The Toolbox Murders

02/17/2022 06:34

Film: The Toolbox Murders

Year: 1978

Director: Dennis Donnelly

Writers: Neva Friedenn, Robert Easter and Ann Kindberg

Starring: Cameron Mitchell, Pamelyn Ferdin and Wesley Eure



This is a movie that I didn’t know about until getting into horror movie podcasts. It would pop up from time to time for a few different reasons. The major one was that this was a ‘Video Nasty’. I believe looking it up that this fell on the Tier Two list, making it banned, but not prosecuted. Other than that, I didn’t know a lot about this movie other than that our killer used items from a toolbox. I had seen the remake of this ahead of seeing this original one as well, so I was curious about their connection. Our synopsis is a ski-masked maniac kill apartment complex tenants with the contents of a toolbox.

We start this movie off driving in a car. The radio is on and we’re hearing religious type talk. The movie then does a freeze frame of a car dealership. We are then given flashes that a car accident occurred here. The passenger was a young woman who died. Our car then parks along the street. The driver takes out a toolbox from the trunk and moves over to an apartment complex.

It turns out that our driver is the maintenance man as the woman is giving him grief for calling a few days ago and he’s now here to fix the problem. Instead, our guy takes out a drill and comes after the woman. She tries to flee but is murdered. They then put on a ski mask. From here they go to another apartment that belongs to Debbie (Marciee Drake). She is killed with a hammer. Maria (Evelyn Guerrero) then shows up and she is killed as well. The killer looks out the window. He’s on the second level and he sees a woman on the phone. Below is Dee Ann (Kelly Nichols) as she dances around her apartment in her underwear.

The police are called to the scene of this crime. Detective Jamison (Tim Donnelly) is collecting information from the neighbors who discovered what happened. The owner of the property is called in, Vance Kingsley (Cameron Mitchell), to share what information he knows about what happened here. He’s able to also give information on the residents.

We then get to meet our main characters. They are a family with Joanne Ballard (Aneta Corsaut), who is the mother. As we meet her as she sleeps late. The reason being is that works at a bar. She has a daughter of Laurie (Pamelyn Ferdin) and a son of Joey (Nicolas Beauvy). From what I gather, she is a good student and does what she is told where Joey has been staying out late.

Their world gets turned upside down when Dee is attacked the next night. From there, our killer goes into the Ballard’s apartment and kidnaps Laurie. Joanna comes home and asks Joey where his sister is. He wasn’t home at the time of the attack either. They then hear the screams as what happened to Dee is discovered. The police are alerted to Laurie being missing, but Detective Jamison isn’t quick to think she’s been taken. Joey instead becomes a suspect. He then goes about trying to figure out what happened to his sister.

Now that is where I’m going to leave my recap for this movie. This movie wasn’t necessarily what I was expecting coming into it. When you hear that this was banned in the United Kingdom as ‘Video Nasty’, I’m expecting a bit more. This movie starts off as a slasher film with our killer using tools. I thought that was great. We get a shift later in the movie into more of a psychological thriller as Joey investigates what happened to his sister.

I want to start in the first half. This doesn’t waste any time getting into it. I like that it is setting up that something happened to this teen and our killer is going to be connected to it. I will admit something. When they put the ski mask on, I could tell who the killer was. It wasn’t tight enough and I could see a good portion of their face through the holes. When I then saw them without it on, I figured it out. This movie starts as a ‘who-done-it’. What it delves into though is much different. I don’t love it, but I also don’t hate either. It makes me wish they would have spread some of both parts out a bit more to mesh better. I can understand why the latter parts of the psychological thriller need time to get there. What I will say though is this movie is mean-spirited, which I can appreciate.

A bit more with the latter part here, I don’t know if this flick works as well as they wanted with fleshing this out. I can buy the motives of the killer. There are darker things that get explored as Joey is looking into it. I wasn’t expecting it to go where it did as I was saying. It does make sense with the idea that trauma, when not dealt with properly, can manifest in some odd ways. There are some things that I don’t know if I fully buy into as I was saying, but I can roll with it.

That should be enough for the story, so I’ll take this over to the effects. I was surprised with how well they were done. We get kills done with a drill, a hammer and a nail gun. With this latter one, I do have issues with all movies using them as no one in film seems to understand how they work. This is an older one, so maybe it could and that is why they went with the more modern version after. Since this is an issue across the board, I won’t hold it against this movie. We get some solid kills. The blood looks good and it can be quite brutal. There’s even a kill with fire that shocked me. I do know this landed as a ‘Video Nasty’ due to tools being used, which from what I’ve learned as automatic. None of these effects are over the top but look good. The cinematography is also solid. We get some POV of the killer, which is interesting that it came out the same year as Halloween. I would say this film falls into the proto-slasher category with where the movie ends up. How kills are framed was solid to find things and looks good as well.

From here I’ll go over to the acting. I thought it was fine. Mitchell is interesting here. He is the property owner that seems like a good guy, but he’s harboring a dark past. The same can be said for his nephew of Kent Kingsley (Wesley Eure). From the moment we meet them, I didn’t trust either one. I thought that Ferdin was solid as Laurie. There is a wholesomeness about her in the start. Having her be taken like she is and where her character comes out in the end is sad, but interesting. I thought Beauvy is solid. Donnelly is interesting as the detective. It is more with the era this was made as he says somethings that are misogynistic. I can’t fault his performance though as I assume it was written that way in the script. Corsaut is an interesting character as the mother. Aside from that, the others living in the apartment complex and the victims were all solid. We get some nudity with Nichols and I found it interesting to learn that she was a nude model and went on to do adult films. Being in this didn’t seem to bother her which makes sense.

Then finally I’ll go to the soundtrack. We oddly get a lot of country music. The songs were done by George Denton. I’m guessing the film had rights to the music or someone knew the artist. I don’t think it fits the movie. I did like that our killer is humming different tunes though. That adds a bit of creepiness, especially when a victim hears it before seeing him. The other music we get in the movie is solid though. It adds to the atmosphere and builds tension during the more hectic scenes. After chatting with Jake on Side Quest Podcast, I did like how the music from Denton was cheery while seeing horrific things on the screen. I’m a fan there.

In conclusion here, I enjoyed this movie overall. I think the weapons used by the killer are creative. This movie is coming out before the slasher boom, to which it has elements. The film is odd though is that the first half is one way while we are getting a psychological thriller for the latter. I would say that the acting is good, but it isn’t great at hiding who the killer is. The effects were on point. The cinematography was well done as well. If I have an issue, I don’t know if the story works as well as they would like. The country music didn’t necessarily fit, but I will say that the rest of it worked for me. This includes the killer humming as well. I would say this movie is above average for me. It is just lacking elements for me to go higher unfortunately.


My Rating: 7 out of 10