Not only does this movie excite me because it’s a slasher and a Cameron Mitchell movie, but it’s also a “based on a true story” riff, which is always fascinating.
Los Angeles producer Tony Didio wanted to make a low-budget horror film after seeing how well The Texas Chain Saw Massacre. He knew the film’s distributors — uh-oh — and contacted them to see why they were re-releasing the movie again. While he should have realized it never really stopped playing theaters until the advent of home video — and even afterward for some time — he was smart enough to stay clear of working with the, and making and releasing his own slasher.
Supposedly based on a series of killings in either Michigan or Minnesota that were ritualistic and sex-based, this has famously been cited as one of Stephen King’s favorite movies.
If Pieces can say that “it’s exactly what you think it is,” The Toolbox Murders takes things even further into what I refer to as the pornography of violence, treating each kill as another scene in a gradually escalating orgy of evisceration. That said, the film then goes from slasher to character study in the final act, totally changing everything up on the viewer.
As for Mitchell, he’s completely off the rails in this and I loved every minute of his performance. And this being 1977, of course there’s an incest angle, because the 70’s were just greasy and sweaty and gross.
Vance Kingsley, Mitchell’s role in this, tries to rise above all the sin by using every tool in his, well, toolbox to perforate, slash and decimate every sinner he meets before being killed for love, which then uses scissors to escape into the night. There’s even a square up card at the end for a “this really happened*” shocker.
Wesly Eure loved being in this, relishing the opportunity to do something subversive after being the goody Will Marshall on Land of the Lost. I wonder how Pamela Ferdin felt, as she is better known for being the voice of Lucy on Peanuts (though she is also in the original The Beguiled).
Director Dennis Donnelly would go on to direct plenty of TV, including one of The Amazing Spider-Man episodes in the 70’s, along with Supertrain, Hart to Hart and The A-Team. That makes sense, as this really does look like a TV movie, unless you take into account all the nudity, sex and gore. And speaking of carnal knowledge, that’s adult actress Kelly Nichols playing Dee Dee, the woman who gets nail gunned in the tub (she was still working in the field doing makeup as Marianne Walters, the name she used for this film, as late as 2015).
Despite a 1986 sequel never happening, in a strange twist Tobe Hooper would direct the remake to this in 2004, which was followed by an official sequel in 2015 and an unoffical one, Coffin Baby, in 2013 that used footage from a scrapped sequel. That movie was tied up in legal wrangling, but has since been released. They all have a more supernatural element than the down-to-earth feel of the original.
You can watch this on Tubi.
*But totally didn’t.