The Toolbox Murders (1978) was highly controversial at the time of its release and remains a topic of discussion to this day. Phil Donahue dedicated an entire show to The Toolbox Murders (1978) and other offensive titles in the year of the film’s release. The hype around the picture is somewhat warranted. It is one of the filthiest pictures I have every seen. Full on frontal nudity, a realistic looking self-pleasuring scene, and brutal as hell gore effects help this feature live up to the reputation it has built for itself over the past 36 years.
The synopsis goes something like this: Dancing semi nude in the window and taking a bubble bath while pleasuring oneself can no longer go unpunished. A pissed off handyman with a box full of death tools is taking out his hate-fueled rage on the amoral and sexually impure women of a Los Angeles area apartment complex. The killer is determined to hammer, nail, drill, and screw the filth out of these unholy women if it kills him.
The first 30 minutes of The Toolbox Murders (1978) are great fun. They are about as exploitative as one can get, this side of an X rating. I actually have no clue as to how this feature managed to secure an R-rating through the MPAA. If one submitted a film like this to the Motion Picture Association of America for classification today, it would be branded with an NC-17 before the board even made it through the first half of the film.
Unfortunately, after a promising first act, The Toolbox Murders 1978 falls apart. It goes downhill in a big way and never succeeds at redeeming itself. The fast pace that was established at the beginning of the feature screeches to a halt as it shifts gears from a brutal slasher to the type of drama that would air on The Lifetime network. The last 60 minutes are so painstakingly slow that the film becomes a chore to sit through.
The script is the biggest problem with The Toolbox Murders 1978. If it had kept the pacing on point with the first 30 minutes of the film and maintained the secrecy of the killer’s identity, instead of throwing any element of suspense out the window by revealing the identity of the killer 1/3 of the way into the film, it could have been a classic. As it is written, though, there was no saving it from itself.
The acting is bad, even in the promising first act of the feature, but at least the film offers grindhouse-esque action and nudity to distract the viewer from the poor performances. Beyond the first 30 minutes of the film, there isn’t much else to focus on, so it’s likely that the audience to spend the second and third acts dissecting the terrible performances. Cameron Mitchell (The Silent Scream 1979) is really bad as Vance, the killer. His preoccupation with the daughter that he lost is ineffective and unconvincing at best. Wesley Eure (from the Land of the Lost Television Series) is equally bad, if not worse as Vance’s nephew.
If you haven’t seen The Toolbox Murders 1978, you are not missing anything special. You would be well suited to skip it all together. but if you must see it, consider watching the first 30 minutes and then just scanning the remaining 60. Doing so will save you the bother of sitting through 60-minutes of nonsense. Blue Underground released an uncut version of the film on DVD in 2003 that includes an interesting interview with one of the film’s stars. The bonus content is actually more entertaining than the film itself. Tobe Hooper remade The Toolbox Murders as a RINO (remake in name only) in 2004 and it is one of the rare instances where a remake is better than the source material on which it is based. I would definitely suggest watching the 2005 reboot over the original.
Director(s): Dennis Donnelly
Writer(s): Ann Kindberg, Robert Easter, Neva Friedenn
Stars: Wesley Eure
Studio/ Production Co: Cal-Am Productions, Tony DiDio Productions
Budget: $185,000 (Estimated)
Length: 93 Minutes