The Toolbox Murders (1978)

Cameron Mitchell and Kelly Nichols in The Toolbox Murders (1978)

The Toolbox Murders is an incredibly sleazy American slasher film that was banned in England as part of the 1984 Video Recordings Act. Over the years since its release, The Toolbox Murders has become a cult classic, and is remembered as one of the more popular films to be listed under the Video Nasty moniker, mainly because of the film’s premise of murder by handheld tools, and the rampant misogyny of the film’s villain. However, since 1984, The Toolbox Murders has had a bad history of being heavily censored by the BBFC ,until last year where The Toolbox Murders was finally released uncut in it’s gory glory by Exploitation distribution company 88 Films. However, The Toolbox Murders may be one of the more popular Video Nasties, but it isn’t one of the better films listed under that particular title.

To begin with, The Toolbox Murders is exceptionally poorly written. I feel that the 3 writers of The Toolbox Murders didn’t get the memo on how to make a slasher film. A slasher film usually begins slowly by introducing the characters, before introducing the killer, before building up to a shockingly violent climax. The Toolbox Murders feels like a slasher film in reverse: the film begins with 30 minutes of brutal violence before completely flat-lining altogether for the next hour of running time.  After the brutality of the first act, which showcases the film’s entire special effects budget, the film becomes completely boring. The main plot for the rest of the film is the kidnapping of young girl who is held hostage by the film’s misogynistic villain. The plot becomes entirely character driven, but the characters are just too poorly written to be empathetic, sympathetic, or frightening. The characters that the film focuses on are as dull as dishwater and their motivations are really hard to grasp. There’s no defined, likable, or unlikable character, each one is as annoying as the next. Part of this problem I chalk down to the poor acting on display throughout the whole film, but I know that most of the fault lies upon the shoulder of the film’s writers, it felt like they didn’t really know what they were doing. The only interesting part of the film after the first 30 minutes of screen-time is a scene where Cameron Mitchell’s character gives a demented monologue to the kidnapped Laurie halfway through the film: it’s an incredibly cliched and unoriginal monologue with a lot of references to religion and sinners and how he wants to “eliminate the evil of the world”. It’s something that I’ve heard so many times throughout my years of movie-watching, but it’s much better than anything else the film has to offer.

The Toolbox Murders suffers from technical faults as well, specifically in the editing department. The film’s editing is incredibly shoddy: from glaringly obvious jump-cuts to cover mistakes, to jumping back and forth between shot to feebly attempt create some sense of tension during the murder scenes. This makes the editor feel either incredibly incompetent or completely new to the horror genre. When editing a horror movie, specifically one that’s gory and violent, the tension of a murder scene comes from the long, drawn out voyeurism of the death that is occurring onscreen utilizing lengthy shots with very minimal cutting between them; that’s what makes a death scene so uncomfortable to watch, it has to feel like the audience is watching something they shouldn’t be. The same effect is not gained from jumping from one shot to next without giving the viewer enough time to digest what’s happening onscreen, that just makes the film really annoying to watch, and unfortunately, this happens throughout the whole film.

In my experience, The Toolbox Murders was an absolute slog to get through because after the initial 30 minute massacre, the film is very boring and very uncomfortable to watch. The initial 30 minutes is reasonably entertaining, however, mainly because of the sleazy death scenes and the nasty, cheap special effects to go along with them, but afterwards, the film just doesn’t feel worth watching. there’s an attempt at following a story, but it’s not hard to see that The Toolbox Murders was made because someone wanted to try to be original with murder weapons, a move inspired by The Texas Chainsaw Massacre which came out 4 years earlier. However, unlike The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, the crew behind The Toolbox Murders unfortunately didn’t have the competency to pull it off. All in all, The Toolbox Murders can be easily skipped. The first 30 minutes may be entertaining for the average gore-hound, but the rest of the film isn’t worth sitting through.

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