Toolbox Murders, The (1977)
Cast: Cameron Mitchell, Pamelyn Ferdin, Anita Corsaut, Wesley Eure
Director: Dennis Donnelly
Nutshell: A prowler with a toolbox stalks hapless apartment dwellers in grim style!
“disgusting but fascinating” Creature Features
“Feeble” Slasher Movies
“Brutal Stuff…but also fairly dull” Splatter Movies
“Too sick and exploitative for general audiences” Cult Flicks & Trash Pics
“seriously diseased stuff” Slimetime
“hackneyed plot…unnecessarily long and gory” See No Evil
Early on in proceedings on the commentary track the producer mentions that the inspiration for his film came from his shock at the outrageous success that had been enjoyed by The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. When Tobe Hooper’s film got a multi-print re-release – producer Tony Didio flipped and immediately set out to create his own reinvented version of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre that was aimed at reaping the dollars from exactly the same market that had catapulted the Chainsaw film to such dizzying heights.
Years later, looking back it’s safe to say that The Toolbox Murders didn’t enjoy a zillionth of the success of the film it attempted to ape though if it did compete on any level at all, it was one of notoriety. The Toolbox Murders did manage to achieve a fair reputation for itself in the early 80’s pre certification VHS days of uncut video nasties and shadowy fake snuff movies due to its upfront gore and the fact that it had been cut to shreds by the UK censors.
The film begins with one of many horrendous country and western songs and the fatal accident of a girl we later learn was the daughter of the proprietor of a seedy Los Angeles apartment block where a prowler is on the loose. The post titles scene is the death of one of the inhabitants of the apartments who is turned on by the Toolbox prowler wearing a ski mask with devastating effect. He uses a motorized drill to send her packing and though the scene is fairly gory, it’s not quite what one had expected from a film of such a “glowing” reputation.The bit where there is a bit of flesh dangling from the drill is a rather nice touch but otherwise the gore effects are average at best. In the very next scene, the ski masked Toolbox Murderer jumps another victim using a hammer to bash her skull in and when a girlfriend of the victims intrudes, she too is swiftly done away with, this time using a Philips screwdriver to good effect. Not long after the opening deaths there is the infamous death by nail-gun scene which was the scene that really built the films reputation. We are shown an immoral woman prancing around naked getting ready for her bath where she proceeds to start playing with herself in a big way – a scene that was hugely censored in the UK among others.
Meanwhile we are introduced to a goody two shoes type living in a nearby apartment whose morals are not quite on the same loose level of some of the other “more liberated” girls living in the complex. She, keeping in mind horror movie rules, will be the one to fight back against the forces of depravity and evil, or will she? The film plays totally flat and the director is utterly unable or unwilling to build any semblance of tension into proceedings. There aren’t even any attempted contrived shock moments along the way – just rather drab, clinically shot death scenes that appear a little surreal with those horrid songs playing in the backdrop. While there is absolutely no suspense to the film very soon the little guessing as to who it might be behind that ski mask is also revealed and with barely half the movie over at this stage………..that leaves the movie with a lot of time to “kill” before reaching the conclusion of what turns out to be a very dull, utterly lacking in style or class, uninspired piece of gore garbage – even worse perhaps than the notorious Pieces which it bears similarities with.
The film has the look and feel of a TV film and the acting on display is dodgy at best with Cameron Mitchell (all three of them) delighting at his performance as the deranged manager. The film also bears similarities with another grim and utterly dull gore show from a few years later though Maniac, despite its grim awfulness was never as dull as this film is. After a pretty grim and very dull first half the film deteriorates and falls away completely in a second half that fails to maintain any sort of grip over its audience. There is little to commend in The Toolbox Murders and its reputation and notoriety is flatter the film. Interestingly enough, the film sort of foreshadowed the grim real life activities of the Hillside Stranglers who were probably in full swing while this film was being shot. At the end of the day the film fails to pass the acid test as it is neither scary nor tense nor at all horrifying (though it could be argued that the songs certainly are scary and horrifying!).
The productions values are better than what one could expect from such a film and the acting is also ordinary to say the least. The gore factor is fairly high though nothing about the effects is memorable or shocking or innovative. The final verdict is an emphatic thumbs-down for the film because it doesn’t manage to make a mark on any level and commits the unpardonable sin of being insufferably boring. The Toolbox Murders is best recommended to die hard Cameron Mitchell fans and nobody else and the mind boggles as to why Tobe Hooper decided to remake the film in 2003. In actuality the only similarity the film has with Hooper’s great Texas Chainsaw Massacre is the films name which is very clever and like the Chainsaw Massacre evokes an unfounded dread in the film before even watching it. Easily the best thing and the only commendable aspect of the Toolbox Murders is the films title which we reckon played a significant part in its curiosity factor, its appeal and the reason why it is even slightly remembered.