The Toolbox Murders

The Toolbox Murders rev The Toolbox Murders  (1978)    Cal-Am Artists/Horror-Thriller    RT: 93 minutes    Rated R (strong violence, gore, language, some sexuality, nudity)    Director: Dennis Donnelly    Screenplay: Ann Kindberg, Robert Easter and Neva Friedenn    Music: George Deaton    Cinematography: Gary Graver    Release date: March 3, 1978 (US)    Cast: Cameron Mitchell, Pamelyn Ferdin, Wesley Eure, Nicolas Beauvy, Tim Donnelly, Aneta Corsaut, Faith McSwain, Marciee Drake, Evelyn Guerrero, Kelly Nichols.    Box Office: N/A

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 How can I ever forget a movie with a title as cool as The Toolbox Murders? It came out when I was 10 and I didn’t even bother asking to see it. I knew the answer would be a hard “NO!” It was definitely an OMDB (Over My Dead Body) title. I didn’t get to see it until I found a copy for $4.99 at K-Mart in ’91. It was one of those cheapie video cassettes recorded in EP mode. Both the sound and picture quality were bad. What I found most disappointing was that the movie didn’t live up to its awesome title. That’s often the case with movies with great titles. Look at I Dismember Mama. The Toolbox Murders sounds like a bloody slasher flick and while it starts that way, it turns into a creepy psychological thriller in which the killer kidnaps a teenage girl and keeps her tied up.

the toolbox murders It all starts with a masked killer showing up at an apartment building and killing off female tenants with a variety of tools from his toolbox. One lady gets drilled. Another gets a hammer claw to the skull. One gets it with a screwdriver. Another gets nailed with a nail gun. The killer sneaks into an apartment where fifteen-year-old Laurie (Ferdin, The Beguiled) is doing her homework. He grabs and abducts her. The police question her older brother Joey (Beauvy, The Cowboys) who becomes frustrated and initiates his own investigation into her disappearance.

 Meanwhile, the killer is revealed to be Vance (Mitchell, Kill Point), the owner of the apartment building. He hasn’t been the same since his own daughter was killed in a car accident the year before. He’s gone insane. He’s filled with a psychotic religious fervor that drove him to kill “sinners”. He keeps Laurie bound and gagged in his daughter’s bedroom. We learn that he intends to turn Laurie into a surrogate for his late daughter.

 The two halves of The Toolbox Murders aren’t an easy fit. The shift from slasher flick to thriller is rather jarring. That’s not to say it doesn’t have its effective moments. A couple of creepy elements- e.g. incest- are introduced to the plot. While slightly unnerving, the second half is the weaker of the two. It’s saved by a campy performance from Mitchell who takes delusional to a different level. He babbles incoherently and sings off-key to his terrified victim. The actor carved out a nice niche for himself as a B-movie actor in the latter part of career with roles in low-budget exploitation flicks like Screamers, Silent Scream and Kill Point. Ferdin is pretty good as Laurie, a typical late 70s teen girl in a horrific situation. She doesn’t overact or anything like that.

 A subplot about Joey cleaning up the victim’s apartments with Vance’s nephew Kent (Eure, Land of the Lost) yields little in the way of surprise. Why introduce a character like Kent unless he becomes an integral part of the story? It’s no shock that he’s mentally unstable too. There’s a high degree of predictability in The Toolbox Murders. It’s not a great film but if you look at it as a grindhouse movie, it kind of works. I can see it being part of a triple bill at some grimy theater in Times Square. The gore scenes are cool. There’s also a scene of a woman pleasuring herself in a bathtub. Yes, you see boobs! This is for the teenage boys (of all ages) in the audience. Directed by Dennis Donnelly (his sole feature film), it has some pacing problems. It never really finds a consistent tone. Most of the acting is subpar. It’s not unwatchable though. Take it as it is and you might have a little bit of fun. I just wish there was more blood.

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