1978’s “The Toolbox Murders” opens with a string of grisly murders by a ski-mask wearing killer. His targets; the beautiful denizens of a Los Angeles area apartment building. His weapons; a virtual arsenal of home improvement gear. He is the toolbox killer – wielder of hammers and screwdrivers, nailguns and power drills. He is Tim “The Tool Man” Taylor meets Ted Bundy, and, by the time you hear the jingle of his tool belt, you’re already dead.
Detective Jamison (Tim Donnelly) is at his wits end trying to find the killer, but matters are further complicated when, during his murderous rampage, the killer kidnaps button-cute teenager, Laurie (Pamelyn Ferdin). While the police flounder, Laurie’s older brother, Joey (Nicholas Beauvy) decides to take matters into his own hands, and enlists the help of his friend, Kent (“Land of the Lost” star, Wesley Eure) and Kent’s uncle, Vance (Cameron Mitchell), to aid him in his search for his sister.
The Toolbox Murders has a reputation for being a brazenly misogynistic, cruel, and exceptionally violent sexploitation flick, and, for a good chunk of its running time, it is. But, like a lot of films with such sordid reputations, Toolbox Murders’ bark is a hell of a lot worse than its bite. Much of the “action” takes place in the first 30 minutes of the movie, and, after the opening volley of kinks and kills, we’re left with a somewhat slow and predictable procedural melodrama, with inept policemen, red herrings galore, and a strangely heartfelt finale that seems out of step with the rest of the film. The Toolbox Murders is very much like an Italian giallo film in this regard, and viewers who’ve seen a few of these films will be sure to guess the identity of the killer long before the final act, as it follows the formula to a fault. It’s a bit of a shame that The Toolbox Murders has such an ignoble reputation, as viewers drawn in by the promise of wall-to-wall sex and ultraviolence may well feel cheated by the comparatively tame second half of the film. Personally, I quite enjoy the manner in which the story unfolds, but even I was surprised by the rather jarring change of pace the first time seeing the film, and it’s taken me several viewings to fully appreciate The Toolbox Murders for the Euro-inspired sleazefest that is is.
One of Blue Underground’s first DVD releases several years back, The Toolbox Murders is the company’s choice for an early jump to yet another medium – Blu-ray – and the results are fairly impressive. Blue Underground presents the film in a very clean 1.66:1 1080p transfer that is surprisingly vibrant, with rich color saturation and deep, true blacks. The level of detail on display here is also startling, especially considering the film’s age. The image is cleaned up quite nicely, with a noticeable increase in sharpness and contrast that lends the film a sense of depth and dimensionality lacking from the previous DVD release. The 7.1 DTS-HD soundtrack is also much cleaner and more nuanced than the DVD, but the mix is still decidedly front heavy. For comparison’s sake, Blue Underground have also included a 5.1 Dolby Digital mix, as well as the wonderfully rustic original mono track.
Extras are all carried over from Blue Underground’s previously released DVD, and include an interview with porn-star Marianne Walter (featured in the film's infamous bathtub sequence), in which she discusses her part in the scene's creation, as well as her surprise as to its long-term impact on fans of the film. Also included is an audio commentary with star Pamelyn Ferdin, producer Tony DiDio, and Director of Photography Gary Graver. The trio don’t offer much by way of insight on the film itself as they seem to be more interested in discussing other movies they were part of, but it's still entertaining to listen to the few memories of the film and its production they opt to share. Rounding out the extras are a collection of trailers and radio spots, a photo gallery, production art, and a biography of star Cameron Mitchell.
The Toolbox Murders is a borderline genre classic that has the burden of living up to a reputation that’s much nastier than the film actually is. While the opening act is exceptionally violent and lurid, the film shifts gears rather abruptly and settles into a somewhat staid and, occasionally, quite silly crime drama that seems rooted in giallo conventions despite the film being made by an American television director. For me, this incongruousness is all part of the charm of The Toolbox Murders, but for those expecting non-stop boobs and bloodshed, the film will ultimately disappoint.
Fans of The Toolbox Murders will no doubt want to add this excellent Blu-ray to their collection, however, as the transfer is really quite impressive, and the newly cleaned up and beefed up soundtrack is a great improvement over its DVD predecessor. While no new features are offered here, those upgrading from the DVD can rest assured that all of the previously available supplements are present and accounted for, making this one an easily recommended purchase for this film’s devoted following.