Directed by: Dennis Donnelly
Starring: Pamelyn Ferdin, Marianne Walter
Blue Underground has been bringing all of their greatest releases to the world of HD with a steady stream of blu-ray releases. There latest release is one of their earliest films on DVD, The Toolbox Murders.
The 80’s were bloated with formulaic slasher films such as the Friday the 13th series, the Halloween series, and many others. The best of these films, the ones that started the formula to begin with, were great because they weren’t self aware. 80’s films usually focused on the tropes of the formula first and plot second. The movies of the 70’s such as the first Halloween and the first Friday the 13th were just trying to make a scary movie, not necessarily trying to hit the high points of a certain formula. Movies like The Toolbox Murders fall into the subgenre of a slasher film but the reality is that this film is much more than that. In fact if you check this film out looking for a slasher you may be disappointed after the first half hour or so. On the other hand if you’re looking for a surreal experience from the 70’s that features elements of American slasher and Italian giallo then you’ll appreciate The Toolbox Murders.
The film starts of in classic slasher form featuring a mysterious killer taking people out in an apartment complex with various weapons taken from his toolbox such as a claw hammer and a drill. Hint’s of Italian giallo start early in the film with the killer wearing black gloves and his most memorable kill being that of a nude model. Classic giallo, as crafted first by the master of the genre Dario Argento, always featured a black gloved killer choosing some sort of model for victims. The other part of the giallo genre of films is focused on the mystery part of the story. Someone ends up investigating the murders independent of the bumbling and useless authorities and that happens in The Toolbox Murders too. The brother of a missing girl believes that his sister’s disappearance is connected to the series of murders that occurred in the apartment complex. Of course the police don’t see the connection so he is forced to investigate with the help of a buddy.
Without getting too much into spoiler territory the girl is still alive and the scenes between her and her captor are extremely surreal and quite creepy. The fact is that once the killing is done the film gets better in almost every way. The editing of the kills is messy and the acting from some of the victims is suspect at best. With that said the lingering shots of the corpses after the kills are a bit disturbing. But after the first half hour the characters that survive the slaughter are well acted and the surreal scenes are also extremely effective. By the end credits The Toolbox Murders features all of the “tools” of the slasher film as well as elements of 70’s exploitation, and an added layer of giallo and surreal scenes. That’s a lot of different elements for a low budget horror film. The Toolbox Murders doesn’t age well in a few scenes in the first half hour but overall the film still lives up to its reputation.
This 1080p presentation is quite surprising in its fidelity considering the source material. Black levels are deep and inky, detail is solid even with the thick layer of film grain, and colors are natural and consistent throughout the film. Often it can be tough to recommend the purchase of a blu-ray upgrade from a previously purchased DVD of these older films because the audio video quality just doesn’t seem that much improved. That’s definitely not the case with this blu-ray release. As far as the video goes this blu-ray is a fantastic upgrade from the previous solid DVD release from Blue Underground. The video quality here is better than the SD release in virtually every way.
This 30+ year old film was shot low budget and in mono so it’s a bit unfair to expect a whole lot from the aural experience. The fact is the 7.1 DTS HD audio presentation seems a little overkill for this particular film. The score, sound fx, and dialogue are cleanly mixed and properly separated even if the element are all mostly front loaded in the soundstage and lacking dynamic range. Some subtler bits of audio do make it to the rear speakers in a few scenes making them more immersive than they’ve ever been before. The score actually does manage to fill the soundstage too.
The Packaging and Bonus Features
The single disc release comes packaged in a standard thin blue amaray case with artwork taken from the previous DVD release. The art is fun but something new and a little more lavish would have made the blu-ray feel a little more like an upgrade from the previous DVD version.
Unfortunately there are no new bonus features or blu-ray exclusives on this disc. Everything here was previously available on the Blue Underground DVD release.
The big bonus feature here is an audio commentary with producer Tony Dido, director of photography Gary Graver, and star Pamelyn Ferdin. This is a load back and friendly commentary with everyone involved happy to talk about their experiences making this film. The commentary doesn’t get into the technical nuances of making the film but the stories they share are interesting and entertaining. On the downside the commentary lacks focus and there are long pauses where the film just runs and no one says anything. Hey it’s hilarious to know that the star of this film was the original voice actress for Lucy in the Peanuts cartoons though!
I Got Nailed in The Toolbox Murders is a way too short interview featurette with Marianne Walter, the woman who took the nail gun hit in the film. Her masturbation scene followed by her murder is the sequence most talked about from the film so sitting her down for an interview is a must. The interview is fascinating but way too short at just under 10 minutes.
Lastly there’s a TV spot and a couple of radio spots. A trailer and a featurette on the special fx are sorely missed in this release. What’s here is all good stuff unfortunately there just doesn’t seem to be quite enough. What about a tour of the locations as they exist now?
The Toolbox Murders starts off as a grimy slasher/exploitation film but quickly transitions to something much more surreal but just as disturbing as the first half hour. Fans of 70’s exploitation and early slasher films must own this one.
Overall (Not an Average) 7/10
The Movie 8/10
The Video 8/10
The Audio 6/10
The Packaging and Bonus Features 6/10
Overall (Not an average) 7/10