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Blue Underground presents
The Toolbox Murders (1977)

"Just fine. My neighborhood's the target of some maniac, and my sister's been kidnapped, probably by the same guy. How are you this morning?"
- Joey Ballard (Nicholas Beauvy)

Review By: Mark Zimmer  
Published: January 09, 2003

Stars: Cameron Mitchell, Pamelyn Ferdin, Wesley Eure
Other Stars: Nicholas Beauvy, Tim Donnelly, Aneta Corsaut, Marianne Walter
Director: Dennis Donnelly

Manufacturer: Ritek
MPAA Rating: Not Rated for (gore, violence, nudity, sexuality)
Run Time: 01h:33m:45s
Release Date: September 03, 2002
UPC: 014381192629
Genre: horror


Style
Grade
Substance
Grade
Image Transfer
Grade
Audio Transfer
Grade
Extras
Grade
A- BAB B+

DVD Review

When it comes to splatter, creativity and over-the-top violence it is a necessity to keep the ever-more-jaded audience enthralled. The notorious Toolbox Murders, a particularly nasty and infamous entry into the genre (banned for years in Britain), is no exception and manages to hold up well even 25 years later.

The picture starts off with a bang, as a ski-masked killer immediately offs four women with a variety of tools (spade-bit drill, claw hammer, screwdriver and nail gun, for those keeping score). The violence level calms down a bit after that, but the weirdness doesn't stop as the masked killer kidnaps young Laurie Ballard (Pamelyn Ferdin) and starts to live through a bizarre psychosexual relationship with her as stand-in for a girl killed in a car crash under the opening credits. The finale is suitably Grand Guignol and nearly everyone ends up dead, demented or both, just as if it were a Shakespearean tragedy. Cameron Mitchell headlines as the inarticulate and slightly weird owner of the apartment complex that the killer is using as his stalking ground, and Wesley Eure is his creepy nephew. Nicholas Beauvy has a meaty role as Laurie's brother Joey, who may be trying to find her, or may be the party responsible. Aneta Corseaut (The Blob) plays Laurie's mother.

Although the producer in the commentary states that the intention was to rip off >The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, the execution of the film makes it clear that they were attempting to make an American giallo film. All the elements are here: a black-gloved killer, amateur sleuthing, way over-the-top gruesome murders and the bizarre sexual dementia that fuels the whole thing. Heck, it's even got the aforementioned Mitchell, veteran of Eurocult favorite Mario Bava giallo films such as Blood and Black Lace. The only place where the film departs from the Italian formula is in the revelation of the killer; here it happens already by the fifty-minute mark, but it nonetheless works since that allows the introduction of the ghastly weirdness of Laurie's captivity.

This film has particular impact for those of us in our late thirties and older, who remember child/teen star Pamelyn Ferdin. She was ubiquitous on television in the 1960s and 1970s, always portraying a perfectly chirpy, apple-cheeked innocent. To see her here at the mercy of depraved mania, makes the film particularly harrowing. Younger viewers may not feel the same way, although much of her usual TV persona is on exhibit during the earlier parts of the film. At the other end of the spectrum, one of the victims, Dee Ann, who gets the nail gun treatment, is played by Marianne Walter, who would later go on to XXX fame under the nom de porn of Kelly Nichols. She's not called upon to do much beyond look sexy and be terrified as she's chased around with the nail gun, but she's compelling in both respects.

First-time director Dennis Donnelly does a creditable job here keeping suspense high while throwing in all the necessary exploitation elements. He has an interesting trademark of lingering on the after-effects of the brutality in an evocative manner: Laurie's spilled soda slowly soaking into the carpet after her kidnaping, the record player starting over after the death of the drill victim, and the slow pan on Marianne Walters' black & white portrait of herself, now lightly bespattered with her blood. There's actually artistic merit under the gore here, which is all too rare in such releases.

The blood is copious, and the nail gun sequence in particular is unforgettable. But the kidnaping sequence is perhaps the most harrowing, particularly since we've seen the killer be so brutal and we know what he's capable of doing to poor Laurie. Not for the weak-stomached, but a surprisingly taut horror thriller that works extremely well.

Rating for Style: A-
Rating for Substance: B

 

Image Transfer

 One
Aspect Ratio1.66:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes
Anamorphicyes


Image Transfer Review: The transfer, taken from the original negative, looks fabulous. Colors are spot on, detail and texture are excellent, black levels are good and shadow detail quite fine. There is minor grain as to be expected in a low budget effort such as this one, but only the occasional speckle betrays its age. Even the credits, an area that is usually plagued with dirt and crud due to the optical processes, look great. A very auspicious first release from Blue Underground, especially compared to the blurry, faded VHS prints in which this film is usually seen.

Image Transfer Grade: A

 

Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
MonoEnglishyes


Audio Transfer Review: The 2.0 mono English track sounds as good as can be expected. There is no hiss or noise present. The dialogue is clear throughout, and the music sounds fine. The limitations in low-budget filmmaking are evident, but there's not much that can be done about that. Don't expect this to be a demo for audio, but it sounds excellent for what it is.

Audio Transfer Grade: B

 

Disc Extras

Full Motion menu with music
Scene Access with 23 cues and remote access
Cast and Crew Biographies
Cast and Crew Filmographies
1 Original Trailer(s)
1 TV Spots/Teasers
1 Featurette(s)
1 Feature/Episode commentary by producer Tony DiDio, director of photography Gary Graver and star Pamelyn Ferdin
Packaging: generic plastic keepcase
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: single

Extra Extras:
  1. 2 radio spots
  2. Poster and still gallery
Extras Review: The extras are copious as well. Featured is a commentary with the now-retired Ferdin, the producer, Tony DiDio, and the director of photography, Gary Graver. DiDio's participation is not too meaningful beyond the inception of the story, since he acknowledges he was hands off during the filming. But Ferdin (who had never before seen the full film!) and Graver have plenty of anecdotes about the filming and numerous warm recollections of Cameron Mitchell. Graver has worked the gamut of film, taking time off from a project with Orson Welles to do this picture! There are a number of dead spots, but on the whole it's worthwhile. Again, those of us who remember Ferdin may feel a little uncomfortable watching this along with her due to her squeaky-clean past, but she seems to be okay with the film and happy to talk about it.

Also entertaining is a short (8m:04s) interview with Walter about the nail gun scene, briefly touching on her subsequent career in porn and later as a makeup artist. She obviously has fond memories of the picture and relates with delight watching it in her hometown. A theatrical trailer, a TV spot and two radio spots show the ballyhoo with which this film was sold, and a gallery of stills, a few posters and video packaging reinforces the sleazy exploitation element. Finally, a substantial text bio of Mitchell, with a brief filmography, winds up this very nice package. All of the extras are presented in anamorphic widescreen.

Extras Grade: B+

 

Final Comments

Blue Underground's first DVD release is a winner, providing an effective and dare I say creative splatter film with an absolutely first-rate transfer and a pile of extras to boot.

 


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