The Toolbox Murders (1978)

toolbox

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 5 out of 10

4-Word Review: Handyman targets female tenants.

A man, haunted by memories of the death of his young daughter in a car accident years earlier, begins systematically killing-off women residing in an apartment complex who he believes are living sinful lifestyles. Laurie (Pamelyn Ferdin) is a teen who lives in the same complex just a few doors down from where the murders occurred. One evening while alone the killer sneaks into her place and kidnaps her. Since she resembles his deceased daughter he does not kill her, but instead ties her up to a bed where he talks to her as if she’s his daughter come back to life. As she remains imprisoned her brother Joey (Nicolas Beauvy), unhappy with the sloppy job done by the police, decides to do the investigating of his own with the help of Kent (Wesley Eure) who’s he nephew of Vance (Cameron Mitchell) who owns the building where the murders have been happening. Joey unearths clues, which leads him to believe he knows who’s responsible, but finds opposition in Kent, who wants to block him from finding out who the culprit is.

This film was just about the final word in graphic exploitation fare that permeated the era where every horror film competes to see how they could be gorier and more explicit than the others. This one is unusual in that it starts out right away with the killings, but then during the second and third act it slows way down and becomes a talk-feast with very little gore at all. I did though find it interesting where instead of intense, creepy music that usually gets played when a killer stalks his victim we instead hear laid-back country songs, which would’ve been even more inspired had they not all been by the same artist.

The identity of the killer is given away early, which is also different from other slashers that try to keep it a secret until the end. In a lot ways this makes it less intriguing though Mitchell’s performance still keeps it interesting. What I didn’t like was the stupid police inspector, which is poorly played by Tim Donnelly who was the brother of the film’s director, and his inept ability to figure out who the killer might be even though the viewer and other characters catch-on very quickly. I know some policemen aren’t always the smartest, but even the dumbest would’ve been able to pick up on the obvious clues that this one unbelievably overlooks.

The fact that none of the women scream, at least not during the first act, was rather bizarre especially when one of them (Evelyn Guerrero) walks into the crime scene sees her friend (Marciee Drake) lies in a bloody mess, but she doesn’t respond in a shocked way and just stares as if gazing at a picture on the wall. Having the police interview the neighbors directly over the nude, dead bodies of the victims, was a bit ridiculous too as the victims in most any other crime scene would’ve been covered in a blanket and taken away to a coroner and the scene secured before anyone else could be let in that could potentially tamper with the evidence.

The biggest thing that bugged me was that it’s never shown how the killer is able to so easily get into the apartments. I realize it’s because he has a master key, but that actually needs to be shown with a shot of a key going into the lock. The film though never does this, so instead we just see the door knob turning like these people have been dumb enough to leave their doors unlocked even as a killer lurks about.

The performances are the one thing that holds it together. I especially liked Ferdin and the genuine look of fright in her eyes and tears rolling down her face as she’s been held hostage. Her sincere expression of terror connects with the viewer and makes them even more concerned for her welfare. I’m also friends with her on Facebook and she’s posted about the final scene where she’s wandering around a parking lot barefoot and in her nighty, which was apparently shot in cold temperatures, so having her dressed like that in such freezing conditions and remain professional is commendable too. It’s also entertaining seeing Wesley Eure, best known for his work in the TV-show ‘Land of the Lost’, playing a psycho, of which he’s surprisingly effective.

While the denouncement states that this was based on actual events it really wasn’t. It was loosely inspired by some cases of serial killers using tools to kill their victims, but the characters and overall scenario was largely made-up. The story was remade in 2004, but much of the violence and explicitness of this one was taken-out and toned down while also making major changes to the plot.

My Rating: 5 out of 10

Released: March 3, 1978

Runtime: 1 Hour 34 Minutes

Rated R

Director: Dennis Donnelly

Studio: Cal-Am Productions

Available: DVD, Blu-ray, Amazon Video, Tubi, YouTube

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