The Toolbox Murders (1978) was highly controversial at the time of its release and forty years later, it remains a topic of discussion for a number of reasons. Phil Donahue even weighed in on the flick in the year of its release. The hype around the picture is somewhat warranted. It is one of the filthiest flicks I have every seen. Full on frontal nudity, a realistic looking self-pleasuring scene, and brutal as hell gore effects help this feature live up to the reputation it has built for itself over the past 36 years. Controversy aside, The Toolbox Murders is a really disappointing movie,
The synopsis goes something like this: Dancing semi nude in the window and taking a bubble bath while pleasuring oneself can no longer go unpunished. A pissed off handyman with a box full of death tools is taking out his hate-fueled rage on the amoral and sexually impure women of a Los Angeles area apartment complex. The killer is determined to hammer, nail, drill, and screw the filth out of these unholy women if it kills him.
The first 30 minutes of The Toolbox Murders (1978) are actually fun. They are about as exploitative as one can get, this side of an X rating. I actually have no clue as to how this feature managed to secure an MPAA rating of R. If one submitted a film like this to the Motion Picture Association of America for classification today, it would be branded with an NC-17 before the board even made it through the first half of the flick.
Unfortunately, after a promising first act, The Toolbox Murders (1978) falls apart. It goes downhill in a big way and never succeeds at redeeming itself. The fast pace that was established at the beginning of the feature screeches to a halt as it shifts gears from a brutal slasher to the type of drama that screams made-for-television. The last 60 minutes are so painstakingly slow that the film becomes a chore to sit through.
The script is the biggest problem with The Toolbox Murders 1978. If screenwriters Neva Friedenn, Robert Easter, and Ann Kindberg had kept the pacing on point with the first 30 minutes of the feature, the film might have actually been good. It also would have helped to have maintained the secrecy of the killer’s identity, instead of throwing any element of suspense out the window by staging the reveal 1/3 of the way into the film. As it is written, though, there was no saving The Toolbox Murders (1978) from itself.
The acting is bad, even in the promising first act of the film. But, at least the first act offers grindhouse-esque action and nudity to distract the viewer from the poor performances. Beyond the first 30 minutes, there isn’t much else to focus on, so it’s likely that the audience will spend the second and third acts dissecting the terrible performances.
If you haven’t seen The Toolbox Murders 1978, you are not missing anything. You would be well suited to skip it all together. but if you must see it, consider watching the first 30 minutes and then just scanning the remaining 60. Doing so will save you the bother of sitting through an hour of nonsense.
Blue Underground released an uncut version of the film on DVD in 2003 that includes an interesting interview with one of the film’s stars. The bonus content is actually more entertaining than the film itself. Tobe Hooper remade The Toolbox Murders as a RINO (remake in name only) in 2004 and it is one of the rare instances where a remake is better than the source material on which it is based. I would definitely suggest watching the reboot over the original.
Director(s): Dennis Donnelly
Writer(s): Ann Kindberg, Robert Easter, Neva Friedenn
Stars: Wesley Eure
Studio/ Production Co: Cal-Am Productions, Tony DiDio Productions
Budget: $185,000 (Estimated)
Length: 93 Minutes