Review Date: September 2, 2002
Released by: Blue Underground
Release date: 9/3/2003
Region 0, NTSC
Widescreen 1.66:1 | 16x9: Yes
After the realistic The Last House on the Left
shocked audiences in 1972, horror films sought to recreate gritty films of torture and agony that bore resemblance to similar events. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre
struck a nerve with audiences, and became an independent smash hit, proving that gritty realism can not only shock, but also bring in the dollar signs as well. So with that in mind, Producer Tony DiDio funded and assembled a new film titled in full exploitation fashion as: The Toolbox Murders
. The film, like the other gritty horror films of the 1970's, was met with extreme controversy and banned by censors, but over the years it has managed to become one of the more memorable splatter films. Blue Underground, realizing the film's appeal, has gone out and created a nice little special edition for the film. Does this Toolbox deliver, or are all of its tools dull? Let's find out…
Armed with a metal toolbox and a black ski mask, a killer lurks the city streets. He kills without repent and in a most gruesome manner. Using everything from hammers to nail guns he robs the lives of many women. An adult films star, an alcoholic and an exotic dancer (in mid-masturbation, no less!) are his initial victims, all sharing the trait of doing "unnatural things" to their bodies. Dressed in black he attacks a single apartment complex and many of the women in it, but the detectives cannot seem to pinpoint the perpetrator.
The stalker, out yet once again, this time kidnaps an innocent girl, Laurie Ballard (Pamelyn Ferdin
). He spares her life, which baffles the police, but as the viewer later discovers, the prowler is mourning the death of his lost daughter, and is using Laurie as a replacement to mask his pain. His daughter was killed in a brutal car accident, and believing that God only takes the purest of souls, he keeps the innocent and naïve Laurie tied to her bed so she will never be harmed.
Meanwhile, Laurie's brother, Joey (Nicolas Beauvy
), and his friend, Kent (Wesley Eure
), decide to play a little detective work themselves and see if they can find this brutal killer and stop him before he does harm to Laurie. As Joey becomes engulfed further and further in the case, he discovers that there is more to this case than what seems to be, and he realizes that his life too, may be on the line. What ensues in the climactic minutes are some deathly revelations, but just who will survive…The Toolbox Murders
Although at first the film may seem like one of just pure exploitative gore, the latter parts in the film prove there is a method and inspiration to the killer's madness. Here is a man like anyone else, just a simple father who loves his only daughter. When she is killed, so is his sanity, and he seeks to punish all those impure unlike his daughter, and captures a girl to vent his suppressed emotions. When the killer is revealed and spends time alone with Laurie, one truly believes his sadness and frustration, and despite his heinous crimes, feels pathos for him.
Director Dennis Donnelly has created a film where the killer is actually human, not just a motiveless symbolic representation of evil. This character has feelings and motives, and by allotting time to this character, the viewer is able to truly get in the mind of the killer. Like Maniac
, this is a splatter film more about the killer than its victims, and it is this quality that differs it from the rest of the pack. The murdered victims remain mostly nameless, and even Laurie, the main female in the film, is given little story time. This is about the killer and the effects his crimes have not only on himself, but also on the victim's family and friends.
The photography and editing combine nicely to tell the story, and despite the film's exploitation roots, make the film quite tasteful. There are clever sequences comparing Laurie to the killer's lost daughter, in which the camera pans back from the girl's photo to reveal Laurie in the mirror, and then pans back further to reveal Laurie tied to the bed. There is also a scene that stresses the killer's motives through kinetic editing between the dying hand of the victim and that of his daughter's in a stretcher. The point of the film comes through clearly thanks to understated, but well-served, production values. B-movie vet Cameron Mitchell does a bang up job, too, of humanizing the murderer. Considering the film came out a few years before Maniac
, it must have left a sizable impression on Lustig for him not only to make a film in similar vein, but to buy the rights to it, no less!
The Toolbox Murders
begins with a string of relentless gore and deaths to shock its audience, then spends the latter half creating ambivalence towards the murderer. Is this guy a coldhearted individual, or is he merely a victim of death himself? Given the title of the film, I expected a splatter film with plenty of gore and little substance. There was plenty of gore, but thankfully there was also an involving story. A title as simple as The Toolbox Murders
does not do a fine film like this justice.
The film is presented in 1.66:1 anamorphic widescreen, and it looks fairly good. Colors are washed out and at times overexposed as most 70's films were, but the entire print is clean and with few blemishes. Grain is kept to a minimum, and the numerous amounts of blood look fairly vibrant. The film is from the 70's, so most of the colors are in pastels, but they are well represented, and even the black that the killer wears is better represented than it ought to be. This is another strong visual transfer from the fine folks at Blue Underground.
English mono is the only track you will find on this DVD, and it sounds particularly under whelming. Voices are clear, but ultimately sound flat and lack depth. Given that the film is coarse and rough in approach, the mono track serves the film nicely. A surround track would have been great, but this does the film fine.
Like Blue Underground's other initial releases, The Prowler and Shock Waves, this disc contains a fair number of well-produced supplements. The biggest extra is a commentary with Producer Tony DiDio, Director of Photography Gary Graver and Star Pamelyn Ferdin. DiDio is the most vocal of the track, with Ferdin acting somewhat like a moderator; Gary Graver chimes in about the photography every once and awhile, but he is otherwise fairly quiet. All of them are quick to praise Cameron Mitchell, and DiDio even admits that Mitchell was a heavy drinker. They all look fondly upon the film, and they give several interesting anecdotes about how people have reacted to the film, including mentioning the fact that this is Stephen King's favorite film. There are some gaps of silence in the track, but DiDio's fondness for the film make this a worthwhile and interesting track.
Next up is an enjoyable eight minute featurette, "I Got Nailed in The Toolbox Murders
", which consists of an interview and clips with Marianne Walter (known by adult film fans as Kelly Nichols). She expresses her joy about being cast in the film, and she laughs about being afraid that her thighs would be too fat on screen. A humorously edited and worthwhile eight minutes.
Rounding off the set is a TV spot, theatrical trailer, two radio spots and a poster and still gallery. All these are interesting to watch today to see how the film cashed in on the craze for horror film based on realistic subject matter. The still gallery shows plenty of shots from the film and many of the posters and newspaper ads used; there are 35 pictures in total. The final supplement is a short but interesting Cameron Mitchell biography that explains the actor's life and details the films he's been involved in. The animated motion menu is a great addition as well, proving that, along with the extensive supplements, Blue Underground really cares about these obscure titles.
The Toolbox Murders
is an interesting film that combines the realistic shocks from The Texas Chainsaw Massacre
with a character study on the same lines as Joe Spinell's in Maniac
. The film has developed a minor cult following over the years, and with good reason; it is gory, politically incorrect, but surprisingly literate all at the same time. The video transfer is the best the film will look, and the abundance of supplements flesh out the disc nicely. This makes a great double bill with Anchor Bay's excellent Maniac
disc. Highly recommended.
Movie - B+
Image Quality - B-
Sound - C
Supplements - A-
- Running time - 1 hour 34 minutes
- Rated R
- 1 Disc
- Chapter Stops
- English mono
- English subtitles
- Commentary by Producer Tony DiDio, Director of Photography Gary Graver and Star Pamelyn Ferdin.
- "I Got Nailed in The Toolbox Murders" featurette
- Theatrical Trailer
- TV Spot
- Radio Spots
- Poster & Still Gallery
- Cameron Mitchell Bio