Wednesday, August 28, 2013

The Toolbox Murders (Dennis Donnelly, 1978)

For all intents and purposes, you can pretty much stop watching The Toolbox Murders at around the twenty-eight minute mark. Why is that, you ask? Well, other than the scene that involves a creepy/deranged Cameron Mitchell sucking on a lollipop while a bound and gagged Pamelyn Ferdin looks on in tear-stained horror, there's nothing much to cling to as far as drama goes. Oh, who am I kidding? I have no interest in drama. The problem is, no one is slaughtered after the twenty-eight minute mark. I know, that sounds like a terrible thing to say. But let's be honest, most people don't watch films with the titles like, "The Toolbox Murders," for the out of left field plot twists. No, what they want to see is attractive women, preferably one's that are on the cusp of being scantily clad, murdered with items found in your average toolbox. Since you're being honest, why don't you tell them the real reason you were upset with the direction this film took. Okay, fine. Now, I don't know what the consensus is regarding the legacy of this film, but I think most people–and by "people" I mean perverts–will agree that without the presence of the lovely Kelly Nichols (a.k.a. Marianne Walter) this film would have been a tedious slog indeed. Think about it. Imagine if this film, directed by Dennis Donnelly, didn't have the close-quarter murder sequence where a naked Kelly Nichols tries to rebuff the unfriendly advances of a nail gun-wielding maniac in a ski mask. Pretty frightening, right? You could say the reason nothing came close to matching the sheer awesomeness of the Kelly Nichols sequence was because the bar had been set too high. In other words, there was no way they could top that scene, so why even bother trying?

The latter scenes will be very appealing to those who have a thing for bondage and domination, as the film features many shots of Pamelyn Ferdin tied to a bed. However, since I pretend to not subscribe to that particular kink, I can't endorse these scenes with the fullness of my heart. No, what I think I'm going to have to do is cover the events of the first thirty or so minutes, while making the occasional remark related to what occurs afterward. Which, like I said, isn't that interesting.

Since I've decided to treat The Toolbox Murders like were a short film, that means I could end up going on and on about, oh, let's say, the shape of Kelly Nichols' soap dish. But let's hope it doesn't come to that.

Is it okay if I tell everyone that the opening scene reminded me of Night Moves? That depends. For starters, what is "Night Moves"? Well, you might know it as "Night Walk," but when I watched the "show" it was called "Night Moves." Anyway...Wait, why did you put the word "show" in quotes? That's because Night Moves wasn't really a "show," it just something that was on television. As I was saying, Night Moves was a "show" that Global TV aired from 2am to 5am on weekdays. Its premise was simple: a point of view tour of Toronto after dark set to jazz music that was apparently filmed some time in 1986. And you watched this? Yep. And get this, I did so while completely sober. I'll wait a few seconds for the gasps to subside. 1, 2, 3. So, yeah, the opening of The Toolbox Murders reminded me of Night Moves.

A mysterious figure is making his way through an L.A. neighbourhood in a large automobile, when, all of a sudden, we're treated to a flashback detailing the aftermath of a deadly car accident. Flopping out of the wrecked car is the lifeless corpse of Kathy Kingsley, a teenager who had her whole life ahead of her; or maybe she didn't, what do I know. Either way, she's dead, and her father, Vance Kingsley (Cameron Mitchell), blames society for what happened to her. Egged on by one of them radio preachers, Vance shows up at El Patio del Sequoia, a large apartment complex, with an equally large toolbox. Don't tell me. Oh, I'm telling you.

When he enters the apartment of Mrs. Andrews (Faith McSwain), a drunk, divorced floozie with a thing for country music, we're shocked to find out that she seems to know the man carrying the large toolbox. And not only that, she's doesn't run screaming when he pulls a drill out of his large toolbox. Her blue bathrobe is no match for his drill, and neither is her skin, as it tears through both with an alarming ease; they don't call them power drills for nothing.

After putting the finishes touches on Mrs. Andrews, Vance puts on his trademark ski mask. Hold on, if it's his trademark, then why wasn't he wearing it when he dispatched Mrs. Andrews? I guess he didn't want to arouse suspicion. Nevertheless, he's not done this evening. And judging by the amount of time we spend with her as she goes about her routine, I would say Debra (Marciee Drake), or "Debbie," as her girlfriend likes to call her, is next on Vance's hit list.

Just as I was about to question Debra's decision to step into the shower with her clothes on, Vance knocks her unconscious and drags her into the nearby stairwell. Before I continue, the reason Debra stepped into the shower with her clothes on was in order to get a shot of Debra with her top off. Still, I don't know why she couldn't have just turned the water off from outside the shower? I mean, if you're worried about getting your shirt sleeves wet, simply roll them up, baby. I don't think you heard me. This was done for sole purpose of us giving us a glimpse of Debra's naked breasts. Are naked breasts that important that they would make a semi-intelligent character behave in such an illogical manner? Yes. Yes they are. Good to know.

As Debra lies dead on the floor, the back of her head bashed in with a hammer, next to her dead girlfriend Maria (Evelyn Guerro), her guts stabbed with a screwdriver, Vance stares menacingly out the window at the apartments belonging to Dee Ann (Kelly Nichols) and Laurie Ballard (Pamelyn Ferdin), two young women who live decidedly different lifestyles. Nonetheless, both will, if the staring is any indication, end up being the target of Vance's next foray  to El Patio del Sequoia.

Did you happen to notice the last name of Pamelyn Ferdin's character? Yeah, it's Ballard. Like author J.G. Ballard. Where are you going with this? Don't you see, Vance's daughter was killed in a car accident. And one of J.G. Ballard's most famous books is called "Crash." Didn't you think the flashback sequence pertaining to Kathy's accident was a tad on the erotic side. No? Well I did. Anyway, car crash fetishism aside, Vance decides that he wants Laurie Ballard to be his new daughter. You mean he doesn't want to shoot her through the head with a nail gun? No, he's saving that tool for someone extra special.

If you thought Vance had problems with a drunk milf and a couple of closeted lesbians, wait until he meets Dee Ann, a chronic masturbator/exhibitionist with pillowy lips, his ski mask will probably burst into flames. Unfortunately for Dee Ann, Vance's ski mask doesn't burst into flames. Thankfully for us, however, we're treated to one of the greatest slasher film set pieces in movie history.

Clocking in at around eight minutes long, the sequence that pits Vance, who is wielding a battery operated nail gun (one that can apparently penetrate concrete), vs. Dee Ann, who is wielding nothing but her pert tits, is the stuff of horror legend. Why is that, you ask? Well, for one thing, Cameron Mitchell and Kelly Nichols are fully committed to the scene. In other words, no one half asses it. On top of that, the nail gun is probably one of the worst horror weapons currently on the market. Sure, it's basically no different than your average gun, but there's something about it that just doesn't sit right; it shoots nails...through concrete.

In the middle of washing her knees in the bath, Dee Ann, who is listening to the aptly titled "Pretty Lady" by George Deaton on the radio, begins to rub her soaking vagina. After awhile, it's obvious that Dee Ann is no longer "taking a bath." As Dee Ann is busy pleasuring herself, Vance enters her apartment. Standing in the doorway of her bathroom, Vance points his nail gun at Dee Ann. Jumping from the tub like a bolt of lightening, Dee Ann makes a run for it.

The dichotomy between the two combatants is rather striking. Whereas Dee Ann, minus a few stray bits of soap, is completely naked, every inch of Vance is covered with some sort of article of clothing. This gives the scene an extra layer of unpleasantness it didn't really need. Given the unfair nature of the fight, Vance eventually comes out on top. Yet, even Kelly Nichols' final moments are drenched in awesomeness.

Well, I'm afraid that's it. I know, we're only twenty-eight minutes into this thing, but you're not going to find anything that comes close to topping the sight of a bloodied Kelly Nichols leaning against a wall that boasts a poster of...Kelly Nichols!

The film soon morphs into a forced confinement movie, as Laurie Ballard is kidnapped by Vance while enjoying a Diet Pepsi. Now, the detective in charge of the case, a Det. Jamison (Tim Donnelly), will tell you that Laurie was enjoying a Pepsi when she was kidnapped. But it was clearly a Diet Pepsi. What's my point? My point is this Jamison fella isn't a very good detective. Someone else who probably realized that Det. Jamison wasn't up to the task was Laurie's brother, Joey Ballard (Nicholas Beauvy), who starts own investigation along with his friend, Kent Kingsley (Wesley Eure). And yes, I'm aware that Kent has the same exact last name as Vance. Nonetheless, many yawns are expelled whenever Joey and Kent are onscreen.

If I were to single out a scene worth checking out after the twenty-eight minute mark, it would have to be the one where Cameron Mitchell enters Laurie's new room singing, "L-o-double l-i-p-o-p spells lollipop." Railing against the evils of the world while sucking on a lollipop, Cameron Mitchell's monologue while a bound and gagged Pamelyn Ferdin listens is pretty chilling stuff. I love the way he says "unnatural" three times in quick succession. Not to be out done, Pamelyn Ferdin describes heaven as a purple lollipop. Which makes perfect sense given the fact her psyche has been inundated with lollipop-related imagery over the course of the last five or six minutes. In fact, I was dying to suck a lollipop after the film was over. But don't worry, I didn't succumb to my craving, and my twenty year streak of no lollipops remained in tact.

video uploaded by DIOTD2008


  1. I have to admit, I dozed off during my one viewing of THE TOOLBOX MURDERS, waking up in time to see the "big surprise" without quite knowing why it was in there. Eh, I was more interested in all those North Hollywood locations that are all modernized now.

    Meanwhile, I have given you a blogging award. If you want to participate in passing it around yourself, it's all presented here.

  2. Even though I'm not all that familiar with North Hollywood, I can't believe I was able to find the name of the apartment complex featured in the film.

    Thanks for the blogging award. :)

    Well look at that, you have Homicide: LOTS listed as your favourite TV show. Now that show was the shit. "I am not Montel Williams."

  3. Never seen the original film. I've only seen the remake. From what I hear, the remake is worse than this one. I just watched Coffin Baby, the sequel to the remake, and it sucked so badly. I'll never watch it again. I really do want to get around to watching this one though. Good write-up!

  4. Thanks.

    I recall that the killer in the remake lives in the walls of the apartment building. And that it starred Drusilla from Buffy and Angela Bettis.