October Horrorshow: The Toolbox Murders

There’s nothing quite like a 1970s exploitation horror flick. That’s not a compliment. Often such films can be entertaining if there’s a sick spot a viewer needs to scratch, but just as often it can leave a viewer feeling a little filthy by the time the credits roll. Such is the case with today’s film.

From 1978, The Toolbox Murders follows a serial killer in a ski mask as he terrorizes an apartment complex in Los Angeles. It was directed by a fellow named Dennis Donnelly, and was a huge departure from his normal work. Before this flick, and after, Donnelly’s directing credits consist exclusively of episodes for American network television. Emergency!, Hawaii Five-O, Hart to Hart, Simon & Simon, etc. Donnelly’s career reads like a dive deep into Burbank mediocrity, from a time when there was little demand that what appeared on the idiot box was any good. The Toolbox Murders, though...this was the same man that directed twelve episodes of The A-Team? The guy who helmed thirteen episodes of Charlie’s Angels made a horror flick with a masturbation scene starring a future porn star? There’s an argument that Charlie’s Angels objectified women, but that was within the confines of broadcast standards and practices. The Toolbox Murders, on the other hand, has a shot at being the official movie of r/theredpill.

At first there doesn’t seem to be much of a plot to this film. The killer moves about the apartment complex, coming and going into apartments as he pleases, and leaving pretty young corpses behind. There’s not a lot of gore. My guess is there wasn’t enough room in the budget for any sort of real effects team. But there is plenty of nudity. Tits must have been cheaper than hiring Tom Savini.

Despite things not being that gory, the violence is brutal. There’s none of the silliness or absurdity one finds in the big franchise slasher flicks. The killer in this movie is a true predator, and the way he chases and terrorizes his victims in their apartments before killing them is on the wrong side of disturbing. If fake killing wasn’t entertaining, there would be no such thing as horror cinema, but this isn’t all that entertaining.

The killing only takes up about half the film, though. Afterwards the killer’s identity is revealed to the viewer, and we get to spend the remainder of the film wallowing in his crazy. Without spoiling too much, the killer has a problem with sins of the flesh. The religion angle isn’t all that convincing, but this is a shitty exploitation flick, not a John Milius opus. The acting stinks, the script stinks, and the editing stinks (something I rarely notice). Despite the subject matter, Donnelly directed this thing like it was a TV episode (seriously, it has the same aesthetic as an episode of CHiPs), but the three country songs by someone named George Deaton scattered throughout the soundtrack made me chuckle at times. That was the only joy I got out of this dog.

Alien: Resurrection is a better film than The Toolbox Murders.