‘Bit by bit… by bit he carved a nightmare!’
The Toolbox Murders is a 1978 American slasher horror feature film directed by Dennis Donnelly from a screenplay written by Robert Easter and Ann N. Kindberg.
The movie stars Cameron Mitchell (The Demon; Nightmare in Wax; Blood and Black Lace) Tim Donnelly, Pamelyn Ferdin and Wesley Eure.
The film was marketed as being based on a true story, though it has no connection to any real-life murders.
It was loosely remade by Tobe Hooper as Toolbox Murders in 2004, which was ironic because producer Tony Didio had been inspired to make the 1978 film by a financially successful re-release of The Texas Chain Saw Massacre in 1977.
In a small apartment complex, somebody in a ski mask is murdering women with tools, such as a nail gun, a screwdriver and a drill. Meanwhile, a tenant’s daughter, fifteen-year-old Laurie Ballard, is kidnapped. Detective Jamison investigates the murders and stumbles onto a connection between them and the kidnapping…
How times change. When The Toolbox Murders first appeared back in 1978, it was generally considered to be a numbingly bad experience, particularly by British fans who invariably had to sit through a heavily censored print whilst waiting for top-of-the-bill Zombie Flesh Eaters to unspool at their local fleapit.
Even the uncut bootleg which floated around during the heyday of horror tape-trading seemed more of an obligation than a pleasure – something to own but never actually watch. Now, a new generation of gore-pups hail this film as a sleaze classic, and it’s available as a luxurious special edition Blu-ray. Bizarre.
Granted, for the first twenty minutes or so of the movie, this is a gloriously offensive slasher movie of the type which we’ll never see again. Pretty much devoid of any story of characterisation, the film simply parades several sadistic (i.e. slow and painful) murders, never stinting on blood or gratuitous nudity.
Even the film’s biggest detractors remember the appearance from skin flick starlet Kelly Nichols, who plays with herself in the bath before being terrorised by the ski-masked murderer and shot with a nail gun. Such a scene is probably more shocking today than it was back then!
However, shortly after this, it all goes downhill rapidly, as a story is introduced and bad acting replaces bad taste. Little else happens in the film, other than drooling killer Cameron Mitchell kidnapping a wholesome young girl (Pamelyn Ferdin) and generally whining like a dingo for what feels like days. This is dull, dull stuff.
That said, the Blue Underground Blu-ray is impressive enough to make it a worthy purchase just for those opening moments of mayhem and the supplementary features. An informative commentary track will make the tedious bulk of The Toolbox Murders pass by painlessly, and a short interview with Kelly Nichols (still looking great!) is fun too. With an extensive stills and art gallery and a spankingly nice print that shows the gore in detail, even the more discerning splatter fan might find this package hard to resist.
David Flint, MOVIES and MANIA
“The Toolbox Murders is a clumsily directed sleaze gem (the only feature of Donnelly who otherwise worked in television) that is totally misogynistic and relentless but is much aided by Mitchell’s hammy performance, as well Ferdin’s believable and sympathetic one.” DVD Drive-In
“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.” Digital Retribution
Buy The Toolbox Murders poster (image at top) from Amazon.com
Cast and characters:
Cameron Mitchell as Vance Kingsley
Pamelyn Ferdin as Laurie Ballard
Wesley Eure as Kent Kingsley
Nicholas Beauvy as Joey Ballard
Tim Donnelly as Detective Lieutenant Mark Jamison
Aneta Corsaut as Joanne Ballard
Faith McSwain as Mrs Andrews
Marciee Drake as Deborah
Evelyn Guerrero as Maria
Victoria Perry as Woman in Apartment
Robert Bartlett as Man in Apartment
Betty Cole as John’s Wife
John Hawker as John
Don Diamond as Sergeant Cameron
Alisa Powell as Girlfriend
Kelly Nichols as Dee Ann DeVore
Robert Forward as Screamer Man
Kathleen O’Malley as Screamer Woman
Gil Galvano as Man
James Nolan as Al
George Deaton as Preacher
The Toolbox Murders was released theatrically in the United States by Cal-Am Artists in March 1978.
The film was released on VHS by VCI Entertainment and, later, Video Treasures in the 1980s.
The film was one of the so-called ‘video nasties’ of the 1980s and was banned in the UK from 1982 to 2000 by the BBFC. It was released later in 2000 with 1 minute 46 seconds of cuts on DVD by VIPCO in the UK. To date, there is no current uncut UK release but it can be purchased on import Blu-ray or DVD
In the US, the film was released as a Special Edition DVD by Blue Underground in 2003, and on Blu-ray in 2010.