Notorious video nasty The Toolbox Murders looks to find a new fanbase as it lands on Blu-Ray this week. Modern audiences must look back with bewilderment at movies once deemed too obscene for the UK, considering how tame they appear in comparison to more modern efforts.
Almost 30 years after it was first released, The Toolbox Murders has lost any shock value it has and, despite a cult following, offers little from a nostalgic point of view.
Marketed as being based on a true story, the plot follows a masked killer who terrorises the inhabitants of an apartment block as he embarks on his murder spree. Not all the victims lose their lives, with a 15 year old girl named Laurie Ballard (Pamelyn Ferdin) alive but abducted. Her brother Joey (Nicholas Beauvy) becomes a suspect and, realising he can’t count on the police, he vows to find Laurie himself.
The movie doesn’t waste any time in starting the killings, although it does substitute any plot for this. Our masked maniac massacres one girl after another as the gruesome slayings are pieced together with little or no narrative. Director Dennis Donnelly ramps up the exploitation with a series of nude shots, a woman masturbating in the bath (played by porn star Kelly Nichols) and gratuitous violence.
While this may have repulsed filmgoers in the late seventies or early eighties, nowadays it’s weak compared to the torture porn brutality that mainstream filmmakers like Eli Roth have unleashed upon audiences. There’s no doubting the influence the film has likely had on modern horror maestros, yet The Toolbox Murders is a dull mess that abandons its slasher routes early on to reinvent itself as a mystery. It does not succeed.
There is little charm on offer with diabolical acting from the cast, most notably Beauvy and Wesley Eure who decide to play it straight when this is a film that shouldn’t be taken seriously. Ferdin puts in a good performance, but her character is uninspired and she struggles to inject any depth to her damsel in distress.
It can sometimes be harsh to judge a film by today’s standards but 1978 also saw the release of Halloween, Dawn of the Dead and I Spit on Your Grave – films that did everything The Toolbox Murders set out to do only better, with two out of the three enduring as true cinematic classics . One for the purists only, otherwise you’ll unlikely find anything of interest.