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October 16, 2012

Movie Review: The Toolbox Murders (1978, Blu-Ray)

Let's get right down to it. We cannot confuse The Toolbox Murders with a straight slasher film. It has some of the same elements of course (random nudity, unique death scenes, masked killer, etc.) but the thought behind the motivation of said masked killer was WAY ahead of it's time! In the late 1970s, the FBI were creating the Behavioral Sciences Unit (most notably, John Douglas and Robert Ressler did the groundwork). Criminal profiling, basically an amalgam science, was starting to gain use in predicting, and then thwarting, criminal behavior by creating a psychological profile of the assailant. They could have saved a lot of money, and time, by simply hiring Dennis Donnelly, director of The Toolbox Murders and his writers. The broken psyche of our Toolbox Murderer could have been a profiling template.

The same year that saw Carpenter's Halloween released was also the year that The Toolbox Murders came out. To most people, the films are lumped together and are considered part of the same tired old concepts they've seen a million times. That is an unfair assessment, though. These films were first and are radically different! In Halloween, John Carpenter managed to create a new horror film archetype... the slasher. Totally evil, relentless and nearly unstoppable. What The Toolbox Murders gives us, though, is a psychologically damaged, and sympathetic, man who wants nothing more than to bring his teenaged daughter back and punish the wicked. Cameron Mitchell plays Vance Kingsley, our bad guy, with an over the top zeal that really works. Lamenting the loss of his daughter, Vance Kingsley recreates her in a young girl, Laurie Ballard (Pamelyn Ferdin) that lives in the apartment complex he owns. While searching for the perfect replacement, Vance punishes the wicked women that threaten his Godly world with their sins which, in turn, would threaten the world of his daughter. Cool stuff. A second baddie, Vance's nephew, Kent (Wesley Eure, better known as Will from The Land of the Lost), has an abnormal connection with the long lost daughter as well, his cousin. Without giving anything away, let's just say that the outcome is a gruesome one.

Since the title of the film gives away the content of the story a bit, commenting on the tool-instigated death scenes may be in order. The body count is low, this is the seventies after all, around five but each one is played for gross outs. Most notably, the nail gun nudie girl death. It was so well done, they went and made it into the poster.

The Blu-Ray release from Blue Underground is absolutely gorgeous. Transferred very, very well, The Toolbox Murders is in pristine condition. A little light on extras (although an interview with porn-star Kelly Nichols, who appears in the film... really, really appears in the film is pretty cool) but I can overlook that with the quality of the transfer.

A great little almost forgotten gem. The remake, from 2003, should be forgotten, but this film still holds up. It stands out and is generally not given enough credit for helping to kickstart a sub-genre.

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