That's one of the most fascinating things about it, really; rather than leaning on its gimmick as a crutch, The Toolbox Murders is at its sleaziest and most depraved when the killing spree is over and done with. There's not all that much of a hint early on that there's going to be a story bobbing somewhere around in here. Pretty much the entire first half-hour has a killer with an off-axis ski mask barging into some chick's apartment, struggling with her for a minute or two, fishing something out of the toolbox, and plop plop fizz fizz dead. Not only does it not seem as if there's anything more to the plot than that, but unless you count stuff like "Aaaaaagh! No! Please!", there's barely even any dialogue. These kills are pretty nasty, but they haven't aged all that well. The editing can be really choppy in these stretches, the lingering closeups of the corpses afterwards are more gruesome than the actual death blows, and even with the toolbox gimmick, the murders all seem pretty straightforward these days. Veering away from the usual slasher formula, The Toolbox Murders doesn't take a stab at
One of the biggest advantages The Toolbox Murders has is that it just barely predates the slasher craze of the '80s, so it doesn't know it's supposed to settle into those same sorts of clichés. It basically transforms into a completely different movie once it crosses the half-hour mark. The killing spree is over and done with, the police investigation is more or less in the rear view mirror too, and now we're palling around with a few characters that hung around the sidelines early on. The rest of the movie is split up into two running storylines. For a while there, the blander of the two is Joey goofing around with Kent (Wesley Eure), a jack-of-all-trades who works as a handyman in his uncle's apartment complex. Kent not only offers to toss Joey a little spending money by having him help clean up what's left of these crime scenes, but they use that as an excuse to launch their own investigation.
Skulking around some horror message boards, a lot of people gripe that The Toolbox Murders falls off the rails twentysomething minutes in, but for me, that's when the movie really gets started. For one, the most tense sequences come when the killing spree is out of the way. Most of the early kills are pretty clumsily staged and don't get the blood rushing (y'know, figuratively or whatever), and...well, having devoured so many of the slasher flicks that'd be churned out a few years after this, I've seen all that before. On the other hand, the unmasked killer belting out "Sometimes I Feel Like a Motherless Child" to a girl he's tied up with lace and ribbon in his dead daughter's old bedroom...? A deliriously rambling monologue -- complete with a musical number? -- delivered with a lollipop in hand? Even though these scenes aren't sopping with blood, they're entrancingly bizarre. I'd really like to give a nod to the actor behind the most unhinged, batshit deranged performance this side of Mal Arnold in Blood Feast, but I'll play nice with spoilers instead. As cacklingly sleazy and demented as so much of the second half of the movie is, it only gets stickier and more depraved in its final few minutes. It's also worth noting that the spotty acting early on fades away, and the performances throughout the last half-hour are actually pretty damned effective.
Yeah, there's all the gratuitous nudity, splatter, and red herrings you'd expect out of a vintage slasher, but The Toolbox Murders quickly hops out of that mold to make for one of the sleaziest, most demented exploitation flicks of the 1970s. As bleak and mean-spirited as the movie can be, The Toolbox Murders is so far out there that it's disturbingly fun at the same time, and it really does live up to all the notoriety it's scored over the years and then some. I guess I could've made this review a lot shorter by saying that if you're thinking you need to buy a movie with a title like The Toolbox Murders, you're probably right. Recommended.
C'mon, it's Blue Underground: just because that's The Toolbox Murders unspooling on-screen doesn't mean it'd be lavished with any less care and attention than Criterion would heap onto something with Bergman or Kurosawa's name on the bill. Their remastering work is as accomplished as ever. The 1080p video isn't dragged down by any trace of speckling or wear, and though that tight sheen of film grain is too unintrusive to ever distract, it also shows no signs of being overzealously smeared away either. Steering clear of any edge enhancement or excessive digital noise reduction, The Toolbox Murders looks consistently natural and filmic throughout. Black levels are generally deep and inky, and its palette -- those distinctively garish '70s colors and all -- packs more of a wallop here than I'd expect it to on DVD. Detail, clarity, and especially texture are also much improved over anything DVD could hope to deliver. The Toolbox Murders isn't as eyepopping as Blue Underground's best, such as The New York Ripper, but that looks to be a limitation of the original photography rather than any hiccups in putting this Blu-ray disc together. Ditto for that glow in the far left of the frame whenever the lights are dialed down. Anyway, The Toolbox Murders lives up to the ridiculously high expectations I set for anything with Blue Underground's logo plastered on the cover, and that's always a plus.
The Toolbox Murders is pillarboxed to preserve its original aspect ratio of 1.66:1, and its AVC encode fits comfortably on this BD-25 disc.
There's really not all that much to rattle off about this 7.1, 16-bit DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack. It's exactly what I waltzed in expecting, but if, for some reason, you're holding out hope that a 1978 slasher flick shot on the cheap is going to push your overpriced home theater rig to the breaking point, you might want to dial all that back a bit. Like pretty much everything out of Blue Underground, this is a respectful remix that doesn't take all that many liberties with the original monaural audio. There aren't any forced, gimmicky split-surround effects or awkward pans. Especially once you get past the choppy memories of a car wreck early on, this multichannel remix is used to belt out atmosphere like chirping crickets and sloshed barflies more than anything else. The score also spreads out to fill the soundscape really nicely, and the clinking bells in particular grabbed my attention. The audio stems are thin and dated, so don't hold your breath for shimmering, crystalline highs or any bass at all. Even though this is about as far from a full-bodied mix as it gets, there's still a pretty solid sense of distinctness; the different elements don't sound muddled together the way lesser vintage soundtracks frequently can. No hiss, pops, or noise reduction artifacts of note ever creep in either. The Toolbox Murders isn't some kind of aural spectacle or anything, but this low-budget exploitation flick sounds exactly the way I expected it to on Blu-ray, so I won't pretend to be disappointed.
This Blu-ray disc also serves up a Dolby Digital 5.1 EX track as well as its original monaural audio. Subtitles are offered in English (SDH), French, and Spanish.
The Final Word
The first half-hour is pretty much what you'd expect out of a '70s exploitation flick called The Toolbox Murders: a few (mostly) nubile young women being hacked to bits with stuff pulled out of an oversized toolbox. From there, though, the movie gets a whole helluva lot more demented than just another slasher-with-a-gimmick. The body count peters off from there, and you pretty much lose the whole toolbox thing, sure, but...well, there's a reason why The Toolbox Murders has that reputation as one of the sleaziest flicks ever made. Essential viewing for the cult cinema crowd. Recommended.