The Toolbox Murders

A marvel of economical trash filmmaking, delivering a nonstop parade of T&A, tacky easy listening music, and one brutal dispatching after another from the hand of a psycho in a Torso-style ski mask who makes inventive use of his bottomless toolbox. Hammers, chisels, drills — and, in the most infamous moment of all, a nail gun applied to a beautiful bathing self-pleasurer — all set the tone for a near-plotless exercise in carnage, only for the story to abruptly swerve at the second-act pivot point into something resembling a sordid Tennessee Williams play, albeit one relocated to the San Fernando Valley, circa ’78. As well, since the film makes it plainly obvious who the killer is, director Dennis Donnelly resorts to other methods of holding the viewer’s attention — which mostly consists of letting the wonderfully hammy Cameron Mitchell rip into his role with full gusto, with one scene in particular that’s quite unlike anything else ever put on film: a jaw-dropping protracted dramatic exercise that comes completely out of left field. For nostalgic fans of extreme unease!
Dir. Dennis Donnelly, 1978, 35mm, 93 min. (Archival 35mm print courtesy of the American Genre Film Archive)

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