Director – Dennis Donnelly
Cast – Cameron Mitchell, Pamelyn Ferdin, Wesley Eure, Nicolas Beauvy, Tim Donnelly, Aneta Corsaut, Faith McSwain
Release Year – 1978
Reviewed by John of the Dead
I was first made aware of this film years ago when Lucky McKee(May) gave us his 2004 remake of this horror classic, which exceeded my expectations on several levels due to sweet direction and a unique storyline. Etched forever in horror lore, The Toolbox Murders is a classic that I rarely hear mentioned regarding horror classics, which does not reflect on the film’s quality or output, but makes for one of the genre’s more under-appreciated efforts.
Loosely based on a true story, we follow the panic and chaos erupting when a masked maniac kills unsuspecting women residing in an apartment complex using the tools he carries in his toolbox. When his sister goes missing, Joey Ballard(Nicolas Beauvy) goes on a vengeance filled search for the masked man.
Slasher films never get old to me, but I really love when they give me unique elements in addition to the standard ones that make this sub-genre so enjoyable for me. I loved the idea of a killer employing tools carried within his toolbox to deliver some gory kills via unsuspecting scandidly clad women living in a single apartment complex, which made for one of the most awesome first acts I have ever seen. The kills written into this film by its three writers were great and definitely came in brutal form, forcing sick smiles across my face on numerous occasions. I loved this killer and how he felt that he needed his tools to fix these women to look better in God’s eyes, although we were never really exposed to why he felt this way – or if his past had anything to do with his dementia, but that was OK with me. While the first act was fast paced and heavy in horror, the second act was definitely much slower and involved the social impact of the killer’s wrath, which was one of the more surprising elements this piece had to offer given I was not expecting a well-written story. Following Joey as he desperately searched for his sister was great, and it ultimately built up to a sweet third act that consisted of numerous developments and jaw-dropping character play, sort of like the final sequences to The Departed, but not as dramatic.
Director Dennis Donnelly did a swell job with this one, his only feature film, giving us great atmosphere and positive execution overall, but most importantly he was fantastic in his deliverance of the horror. The kill sequences were top-notch and his approach to them was full-frontal in every strike to the head and/or body via a plethora of gore-inducing tools. I applaud Donnelly for showing guts (literally and figuratively) in his execution of the kill sequences, which were what ultimately sold this effort to me, unsurprisingly. Cameron Mitchell(Blood and Black Lace, From a Whisper to a Scream, Terror Night, King Fu Cannibals, The Silent Scream) was superb as the killer, both masked and unmasked, which shows the versatility of his character given he uttered no words while masked and was forced to use mannerisms to sell his character, and his unmasked/speaking scenes were equally as creepy as we were finally able to see just how demented this character was. The other actors involved were positive, but Cameron Mitchell stole the show, on his own and with aid from Donnelly in delivering a sweet and gory horror experience that has proven to last.
Overall, The Toolbox Murders is a horror classic that gives us a sweet slasher tale that gives more than the usual effort. The story is well-crafted and kept me engaged throughout, and the kill sequences were gory, creative, brutal, and overall expertly delivered by the Donnelly/Mitchell combo. Recommended.