Toolbox Murders, The (1978)

Toolbox Murders, The (1978)

“You need more than a spilled Pepsi to prove that she was kidnapped.”

When his sister (Pamelyn Ferdin) goes missing, a teenager (Nicolas Beauvy) and his friend (Wesley Eure) attempt to determine who has committed a rash of bloody murders in an apartment complex.

Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:

  • Amateur Sleuths
  • Cameron Mitchell Films
  • Horror Films
  • Kidnapping
  • Serial Killers

Within the first half-hour of this notorious serial killer flick — banned in the U.K. from 1982-2000 as a “video nasty” — we witness no less then four grisly “murders by tool” of nubile young women, all living within the same apartment complex. Shortly thereafter, we learn that the ski-masked killer is the apartment’s deeply disturbed landlord (Cameron Mitchell) who has gone off the deep end after the death of his teenage daughter in a car accident (shown as a flashback in the film’s opening credits sequence). When an apple-cheeked young virgin in the complex (Pamelyn Ferdin) goes missing, we can accurately guess that Mitchell is responsible, and that her life is in grave danger. Given its reputation, I was surprised to find The Toolbox Murders (remade in name only in 2004, by Tobe Hooper) to be a reasonably compelling slasher flick. While the opening murders are hard to stomach, the remaining hour or so holds one’s attention, as Mitchell chews the scenery and a major identity twist is revealed. While it’s only recommended for fans of the genre, this one is not quite as bad as you’d think.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • The “bedside” scene between Mitchell and Ferdin

Must See?
No — though hardcore film fanatics may be curious to check it out, given its notoriety. Listed as Trash in the back of Peary’s book.


3 thoughts on “Toolbox Murders, The (1978)

  1. Not a must.

    I hadn’t seen this but knew its rep. In recent years, I have started weaning myself off films of this nature – not due to any moral stance, but just because they are unpleasant experiences, to say the least. (I really only watched this cause “It’s in the book.”; otherwise…)

    Because I’ve avoided this kind of film lately, I did find it startling. If one watches this genre on a regular basis, the tendency can be to grow numb to the content: to judge such films on gore ratio alone – for ‘entertainment’ value – and to grow indifferent to the reality of defenseless victims. It’s one thing to often see films with general violence: crime dramas, war stories, etc. It’s another to develop a taste for stalker and seemingly innocent human prey.

    It’s true: “…this one is not quite as bad as you’d think.” ~both in the sense that there is a real limit to the murders and the second half of the film is, in many ways, rather well done (given the type of film it is).

    Most of the credit should probably go to director Dennis Donnelly (a tv director; this is his only feature). It appears Donnelly made a concerted effort to elevate the material (to class it up some?). He succeeds a number of times, most notably in the noted ‘bedside’ sequence. One of the longest segments in the film, it is also marvelously controlled (both by director and actors). I don’t feel Mitchell is chewing scenery at all, really; he seems to believe what he’s playing (well, until he moves a bit into full throttle). And Ferdin matches his performance. She’s not Janet Leigh in ‘Psycho’ – she’s not called on to do that much. But she does well in this scene.

    Of course, Donnelly can’t sidestep the obvious; this is still a slasher movie, and there are some things he can’t get around, like ‘delivering the goods’. People who flock to stuff like this are quite often the type to get bored easily and don’t want much to pass between killings (which is largely where I take issue with this genre; the fact that there’s a hungry, “Christians to the lions”-loving crowd out there doing body counts).

    If you read up on the backstory of this film…its producer watched ‘The Texas Chainsaw Massacre’, saw how much money it made, then went to some writer friends and told them he’d produce a script like that. So they wrote it. ‘TTM’ may have some soft edges, but its goal was to satisfy bloodlust.

    Note: The film’s postscript tells us it’s based on a true story (which apparently many doubt). At any rate, I’m not sure why I wasn’t ‘getting it’ but I had to freeze-frame the p.s. cause I wasn’t all that sure of what it was trying to say.

  2. ⭐️⭐️⭐️

    I agree that the film is not a must, but it’s suprisingly effective, well made and well played. It’s an example of the film that analyses the killer (we know who is the loon from the start). See also Maniac (1980) and Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer (1986).

  3. Incidentally, the film predates Halloween (1978); althought released in ‘78 the copyright is 1977.

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