Monday, April 3, 2017

Film Review: The Toolbox Murders (1978)

The Toolbox Murders (Review)
United States/1978
Format Viewed For Review: Shudder
Netflix Streaming: No
Amazon Prime: No

"It's brutal, tense, and often surprising."

A vicious killer murders the tenants of an apartment complex using the deadly tools in his toolbox...

The Toolbox Murders is a slasher film. It may try to act as a mystery crime thriller, but it never quite works out like that. It is a solid slasher, though. The film begins with the killer arriving at the apartment complex while showcasing flashbacks to a fatal car accident. The killer brutally murders several people. The police begin investigating, but they're too slow to catch on. The killer strikes again—killing another tenant, then kidnapping Laurie Ballard (Pamelyn Ferdin), a teenager. The rest of the film follows Joey Ballard, Laurie's brother, and his friend, Kent, as they search for Laurie while cleaning up the crime scenes. It leads to a twisted climax and a solid ending. There are some scenes at the end that drag on a bit, but it ultimately leaves a strong impression.


If you're watching this as a mystery crime thriller, as its categorized on Wikipedia and IMDB, you might be disappointed. In terms of mystery, there isn't much of it. The killer's identity is predictable. If you can't guess the killer's identity before the end of the first act, you were probably watching the movie with your eyes closed. In terms of crime... Well, crimes are being committed. However, the police are horrible in this film. They are ridiculously foolish. It can work as a thriller, but it works best as a horror-slasher.

The Toolbox Murders features an impressive array of brutal murders. It's not as extreme as some recent horror films, but it is graphic and unnerving. The brutality of the murders and the raw presentation create a chilling atmosphere—it often feels like something you shouldn't be watching. There is some suspense here and there. And, since it's mostly grounded in reality, it hits home. This could happen at any apartment complex. The killer may be predictable, too, but he's ultimately a very effective character. This adds an emotional aspect to the film—something we don't see often in horror movies.

The acting was hit-or-miss. Although her role is smaller than the rest, Pamelyn Ferdin performed very well. Cameron Mitchell and Wesley Eure were great, too. Nicholas Beauvy was mediocre, though. Some of the supporting cast was weak, too. The film looked good, though, and the music was great. I loved the theme for this film. The movie was written by Robert Easter, Ann Kindberg, and Neva Friedenn; Dennis Donnelly directs. The writing wasn't bad, but it wasn't great, either. The sheer stupidity of certain characters and a few half-assed plot points made this film feel contrived. Fortunately, Donnelly knows how to craft an effective slasher. Using suspense, violence, and taboo, he creates an unnerving experience.

Overall, The Toolbox Murders is a very good movie. It's not Halloween or Black Christmas, but it is an effective slasher. It's brutal, tense, and often surprising. Okay, the killer's reveal may be a dud, but there are other scenes in the film that really surprise. If you like the genre, this is worth a watch.

Score: 7/10
Parental Guide: Strong violence and blood, nudity.

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