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Review: The Toolbox Murders DVD (1978)

By Lance Vaughan



Perennial blood soaked yarn involving a humming ski-masked psycho's pursuit to rid the world of amorality one wanton woman at a time. Toolbox Murders hits the ground running with four consecutive kills before we're even offered a glimpse of a final girl. Then it's on to a centerpiece murder that opens with a young women pleasuring herself in a tub and closes with her being nail-gunned through the head. Notoriously brutal and famously banned, this Stephen King recommended nightmare is willing to go to some pretty uncomfortable places in order to unnerve.

More than any murder depicted though, the real anguish is derived from the mental torture and kidnapping of a child star Pamelyn Ferdin. Her authentic, heartbreaking performance will linger with you longer than anything involving a power-drill. Often dismissed as exploitive trash, Toolbox actually does a lot to distinguish itself from it's peers. Besides the creative casting, inventive editing and atypical structure, there is an earnest attempt to get into its character's psyches. Cameron Mitchell may veer close to camp at some points but he is a joy to watch and this is a high point performance of a genre legend.


The picture is astoundingly crisp, clear and bright. Throw your VHS copy into the trash, in fact, place it on a catapult and launch it into outer space. Folks have often accused this flick of being muddy and it's just not the case. If you are used to the older version, the effect of seeing it here is akin to watching it in 3D. I promise you will see details you've missed in previous viewings (I had to freeze frame on a sign in one victim's bathroom that read "V.D is spread by toilet seats"). The sound is Dolby Mono and scrubbed clean of hiss and the musical score hits all the right beats. Frankly, the picture is so great that you'll be too busy counting eyelashes and checking to see if people's shoes are tied.


I really enjoyed the audio commentary with Producer Tony DiDio, Director of photography Gary Graver and Star Pamelyn Ferdin. At first I feared it was going to be a rough ride without the Director's input but it rolls along fine. It's actually refreshing to hear the Producer speak of the business side of exploitation filmmaking. It's also great to hear Pamelyn speak - not only was she a great child actress - she was also the voice of Lucy Van Pelt in the classic Charlie Brown specials.

I Got Nailed in The Toolbox Murders is an interview with star Mariane Walter. Tellingly, every VHS rental copy of Toolbox in existence is damaged during her infamous bathtub scene due to the severe wear and tear of slo-mo and rewind. What's not to love about Mariane? She's a fiery redhead, she loves horror movies and she has appeared in porn.

The wonderfully sleazy theatrical trailer tries hard to sell the film as a true story showing candid snapshots of anonymous women meant to be the victims in the film. The grainy news/real ploy has recently come back into fashion with the Michael Bay produced remakes of TCM and Amityville. The radio spots are both chillingly deranged and borderline hilarious, great artifacts of a bygone era. I can just imagine some poor sap getting a flat tire and having to hear one of these drill blaring oddities come over the car radio...

The poster and still gallery is respectable. Toolbox had a killer campaign. But when something works there is no need to fix it which makes for some repetition of its iconic ski masked man and slogan "Bit By Bit... He carved a nightmare!!"

There's an abridged Cameron Mitchell bio. It certainly would be difficult to list everything this actor had ever appeared in. His horror credits alone are extensive. His late career may have been spent loitering in half baked schlock but less we forget, this guy starred in the slasher granddaddy Blood And Black Lace!


The DVD case is a nice take on the original poster art but with a new blood red background and assorted blurbs including the infamous Stephen King endorsement. Some folks have complained about a still on the back cover that clearly identifies the identity of the killer but if you don't know by the title credits your toolbox is a couple hammers short. Inside there is another depiction of the artwork with it's traditional white background. In her interview Mariane Walter admits to being quite proud of her prominence in the poster having assumed she would just be another random kill. (You may also recognize this image as the cover of the video nasty bible See No Evil by David Kerekes and David Slater.) The menu screen assaults you with a victim's eye view of the business end of a drill and tool icons are cleverly used for navigation.



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