There are many elements in the film which would appear to have influenced later films of this ilk. Don't forget also that this film was inspired to inception by the re-release of The Texas Chain Saw Massacre. So we could tentatively say that the roots of the modern American horror film started with TCM. But that's mere speculation, of course.

Trash film lovers - grab yourself a copy of this! You'll love it. Where else will you get to see bathtime female masturbation followed by a vicious nailgun attack??

Right, I'm off to pick up a toolbox for myself.
Blue Underground have done a remarkable job in restoring and presenting this film on DVD. The image is sharp, clean and free from any visible defects. As I've already said, it has the look and feel of a top-notch AB disc. There'll be no disappointments regarding the quality of this transfer, I assure you.
An English mono audio track is provided, but it's surprisingly good. The dialogue is audible and clear throughout and the wonderful music score sounds fantastic. No hiss, popping or crackling and the sound is well balanced. No complaints here.
Extra Features
A handful of extras are on the disc. These include a fascinating on-camera interview with Marianne Walter - the girl who is nailgunned to death in the film. She makes some interesting observations on the film and is well worth a watch. It's also surprising to learn that she went from this to working in the adult film industry, and she decries the complaints of feminist groups who abhor this type of film. Nice one Marianne! We love you! Next up is the audio commentary with Tony Didio, Gary Graver and Pamelyn Ferdin. It's nice to see that Blue Underground took the time and trouble to assemble them for a commentary. Worth a listen if you want to know more about the film. Then there are a theatrical trailer, TV and radio spots, a picture gallery and a Cameron Mitchell Bio. A very nice package overall, good work guys. I did hunt around for any Easter Eggs - but so far have found none.
The Verdict
Not a great film by any means, but the entertainment value of Mitchell's mad performing and the brutal murders early on in the film more than make up for any shortcomings it might have. I was thoroughly entertained from start to finish - which makes it a worthwhile purchase in my opinion. I don't think this will be to everyone's taste, but for those like me (you know who you are!), it's pure class.
Movie Score
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