Wednesday, July 8, 2015

#1,787. The Toolbox Murders (1978)

Directed By: Dennis Donnelly

Starring: Cameron Mitchell, Pamelyn Ferdin, Wesley Eure

Tag line: "Bit by bit..By bit he carved a nightmare!"

Trivia: This movie was one of the "Video Nasties" of the 1980s and was banned in the UK from 1982 to 2000

Supposedly, this is how it all went down…

Indie film producer Tony DiDeo was thumbing through his newspaper one morning and noticed an ad announcing that 1974’s The Texas Chain Saw Massacre was returning to local theaters for a short run. At first, he thought this was a bit odd; why show a movie that is several years old? But after making a phone call or two, Tony discovered that - especially at this point in the late ‘70s - horror was all the rage, and meant big bucks at the box office. 

So Tony rented his own copy of The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, got a few people together (including director Dennis Donnelly), and, while screening the movie, instructed everyone present to come up with a similar idea that they could turn into a feature film. 

From that screening, 1978's The Toolbox Murders was born. 

A shockingly violent motion picture that found its way onto the UK’s “Video Nasty” list of the 1980s, The Toolbox Murders is as much an early slasher as it is a psychological thriller, and is not for the faint of heart!

Over the course of a couple of nights, an apartment complex owned and operated by Vance Kingsley (Cameron Mitchell) is rocked by 
a string of grisly murders. The victims - each a pretty young woman - were slaughtered with common, everyday tools, from drills to screwdrivers, making it difficult for Police Detective Jamison (Tim Donnelly) to pinpoint the killer. 

The authorities are also baffled by the kidnapping of 15-year-old Laurie Ballard (Pamelyn Ferdin), a resident of the complex, and wonder if her abduction is somehow related to the murders. 

In an effort to find his younger sister, Joey Ballard (Nicolas Beauvy) teams up with the owner’s nephew Kent Kingsley (Wesley Eure, who played Will in the ‘70s Krofft show Land of the Lost) in the hopes they can uncover a few clues. 

What they do find will shake them to their core.

After a brief opening sequence (which also features a flashback to a fatal car accident), The Toolbox Murders gets right down to business, with the killer (his face hidden behind a mask) finishing off a drunken Miss Andrews (Faith McSwain) with a hand drill, then heading down the hall to visit her neighbor, Debbie (Marciee Drake), who, after being knocked unconscious, has an unfortunate run-in with the claw end of a hammer. 
There will be more victims as the movie wears on, each killed in a fashion that is equally as brutal. 

The moment Laurie Ballard is kidnapped, however, The Toolbox Murders switches gears and becomes a psychological thriller (we learn the identity of the killer early in the movie's second half, essentially solving the mystery that dominated the opening scenes), and while the violence is more sporadic at this late stage, what little there is remains just as gruesome as what went before it.

In a way, this makes The Toolbox Murders two movies wrapped into one, and while I think the first half (the “slasher” portion) is better than the second, all of its elements blend together nicely, combining its dual personalities into one very satisfying whole.

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