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The Toolbox Murders (1978)


The Toolbox Murders poster
93 minutes
MPAA Rating
Cast and Crew

Roughly two decades ago, somebody made a huge squeak about the violence in a little exploitation slasher called The Toolbox Murders. As a result, the film became the center of a huge controversy. Its detractors attacked its attitude towards women and claimed that it was not fit for public consumption. The movie was banned in Britain (a decision that was recently reversed) and its video availability has been pretty shoddy - until now.

Blue Underground, a new DVD label from Maniac director and former Anchor Bay impresario William Lustig, has released The Toolbox Murders uncut, complete with a bevy of extras to satisfy any lover of low-budget 70s trash.

Somebody's killing the "impure" women in a Los Angeles apartment complex, using a plethora of items from a large metal toolbox. The police are baffled, so its up to geeky teenager Joey (Nicolas Beauvy) to stop the homicides. Of course, it's a motivating factor that the kid's sister, Laurie (Pamelyn Ferdin) was kidnapped by the maniac.

The Toolbox Murders turns out to be a really enjoyable, occasionally chilling, film. Sure, it has its problems. Most of the interesting action occurs in the first third (Syd Field would NOT approve), after which the pace slowly drags. Once we learn the identity of the killer, the flick jumps tracks to an awkward statement about religion (much in the way Alice, Sweet Alice did two years earlier), which is thankfully played as straight madness by the actor in question.

Oh, but the initial spate of blood and mayhem leaves such deliciously indelible images for the brain to fondly recall. A drill grinding its way through a door, the only barrier between the killer and his prey. A beautiful nude redhead trying to talk down her nailgun-wielding assailant. The latter example in particular has a certain notoriety that is well deserved.

It's a real treat to watch an accomplished thespian like Cameron Mitchell just overact his heart out. He munches on the scenery with glee as the complex's Super. It's a piece of work to savor, especially when he's screaming lines like "You dirty, filthy FORNICATOR!" (okay, so the script isn't perfect).

The rest of the cast is merely decent. I'm sure it was shocking for audiences in the 70s to see Ferdin and Wesley Eure, both old hands from Sid and Marty Kroft kid's shows, doing some very lurid and disturbing things. They each perform their roles satisfactorily, without a lot of pizzazz. Beauvy is terrible. There's no other word for it. Aneta Corsaut (The Blob, TV's The Andy Griffith Show) isn't utilized enough, but is nicely understated as Joey and Lauren's troubled barmaid mother.

Blue Underground's DVD includes a commentary track by producer Tony Didio (who recounts how he decided to make this to tap into the success of The Texas Chain Saw Massacre), actress Ferdin (seeing the film from start to finish for the first time), and director of photography Gary Graver (a man who is fond of dropping the name of frequent employer Orson Welles). The three are very easy-going, and very informative. There are a few dry patches, but they are spaced out fairly evenly.

There's also a rather extensive Cameron Mitchell biography, an amusing interview with Marianne Walter/Kelly Nichols, the redhead who got "nailed" in the fourth murder. She muses on her turn to adult films came after being in legitimate movie, and her current career as a makeup artist. Also included are the standard trailers (one theatrical, one television, and two radio) and a picture gallery.

Check this disc out if you get the chance. It's one of those films that you probably should feel really dirty about watching, but its fun and riveting (check out that final image!), so what have you got to worry about. A fine first choice for what I hope will be a major player in exploitation DVD.