Thursday, February 11, 2010

THE TOOLBOX MURDERS (Blu-Ray)

Bill Lustig's Blue Underground continues the steady re-issuing of their film library in high-def with a new edition of the 1978 killer thriller, THE TOOLBOX MURDERS on Blu-Ray disc. This sleazy, gratuitous exercise in creative carnage has never looked so good.

The plot, such as it is, involves a ski-masked serial killer who terrorizes an apartment complex, murdering his victims ("immoral" women) with various implements from the titular toolbox - from screwdrivers and power drills to a high-powered nailgun. The police are baffled, of course.

Not a particularly well-made nor original production, THE TOOLBOX MURDERS does, nonetheless, possess some scuzzy charm, with the type of offbeat and eclectic cast that only true exploitation efforts can deliver. Veteran Cameron Mitchell (BLOOD & BLACK LACE, KILLPOINT, GORILLA AT LARGE) stars, supported by former child star Pamelyn Ferdin (SPACE ACADEMY) and Wesley Eure (the original LAND OF THE LOST). Adult film star Kelly Nichols (billed here as Marianne Walter) shows up as one of the driller killer's wanton victims, and ANDY GRIFFITH SHOW regular Aneta Corsaut plays a major role.

As to the movie, well, the first 25-30 minutes are essentially unrelenting violence, as the killer goes about his work. Adequately shot by B-film veteran Gary Graver, and enlivened by lots of nudity and crude gore effects, this third of the film gets the movie off to a memorable start. Unfortunately, the rest of the film, where detectives try to find the killer and we get his motives and backstory hand-served to us, is somewhat tedious. Things do pick up again in the final reel, so it's not a total wash.

Blue Underground's new Blu-Ray edition features a 1080p, 1.66:1 (barely) widescreen transfer that looks remarkable considering the film's age and obvious low budget. There is no noticeable film damage or dirt, and the colors are strong. Don't get me wrong - the movie is not visually very interesting or well-shot, but the transfer is terrific. Audio options include both a 7.1 DTS-HD track and 5.1 Dolby Digital Surround EX - both of which are kinda overkill for a movie like this. BU has included some fine extras, including an audio commentary by producer Tony DiDio, cinematographer Graver and (surprisingly) actress Ferdin. There is also a video interview (titled "I Got Nailed In THE TOOLBOX MURDERS") with Ms. Walter/Nichols, who discusses her involvement in the film. The package is rounded out with the original trailer, some radio spots and a TV commercial.

Because UK censors labeled THE TOOLBOX MURDERS a "Video Nasty" back in the 80s and banned it for a number of years, its reputation became somewhat overblown. In reality, it's a fairly crude little exploitation slasher that delivers the requisite fake gore and uncovered skin, but is poorly paced and somewhat boring through most of its running time. The odd cast - and typically strange performance by Mitchell - does compensate a bit, but the movie is only recommended for undemanding gorehounds and die hard grindhouse aficionados.

If you do decide to pick it up, though, the Blu-Ray edition is definitely the way to go.

BUY: The Toolbox Murders [Blu-ray]