Blue Underground // 1978 // 94 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Gordon Sullivan // January 8th, 2010
What he does to your nerves is almost as frightening as what he does to his victims!
When you start looking back on the video nasties, you can never be sure what you're going to get. Sure, many of them are rightfully famous for their excessive violence or graphic sexuality, but sometimes I think video made the list not because of the gore or nudity but because they disturbed viewer expectations. The Toolbox Murders is a perfect example. Sure it's got gore and nudity galore, but I think it's survived as long as it has because it completely upsets viewer expectations in its second half. By starting out as a typical slasher and ending as a psychological thriller, Toolbox gets under the skin in a way that sticking with one genre or another would not have.
The plot of The Toolbox Murders is about as simple as its title suggest: a man in a ski mask terrorizes the residents of an apartment building with a toolbox full of murderous implements. Naughty young women meet their end at the tip of numerous construction implements, including a drill and a nail gun. These young women all die horrible deaths until one young woman is kidnapped, and it's up to her brother to try to find the killer, who seems to be targeting sexually active young women, women the exact opposite of his sister.
The first half of The Toolbox Murders has justifiably gone down in slasher history as a brutal, woman-killing bit of cinematic filth. Our ski-masked murderer has a special hatred in his heart of unattached young women and he takes it out on them with great gusto using numerous toolbox implements. These murders often involve half-naked young women killed in graphic, bloody detail. There's lots of breasts, lots of blood, and the ski-masked killer looks properly menacing throughout. These are far from the most disturbing bits of violence in the exploitation tradition, but the film does manage to pack quite a few of them into a pretty short time.
The killer, however, is revealed about halfway through the film, and from there the movie switches to a more psychological mode, exploring the killer's motivations for both the killings and the kidnapping. It's not terribly original -- a guy who hates women who've been "spoiled" by the evil world so he must destroy them -- but the characterization and motivation are unexpected enough to be unsettling. The killer has obviously had a pretty serious break with reality and his ravings can be disconcerting.
This is not to say that The Toolbox Murders is an entirely successful film. I found both the murders and their motivation interesting, but there's quite a few bits in the middle where the brother is interacting with the cops and searching for his sister that fall flat and derail the film quite a bit. A couple of third-act revelations are a bit unrealistic, and the ending comes rather abruptly with some hokey titles about how the film is based on a true story.
Blue Underground has ported their previous (excellent) DVD of The Toolbox Murders to hi-def with this release. There's something beautiful about '70s film stock that makes me all nostalgic, and that feeling is perfectly captured by the wonderful 1.66:1 transfer. Colors are perfectly saturated and grain is just apparent enough to give the experience a filmlike sheen. The DTS-HD soundtrack is a bit of an overkill for this film, but the track does a fine job with dialogue and the squishy effects. The disc is made, however, by the extras. There's a commentary with the producer, the director of photography, and star Pamelyn Ferdin. They mostly share reminisces about the spare circumstances of the film's production. Then there's an interview with Marianne Walter where she talks about her involvement with the film and what she's done since being involved in an infamous flick. The disc finishes up with advertising material including TV and radio spots as well as the film's trailer.
The Toolbox Murders doesn't quite live up to the hype as one of the greatest exploitation films of all time, but its gory side is gory enough and its creepy side creepy enough to make it worth a watch for those interested in exploitation fare. Old fans of the film will have a tough upgrade decision on their hands. With no new extras (which isn't a slight because the original ones were so good), the hi-def transfer is the real draw. It's a pretty fantastic transfer at that, but upgrade potential is going to depend on the dedication of the individual viewer.
Once again Blue Underground is not guilty for presenting a cult classic in hi-def.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Blue Underground
* 1.66:1 Non-Anamorphic (1080p)
* DTS HD 7.1 Master Audio (English)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital 1.0 Mono (English)
* English (SDH)
Running Time: 94 Minutes
Release Year: 1978
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* Promo Material