The Toolbox Murders (1978)
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A series of bizarre murders begins taking place in a Hollywood apartment complex, and the victims are exclusively independent young women. Eventually (SPOILER ALERT), we come to realize that the murders are being committed by the hotel's manager (Cameron Mitchell), who is targeting "immoral" young women as his victims.
It seems that his daughter was killed in a car crash after having gotten involved in sex and drug related activities. He is now on a crusade to rid the world of women who have gone down a similar path. In a genuinely twisted subplot, he has become obsessed with a virginal girl in one of the apartments, whom he fantasizes as replacing his daughter. He kidnaps her and keeps her tied to his bed while he goes out and hammers and nail guns his victims.
It leads up to one of the most harrowing and unsettling finales I've ever seen in this type of movie. As you can tell, the plot itself is as sordid as one could have thought up. Although it isn't nearly as vile as, say CANNIBAL FEROX or I SPIT ON YOUR GRAVE, TOOLBOX MURDERS is the kind of slasher movie that makes me reluctantly understand women's groups denouncing the entire subgenre. I don't agree with them, but I can see their point when I watch the movie.
While there's no question that the movie is sexist, it never crosses the line into rampant misogyny. Even the movie's now infamous highlight, in which a nude woman is chased throughout her apartment by the nail-gun wielding killer, the victim manages to keep her cool and even tries to reason with the killer (albeit unsuccessfully) despite being in a most vulnerable position.
There is enough style to make things interesting and it moves along at a decent pace, so it never gets boring. It's no Texas CHAINSAW MASSACRE, but it delivers what it promises, something that too many horror movies fail to do.
Unfortunately, entirely pointless deaths only account for about half the film. Where it really goes wrong is when it begins to justify these with some bizarre "taking revenge on the evils of society" explanation delivered by the one character we were really certain WASN'T the killer, by virtue of his being such an obvious candidate.
But for all its faults (and there are many), The Toolbox Murders remains compulsively watchable. This is because its hack dialogue and direction are so unbelievably bad that the viewer is left wondering just what god-awful impersonation of dialogue or technique is going to crop up next. Whole chunks of background information go effectively unexplained, phrases are repeated by characters unnecessarily, and one scene goes on so damn long you can't help thinking it might be a deliberate Chain Saw Massacre-style experiment on the viewer's nerves. But no, it just goes on too long.
Two-out-of-ten stuff, then - but one way or another, you won't hit the stop button before the end.
From there on it's basically detectives trying to find information on the killer, and the killer has Laurie tied up and is taunting her (this scene has a lot of useless dialog). If the filmmakers had spread the deaths out a bit, rather than having one after another in the first half hour, then the movie might have been a little less boring, because every death scene occurs within the first 30 minutes. But hey, at least they tried something new, not many horror films get the deaths over with so quickly and focus more on the solving of the crime and the killer's captive.
I saw this film on DVD, so it included some cut footage that I guess had been banned (I'm assuming it was the bathtub scene and maybe some extra gory shots of the murders - it was a pretty violent slasher film). When I heard Pamelyn Ferdin's voice in the movie, I knew I'd heard it somewhere, and then I discovered that it was from "Charlotte's Web", where she had provided the voice of Fern, so that was a bit of a surprise to me. The rest of the cast wasn't bad either, not great but they were good. Cameron Mitchell played the villain, and was fairly decent. I also read on the cover that Stephen King enjoyed this movie, which was another little surprise.
Overall, "Toolbox" is a bit unsettling and disturbing at moments. It's major downfall is the ending half of it though, because the film becomes a bit tedious and boring for the audience. It's no "Texas Chainsaw Massacre" (which I think it tried to be), but all things considered, it's an okay little slasher flick. 6/10.
The first 20 minutes or so features a series of murders of young women by various items from a toolbox - drill, hammer, nail gun,etc. (why a toolbox you ask? Good question...). The victims are all attractive and seem to share a taste for MOR country music. The killer wears a ski mask and sometimes hums to himself. (Maybe he's a country purist and is offended by their lack of Hank Williams?)
Anyway, after that the movie rapidly gets duller and duller, a girl gets kidnapped, some inept cops investigate the murders and are baffled, even though you'll pick the killer as soon as you see him. B-grade legend Cameron Mitchell hams it up sucking a lollipop and singing spirituals, and the faceless supporting cast are as bad as the stinker of a script. If you haven't seen 'The Toolbox Murders' well, you haven't missed anything much. Not even bad enough to be funny.
Eye Candy: Marciee Drake gets topless; Kelly Nichols gets fully nude; and extra nudity in the DVD menus & Extras
My Grade: B-
Blue Underground DVD Extras: Commentary with producer Tony Didio, cinematographer Gary Graver and actress Pamelyn Ferdin; an interview with actress Marianne Walter (AKA Kelly Nichols); Poster & still gallery; movie poster reproduction; Cameron Mitchell biography; TV spot; 2 Radio spots; and Theatrical trailer
Perhaps what I found most disturbing about the film itself was the general visual aspect ( - vague I find you asking yourselves). The film looks very much dated now, which for some may not be a problem but it tended to make me feel decidedly 'sickly'. By this I mean that it just reminds me far too much of photos from my childhood *shudders*...with its ghastly floral interiors and fashion sense. I guess this is just a reflection of my own personal dislike towards nostalgia and is no serious reason to comment negatively on the film.
To conclude, 'The Toolbox Murders' is a tedious and poor (sorry to be harsh) horror flick at best. At times it appears to imitate Tobe Hoopers classic 'The Texas Chainsaw Massacre' in the sense that the film was, allegedly, based on 'real' events. It also follows a fairly congruous and typical narrative: a series of murders followed by an abduction and, inevitably, torture...only to have the attractive protagonist narrowly escape death. The fact that 'The Toolbox Murders' focuses on the notion of the 'family-gone-wrong', a la 'The Texas Chainsaw Massacre', or Pete Walkers 'Frightmare', for example, only seems to strengthen this argument more. The main problem: it falls flat on its face in trying to do so. I consider myself to be a die-hard horror film aficionado but this was just unfulfilling; certainly not to be mistaken as a 'cult classic'.
What makes 'toolbox' special is an absolutely masterful performance by Cameron Mitchell. Although the highly original death scenes are shocking and horrific, it is Cameron's portrayal of a crazed madman that is really unsettling. He really gets behind his motivation to create a flawed man living in an imperfect world. Without giving too much away, I should also note that the plot is very clever, with all kinds of unexpected turns toward the end. Sure, there are some bad scenes here and there, a lame disco lounge, plot holes, and unnecessary characters, but these are all pre requisites of low budget 70's cinema. The Toolbox Murders is recommended for anyone who likes great gore, or even fans of psychological drama.
- A mad killer wearing a ski mask commits a series of violent murders using the contents of his toolbox as weapons. After a teenage girl is kidnapped, the police seem to think her brother is responsible. Can he find his sister and save his own neck in the process?
- If I could use one word to describe The Toolbox Murders it would be "sleaze". It's the kind of movie that you want to take a shower after watching. That's not to say I don't enjoy the movie, because I do. The film thrives on blood, nudity, torture, and a variety of inventive kill scenes. Although the nailgun scene may be the most famous, a claw hammer makes for a nasty weapon.
- But the main reason to watch is Cameron Mitchell. Here's a little tip for those unfamiliar with Mitchell - if you're watching a horror movie from the 60s or 70s and Cameron Mitchell shows up, expect him to go nuts and start killing people. Mitchell plays a crazy nut-job as good as anyone I've ever seen. He's just a blast to watch.
- The rest of the cast is an odd mix of actors. Aneta Corsaut was Helen Crump, Andy Taylor's girlfriend on "The Andy Griffith Show". Wesley Eure was in one of my Saturday morning favorites, "Land of the Lost". And Pamelyn Ferdin was the little girl in just about every television show made in the 60s and 70s. Odd cast, but it works for me.
Once again, some nut has it in for beautiful women. "Toolbox murders" are raging at an apartment complex. The cops are baffled. We get to see a couple of brutal murders involving naked, horny women. So far, so good. Then the movie wanders off into the psychology of the madman and proceeds to drop dead. What a shame. However "The Toolbox Murders" does have an outrageously sleazy murder scene that makes it worth seeing once:
*EXPLOITATION SCENE SPOILER*
The highlight of the film involves a woman taking a bubble bath. The killer waits patiently by the bathroom door as she rubs herself raw underneath the bubbles. After she's done pleasuring herself, he chases her around the apartment with a nailgun. He "nails" her a couple of times and then lovingly puts the final nail through her head. This was one of the greatest scenes in exploitation movie history. Watch this movie just for that scene. The rest of the movie will only hurt you.
The beginning of the movie for--I don't know how long, has a guy killing four women. The scenes are weak and slow and suspenseless and literally terrible. Then this guy kidnaps some girl (who isn't the worst actress ever, but at points she acted like a mannican) and her mother and brother go on the search for her, with the help of a detective and the girl's boyfriend. (Who actually turns out to be...well...you'll see. The killer also has a "surprise" identity, I think, that was delivered horribly.)
Basically, this movie is terrible. It really is. The only semi-redeemable part was the last minute, I'd say, which was okay. Sort of twisted. This whole film really stinks. It's way too chatty, and any scene that could be made tense is just flubbed up. And on the Blockbuster box that this movie came in, it said on the back, "Stephen King has said this is 'One of the ten best horror movies on video.' I don't know what he was on when he made that comment. But then again, he had movies such as Graveyard Shift out that were just as bad.
Anyhoo, pass on this. It really is no good.
The film starts with some suitably gory murders, seemingly setting the stage for a by-the-books slasher movie. But after these first murders (SPOILERS) the killer kidnaps a young girl and keeps her in his home as his surrogate daughter (his own died in a car accident). The killer reveals that he chose his female victims because of supposed moral transgressions. These transgressions are sins of the "modern woman" (sexual freedom, freedom of choice, etc.) and he wants to keep his new "daughter" as a pure, virginal woman.
The movie twists and turns, but it's mostly psychological. It plays with genre conventions, such as a woman's savior almost always being a male figure, and changes them. In the end, she is seen by her attackers as a porcelain doll to be manipulated, not a real human being. (SPOILERS) She eventually is capable of saving herself; no man is needed.
The direction is fine, the acting is okay for a low-budget '70's horror movie, but the uniqueness of this film is its greatest quality. Many viewers came to this movie expecting a cookie-cutter serial killer movie, and that's not what "The Toolbox Murders" gives you.
THE TOOLBOX MURDERS is one nasty little horror film. Very misogynistic and exploitive. The first half of the movie just shows a masked killer slashing, impaling, drilling women with various working tools. But then after the gruesome start, the film eventually concentrates on the killer's obsession with a girl he doesn't kill but kidnaps. The kidnapped girl's brother searches for his sister, which leads to his eventual murder (which is sorta sick as well). In fact, everyone pretty much dies by the end of the movie except for one survivor. Guess who it is?
Even with its uber sleazy aspect (there's a scene where a woman pleasures herself which is startling), I still recommend this low budget movie, to fans of exploitation flicks and to movie fans in general who want to see how cinema from the 1970s was really out there, in terms of violence and sex. Even Stephen King liked it.
Similar to how the only thing people talk, or remember, about "Trilogy of Terror" is the Zuni Fetish Doll, the opening cascade of misogynistic gore is all anyone remembers about "The Toolbox Murder." It's far to say the fame peaks early. The rest of the movie is devoted to Ferdin's brother and the landlord's son investigating the kid sister's kidnapping. The Scooby-Doo teen sleuthing stuff is dull. The movie reveals fairly early that the landlord, B-movie stalwart Cameron Mitchell, is the killer, in a great reveal of the toolbox. He has the girl tied up in his bedroom. While there's not much to the scenes of Mitchell going on about his dead daughter and how corrupt and impure the world is, it is a joy to see him ham it up. Mitchell goes full-crazy, jumping around, lips quivering, very convincingly playing the kind of traumatized, delusional moralizer that you'd expect to go on a power tools themed murder spree. The plot twist at the start of the third act comes out of nowhere but it also revitalizes the movie. Because you can't have a true sleaze-murder flick without a little rape, a hugely uncomfortable sexual assault happens. (Thankfully, it's mostly off-screen.) The story wraps up kind of unsatisfactory while the film tries to convince us it really is based on a true story, no really, seriously guys, we swear.
I could probably go into a long diatribe about why we enjoy films like this, what that says about our culture, my specific generation of young people, etc. I won't do that for brevity's sake. If you're looking for an introduction into the sleazy, sometimes disturbing world of grindhouse cinema, I don't think I could find a better one then "The Toolbox Murders." Buy it on Blu-Ray! It features one of my all time favorite taglines: "Bit by bit He carved a nightmare!" Someday, I'm going to start a horror-themed metal band and make a song based around that one.
A maniacal handyman uses the implements to be found in his trusty toolbox to slaughter the female tenants in an apartment complex. The incredibly stupid detective on the case doesn't once think of an obvious course of action. (So the movie may lose some viewers on that basis as well.) And before long young Laurie Ballard (cute and perky former child actress Pamelyn Ferdin ("The Beguiled") is abducted by the killer and held captive.
Cameron Mitchell, seemingly an actor who could never turn down a paycheck, is the star of this junky but oh so amusing nonsense. Co-starring as his nephew is Wesley Eure of 'Land of the Lost' fame; Aneta Corsaut ('The Andy Griffith Show') and Nicolas Beauvy ("The Cowboys") play Laurie's mom and brother. And cast as the detective is Tim Donnelly (brother to director Dennis Donnelly), who appeared on the TV series 'Emergency!' and went on to be the star of "The Clonus Horror". You really have to hand it to Mitchell: he does NOT phone it in here. Marianne Walter, better known as veteran porn actress and makeup artist Kelly Nichols, has a memorable bit as a victim who pleasures herself in the bathtub (to the strains of a touching country ditty dubbed "Pretty Lady") before the Toolbox Murderer comes calling.
Basing itself on some supposedly "true story" (as text at the end indicates), this is undeniably entertaining stuff for those with a taste for the sick and seamy, and it just grows more and more grim as it goes along, accompanied by an incredibly haunting score by George Deaton. Legendary cameraman and d.p. Gary Graver handles the cinematography.
Even if it's not for everybody, one can't deny that this movie does have its moments.
Followed by a 2004 remake directed by none other than Tobe Hooper.
Seven out of 10.
The Toolbox Murders is just one of these movies where if one little thing had of been left out, it wouldn't have been really worth the watch. In this case, it most certainly goes to the music during the first 40 minutes of the movie, which seems to make the film feel more smoothly. It'll definitely take dedicated fans of the slasher/"video nasty" genre to appreciate it, and to give time to allow the movie to slowly pace along after the first 20 minutes or so. If you can bare with it, and appreciate it, The Toolbox Murders will leave you somewhat entertained. Don't believe all the hype though about how violent or shocking it is, by today's standards the movie is not that explicitly violent. It seems rather tame.
I can't say I didn't enjoy it or I did enjoy it - it falls somewhere in between and I'll probably give The Toolbox Murders a few more viewings before leaving it in the DVD rack for a while. If it had not of featured the music it does have, it'd probably get a 5 from me, but because the music tremendously makes this movie, I've given it a low-end 7.
There's two DVD releases that I know of, and they're the Blue Underground release in the US, and a VIPCO DVD release in the UK. The Blue Underground release has a lot of extra features, is remastered, and is uncut. The VIPCO 2000 UK DVD release is a bare-bones-less-then-average DVD quality release, and is cut by over 1 minute which removes the scene of the girl getting shot in the back and head with the nail gun, and the entire scene where she's in the bedroom pleading with the killer. So I think it's obvious which DVD release to go for. Though, by today's standards, the movie should pass for an '18' in the UK uncut with ease.
As I said, it requires patience and understanding to enjoy the movie.
With the release of Tobe Hooper's remake/re-imagining, I thought it high time I seek out this drive in classic. From the get-go, this thing has style. I really dug the non-traditional flashbacks. It actually took me a few seconds to realize they were indeed flashbacks. After a few of these quick flashbacks and some eerie dialogue from a preacher on the radio, the film gets real dirty, real fast. We witness three brutal murders. The titular Toolbox murderer goes from apartment to apartment and mutilates three beautiful women. The first with a power drill, the next with a hammer, and the last with a screwdriver. Even more unsettling is the fact that the backdrop music for this mayhem is George Deaton's "Carolina in the Morning." In fact, all of the killings are juxtaposed with Deaton's warm and cozy cowboy songs. The best of these is the Marianne Walter death and Deaton's "Pretty Lady." The pairing is cinematic genius. Ms. Walter is bathing and slowly touching herself; she seems to be really enjoying her body. The next thing you know Deaton's lyrics are saying "Take me to your secret place" and Ms. Walter is masturbating (I felt this scene was quite shocking even by today's standards). After witnessing this, the killer bursts in with a nail gun and chases down the naked starlet. He eventually shoots the "pretty lady" and the nails penetrate her flesh. I'm telling you Freud would have a field day. That scene speaks volumes about the slasher sub-genre. It was my favorite scene in the movie, and I hear Stephen King loves that one as well. One big complaint from most viewers is that it slows down after the initial murders. I didn't have a big problem with this because I had always heard this was the case, and was prepared for the film to drag here. The many plot twists near the end liven things up a bit. It's pretty unpredictable for sure. Cameron Mitchell, from such acclaimed films as Space Mutiny and The Demon, is the only name star here and he gives a damn good performance; the best I've seen from him actually. He's over the top and pitch perfect. The film certainly lives up to it's sleazy exploitation status.
But for the most part, this movie was the antithesis of all the dumb low budget B horror movies of the 1970s and even some of the 1980s. Although some of the acting was actually descent, the story line itself was choppy of ridicules and down right stupid and stigmatized women as being weak and stupid.
My condolences to the female actors in this film.