The Toolbox Murders (1978)
Directed by: Dennis Donnelly
Written by: Neva Friedenn/Robert Easter/Ann Kindberg
A sicko masked murderer is killing tenants at an apartment building with tools from his toolbox. Is it the creepy old handyman (veteran actor Cameron Mitchell looking like a cross between Shatner and Brian Cox)? Is it the boy (Nicolas Beauvy) with the missing sister (Pamelyn Ferdin–the voice of Fern in Charlotte’s Web)? Is it just some random douchebag trying to pile up the ladies? Do we really care?
The best death scene is Marianne Walter getting nailed to the tune of a song called “Pretty Lady.” It is apparently Stephen King’s favorite death scene in a slasher flick…according to Marianne in the interview with her. Yes, it’s so good that it gets its own special feature. And it mainly involves her running around naked for about five minutes…and before that, she masturbates in the tub.
(In case you were wondering, Marianne later went into porn. Now she’s a makeup artist for legit and porn films.)
This is basically a Scooby-Doo mystery with gore. The slightly accused brother and his weird buddy, Creepy Handyman’s nephew (Wesley Eure–Will from “Land Of The Lost”) try to solve the crime on their own. The cops are still looking at the kid, but have no leads at all. Mainly because they’re complete idiots who can’t believe that the killer might have a key to all of these apartments.
The first 10 mintues of this movie was basically just a montage of kills set to really terrible music being played on victims’ radios. I started off wondering if there was going to be any dialogue in the movie. Then I wondered if there would be any plot. Then if there were going to be any characters.
I was pretty much right in thinking that it would have none of these. Once I figured that out, I was able to enjoy it a lot more…which is to say I barely enjoyed it at all.
There were some ok kills at the beginning and then about an hour of blah, blah, blah with the characters either being really creepy or being really scared. It’s all so banal that, by the time you find out that Creepy Handyman is, indeed, the killer and has the girl locked up in his dead daughter’s bedroom (which is pretty fucking early on, actually), you’re really not surprised at all. When the incest is brought up, you just figure that it’s par for the course of this weird-ass community.
The final scene is pretty fucking ridiculous. Not only does Eure kill his buddy to protect his uncle, but he finds his uncle with the girl, tells him that he and his cousin “made love,” kills his uncle and then FUCKING BECOMES HIM!!!
Through all of this, the girl just sits in the bed, not making a sound. Her eyes just keep getting bigger and bigger.
As brutal as the beginning of the movie is, the end makes it look like a Meg Ryan/Tom Hanks romp. Not as gory as the beginning, but psychologically more harrowing. And the disclaimer at the end saying that it was a true story…well, it’s obviously not. I mean, really? Would these guys really get the rights to a true story?
Just to prove that point, the trailer (included on the DVD) has a different date for the “actual” crime. Whoops.
Director Dennis Donnelly came from tv and went back to tv, never looking back at his only film. (He actually did some pretty A-list tv. “Hart To Hart,” “Simon And Simon,” “Hawaii Five-O,” “Vega$.” Oh yeah, and “Supertrain.” Can’t forget that one…no matter how much we want to.) His last work was as the first assistant director of the aerial unit on the Charlie Sheen/Nastassja Kinski flick Terminal Velocity in 1994. So, yeah. Horror doesn’t really get you anywhere, I guess. (Unless you’re Peter Jackson. Or Sam Raimi. Or Stephen King.)
There’s really not much to recommend here except for that nailing. Other than that, this is a pretty depraved flick without much merit even as z-grade slasher flicks go. It’s better than a lot on this list, but not nearly as good as others. It’s just kind of…mediocre. Which, in this genre, is the kiss of a bloody death.
LOW POINT: The creepiest moment occurs when Fern is trying to escape from the bed she’s tied in. She looks up into a mirror and sees her captor looking at her through the window right above her. It kind of sent a shudder down my spine. A bit like The Tall Man looming over the boy in the bed in Phantasm. Then Creepy Handyman comes in the room and starts singing “Motherless Children” to her. Then I got shudders for a completely different reason.