March 14, 2016

Blu-ray Review: The Toolbox Murders (1978)

"The first 30 minutes of this movie is an exploitational classic; the last 60 feels like an episode of The Hardy Boys."
I'm not sure what prompted censors in the UK to be so uptight about Horror movies in the 70's and 80's, but they really liked labeling movies as Video Nasties back then, and telling people what they could and couldn't watch, all in the name of decency.

Of all the titles that they gave the censorship treatment to, The Toolbox Murders might be the most baffling. There's plenty of gratuitous nudity to be had here, and I'm sure the violence was shocking for its time, but for the most part, this movie is fairly tame and even cheesy for most of its running time. We still dig it though, probably because we have a warped sense of taste.

After having a flashback of a girl dying in a car accident, a masked man and his toolbox work his way through an apartment complex, killing any whore (because they're all sinners, you see) unlucky enough to be "home." First, some old rummy gets drilled to death; then, the hot, supple Deborah is hammered to death; then, the unlucky Maria shows up to find out what Deborah is up to, and gets gutted with a screwdriver. From Deborah's window, the killer spots two more potential victims, and sets out to see about tooling them to death too. Lucky for them though, someone discovers the last two bodies, and scares the killer off before he can wreak anymore havoc.

The next night, after the Cops have come and gone, the killer returns to wreak some more havoc, setting his sights on the girls he missed out on the night before. The first of those girls is the sexy, apparently horny, Dee Ann; while she's taking a long, slow, soapy bath, the killer breaks in, and ends up shooting her with a nail gun. As his grand finale, he creeps upstairs to the home of sweet, fifteen-year-old Laurie, and instead of impaling her with a level or something, he knocks her out, and takes her off into the night. Presumably to his tool shed.

With the Cops clueless, and his baby sister missing, it's up to dutiful brother Joey to track down the killer. With the help of the super-odd kid from Land of the Lost, he aims to unravel the mystery of The Toolbox Murders by talking a lot, and doing plenty of action-less investigating.

Psychological intrigue ensues.

The main selling point of this movie is its level of exploitation. The first 30 minutes of The Toolbox Murders involves a masked killer going from apartment to apartment, killing nubile young women in a variety of nasty ways, with his tools. The kills are fairly bloody, if not overly-graphic, but it's really the excessive and shameless amount of nudity in those scenes that provide most of that exploitation.

This movie is pretty different, and it's 70's-cheesy in more than a few places, but it's got a certain charm about it that makes it an enjoyable watch overall. 

After the 30-minute mark, the visceral thrills disappear, and the rest of the movie is a Psychological Thriller devoid of any sort of boobs and blood whatsoever (except for a tiny bit at the end.)

Now, that dramatic switch in tone and mechanics may make this a better movie for breaking from the normal Slasher mold, or it may make it an uneven mess that should have stuck to the guns that it fired from the very start, but that's going to differ from person to person.

For us, it was a bit of both. The beginning of the movie had us on the edge of our seats, but then everything seemed to go still when the "action" stopped. Some of the events later in the movie were alright, but the script (most notably the dialogue) just wasn't strong enough to support what basically became a talky character study.

Make up your mind, movie!

There were parts of this movie that didn't make much sense. For instance, when the killer happens upon his second victim, she's leaning out of her apartment door, looking at a package. Instead of pushing her inside and killing her, he knocks her out, takes her around the corner to the stairwell... the very public stairwell... and then brains her with a hammer. Then, he picks her up, carries her back to her apartment, and lays her on the floor.

What kind of sense was that supposed to make?

For this movie being banned, edited, and labeled as a Video Nasty, it's not nearly as bloody or nasty as you'd think. It had it's bloody moments early on, but even in its "Unrated" form, it felt like a lot of the good kill shots were lost to quick-cut editing.

The nail gun bit was pretty good though.

Kelly Nichols, the 80's Pornstar, was all kinds of naked in this, and helped create one of the best bath scenes in Horror History. Marciee Drake had a nice naked moment too.

Sometimes, the legendary status that a movie achieves is not very telling of its content. Also, this movie was based on a true story. Sure.

This is a passable 70's Horror flick that may put some people off due to its dualistic presentation; if you tune in to see a gritty, bloody Slasher flick, you'll only get that for about 30 minutes before the movie becomes a talky movie-of-the-week type of Psychological Thriller.

For fans of 70's Horror though, it's definitely worth a watch.


The Toolbox Murders is available now on Blu-ray, DVD, and VOD.

It's not easy finding good pictures of The Toolbox Murder girls, so you'll just have to settle for some pics from the movie itself.


  1. I'd like to say thank's for not using the Disqus comment board.


  2. This movie truly is a bizarre combination of two entirely different genres. This should have been a classic, but hey, at least it resulted in a decent remake years later.