The Toolbox Murders (1978)

toolbox murders poster 1978 movie
6.0 Overall Score
Story: 6/10
Acting: 6/10
Visual: 7/10

Doesn't take the path you necessarily expect

So-so story

Movie Info

Movie Name: The Toolbox Murders

Studio: Cal-Am Productions

Genre(s): Horror/B-Movie

Release Date(s): March 3, 1978

MPAA Rating: R

toolbox murders nailgun killer cameron mitchell

Who says you can never get a repairman?

At a gated apartment complex, someone is killing female tenants.  When Laurie Ballard (Pamelyn Ferdin) appears to have been kidnapped by the killer, Laurie’s brother Joey (Nicholas Beauvy) teams-up with a classmate named Kent (Wesley Eure) to search for the identity of the killer and kidnapper.  The vicious murders are being committed with common construction tools, and if the police, Joey, or Kent don’t find Laurie soon, she could be the next victim.

Directed by Dennis Donnelly, The Toolbox Murders is a low-budget grindhouse slasher movie.  The film faced censorship issues due to the violence and gore but has been given more positive reviews over the years.

I actually saw the 2004 version of Toolbox Murders before I saw The Toolbox Murders.  It actually wasn’t intentional (I thought I was getting the original version), and I remember being underwhelmed by the film.  When I finally had access to the original version of the movie, I was pleasantly surprised that the film held up better.  Due to the direction of the plot, a ******spoiler alert****** is in effect for the rest of the review.

toolbox murders cameron mitchell pamelyn ferdin

If a killer/kidnapper offers you a lollipop, he can’t be that bad…right?

The film is a cliché of the time.  The victims are women, unclothed, and end-up in a bloody mess.  It starts out rather typical a mystery (which isn’t very mysterious simply due to casting), but the mystery is revealed rather early.  The movie switches to a strange hostage-hostage taker movie and then has the hostage brutalized again by the second unstable character…it is a winner-less horror movie with Joey dead and Laurie forever traumatized.

The reason the movie’s killer isn’t a shocker is because of the presence of schlock star Cameron Mitchell as the apartment owner.  The movie does get odd in that Wesley Eure (Land of the Lost star) plays a secondary killer after he discovers his uncle’s death (“Joey, Joey burning bright”).  It also isn’t a shock since the character seemed off most of the time but it adds a change to a rather mundane script.  The lead jumps between Pamelyn Ferdin and Nicholas Beauvy as the sister and brother caught in the trap.

toolbox murders wesley eure joey joey burning bright

“Joey, Joey burning bright!”

The movie goes for gore and it achieves it.  The gore however doesn’t seem as powerful as other shockers like Last House on the Left or the later film Pieces.  It is pretty brutal at points but some of the gore (like Joey’s murder) aren’t shown on camera.  There is some stylish shooting at points, and of course lots of nudity to fit the title.

The Toolbox Murders has a lot of fans (Stephen King among them).  I like that the plot goes different directions than expected, but it also feels pretty typical of these type of grindhouse movies of the time.  The Toolbox Murders feels a lot like The Texas Chain Saw Massacre in spirit…you have characters that fall into a situation that leads to everyone ending up dead or broken.  It is probably more realistic when dealing with horror, but it is also a bit of a downer.  Tobe Hooper’s Toolbox Murders was released in 2004 but did not follow the same plotline.

Author: JPRoscoe View all posts by
Follow me on Twitter/Instagram/Letterboxd @JPRoscoe76! Loves all things pop-culture especially if it has a bit of a counter-culture twist. Plays video games (basically from the start when a neighbor brought home an Atari 2600), comic loving (for almost 30 years), and a true critic of movies. Enjoys the art house but also isn't afraid to let in one or two popular movies at the same time.

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