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Dennis Donnelly
Cameron Mitchell, Pamelyn Ferdin, Wesley Eure
Writing Credits:
Neva Friedenn, Robert Easter, Ann Kindberg

A ski-masked maniac kills apartment complex tenants with the contents of a toolbox.

Rated R.

Aspect Ratio: 1.66:1
Dolby Vision
English Dolby Atmos
English DTS-HD MA 5.1
English DTS-HD MA 1.0
Supplements Subtitles:

Runtime: 94 min.
Price: $49.95
Release Date: 1/18/2022

• Audio Commentary with Producer Tony Didio, Director of Photography Gary Graver and Actor Pamelyn Ferdin
• Audio Commentary with Film Historians Troy Howarth and Nathaniel Thompson
• Interview with Director Dennis Donnelly
• Interview with Actor Wesley Eure
• Interview with Actor Kelly Nichols
• Interview with Actor Marianne Walker
• Interview with Film Historian David Del Valle
• “They Know I Have Been Sad” Video Essay
• Poster & Still Gallery
• Trailer, TV Spot & Radio Spots
• Blu-ray Copy


-LG OLED65C6P 65-Inch 4K Ultra HD Smart OLED TV
-Marantz SR7010 9.2 Channel Full 4K Ultra HD AV Surround Receiver
-Sony UBP-X700 4K Ultra HD Dolby Vision Blu-ray Player
-Chane A2.4 Speakers
-SVS SB12-NSD 12" 400-watt Sealed Box Subwoofer


The Toolbox Murders [4K UHD] (1978)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (January 10, 2022)

For a slice of the sleazy 1970s thriller/exploitation genre, we head to 1978’s The Toolbox Murders. The film takes us to an apartment complex in Los Angeles.

A mysterious handyman (Cameron Mitchell) trolls around the neighborhood. He uses the tools of his trade to slaughter women he views as immoral.

Eventually Laurie Ballard (Pamelyn Ferdin) disappears and this concerns her family. Laurie’s brother Joey (Nicholas Beauvy) pairs with his pal Kent (Wesley Eure) to locate her and stop the killer before he strikes again.

When it hit screens in early 1978, Toolbox entered a horror marketplace on the cusp of the “slasher” phenomenon. Though it didn’t originate the genre, the same year’s Halloween established that this sort of movie could make oodles of money, and it also set up the basic framework that would dominate later entries.

Toolbox straddles the domains of slasher and violent thriller. While it leans in the direction of the former, it spends too much time in the latter to qualify as a traditional slasher tale.

To exacerbate the movie’s split personality, Toolbox changes tone pretty severely in its middle. While the first half emphasizes the “mysterious nutbag who commits graphic murders”, the second becomes more of a standard crime tale, one in which the “good guys” try to stop the maniac – though the final act packs its own surprise twist as well.

Perhaps more talented filmmakers could pull off these shifts, but in the hands of director Dennis Donnelly and company, Toolbox offers a sluggish mess. Whatever potential this tale possesses evaporates pretty quickly.

Not that no pleasures exist in the first half, as that portion of Toolbox offers some appealing nudity. Does the movie need the long scene in which Dee Ann (Kelly Nichols) masturbates in a bathtub?

Nope – the segment defines “gratuitous”. But it’s pretty hot, so I won’t complain.

Outside of the nudity, unfortunately, Toolbox tends to go nowhere. During the “slasher” half of the movie, the potentially scary scenes suffer from such clunky, ham-fisted depiction that they lack any actual ability to create tension or fear.

This leaves them as moderately bloody and little else. The violent sequences just seem clumsily depicted and not especially frightening.

Matters don’t improve when Toolbox shifts into “thriller mode”. Viewers will have figured out the identity of the culprit pretty early, and in apparent recognition of this, the second half spends a lot of time with this character “unmasked”.

Oddly, the culprit literally seems like two different people in the different segments. Whereas he seems cool and brutal as the secret murderer, he becomes weirdly infantile when he deals with the kidnapped Laurie and other elements.

Some of this makes sense within the plot, but it doesn’t seem logical enough for the flick to make it work. Again, perhaps more skilled filmmakers could pull off the dual nature of the lead maniac, but here the different facets of the character just seem illogical and tough to swallow.

None of the actors do much with their roles, though I will admit it’s fun to see Ferdin. As a young voice actor, she created the definitive Lucy in 1969’s Peanuts flick A Boy Named Charlie Brown, and she also satisfied as Felix’s daughter Edna in Season Two of The Odd Couple.

Toolbox doesn’t ask Ferdin to do much more than act scared, so it doesn’t use her talents well. Ferdin quit acting not long after she worked in this movie, and one can’t help but think the experience of this humiliating role contributed to that choice.

I suspect that buried beneath the amateurish veneer of Toolbox, a decent horror thriller exists. Unfortunately, this flick lacks the ability to capitalize on the tale’s strengths and just becomes a dull mess.

The Disc Grades: Picture B/ Audio D+/ Bonus A-

The Toolbox Murders appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 1.66:1 on this 4K UHD Disc. This became a mostly positive Dolby Vision image.

Not that one shouldn’t expect Toolbox to show its age, as it clearly looked like a product of its era. Grain seemed heavy, and I also witnessed a few small specks and a thin green vertical line at one point.

Still, the movie largely looked clean, and at least the prevalence of the grain meant I didn’t suspect issues with noise reduction. No issues with jagged edges or moiré effects occurred, and edge haloes remained absent.

Sharpness usually seemed satisfying. Though a handful of slightly soft shots appeared, most of the flick felt accurate and concise – within the parameters of the stock, that is.

Colors became a strength, as the movie’s palette appeared pretty vivid and lively. The disc’s HDR gave the tones added emphasis and range.

Blacks felt deep and dark – albeit a bit crushed at times - whereas shadows seemed satisfactory. Low-light shots could become a bit dense, but that reflected the nature of the source.

HDR gave whites and contrast extra impact. No one will use Toolbox as a demo disc, but the 4K offered good visuals given its limiatations.

Unfortunately, the movie’s Dolby Atmos soundtrack proved less satisfying. Remixed from the original monaural – which also appeared on the disc – this turned into a flawed presentation.

Downconverted to Dolby TrueHD 7.1, the soundscape usually felt like broad mono. Music and effects spread to all the channels in a loose, indistinct manner during the majority of the movie.

Oh, occasionally I detected some localized elements. However, these appeared infrequently, so most of the soundfield offered a vague blob of audio.

Quality didn’t compensate, as speech appeared stiff and reedy. The lines remained intelligible, but they never came across as natural.

Effects lacked range or impact, and they tended to suffer from an awkward sense of reverb. The same went for music, as score/songs seemed thin and lifeless, with some strident, shrill tones at times. I thought the Atmos track turned into a big flop.

For comparison, I also checked out the movie DTS-HD MA 1.0 track as well. Though not a great mix, it definitely worked better than the problematic Atmos version.

Speech still seemed somewhat muddy, while effects and music failed to present much range. Still, they lacked the annoying reverb heard on the Atmos track and came across as more accurate.

No one will view a mono soundtrack for a low-budget 1978 movie as anything special. However, it offered the more satisfying auditory experience versus the awful Atmos mix.

A bunch of extras appear here, and we find two separate audio commentaries, and the first comes from producer Tony Didio, director of photography Gary Graver and actor Pamelyn Ferdin. All three sit together for this running, screen-specific discussion of aspects of the production and their experiences on the film.

This becomes a wholly, totally pleasant commentary, one that offers some fun due to the presence of three film principals. Don't expect much that I'd call revelatory or tremendously insightful, though, as this turns into a likable chat but not one with much depth.

For the second commentary, we hear from film historians Troy Howarth and Nathaniel Thompson. Both sit together for their running, screen-specific look at cast and crew, genre domains, aspects of the production and thoughts about the film.

Though not as focused on the traditional "film historian" domains as most of its peers, this nonetheless winds up as a pretty engaging piece. Howarth and Thompson give us a compelling appraisal of the movie itself and get into enough background topics to make this a useful conversation.

The 4K disc also includes a trailer, a TV spot and two radio spots.

An included Blu-ray copy includes the same extras as the 4K and adds more. We start with Drill Sergeant, a 20-minute, 17-second interview with director Dennis Donnelly.

He covers his life and career, with a logical emphasis on Toolbox. Donnelly provides a good collection of memories.

Tools of the Trade provides an interview with actor Wesley Eure. In this 26-minute, 47-second piece, Eure examines his time on TV/movies and digs into his Toolbox experiences. Eure brings us a fine take on his experiences.

Next comes Flesh and Blood, a 31-minute, 16-second interview with actor Kelly Nichols. She tells us about aspects of her career as well as her time on Toolbox.

Given that Nichols plays a small role, 31 minutes seems like a lot of time for her interview. However, she provides enough useful material about her experiences and other parts of her time in showbiz to make this an engaging reel.

I Got Nailed in The Toolbox Murders runs eight minutes, eight seconds and brings notes from actor Marianne Walter. Shot for a prior release, Walter – the same person as Nichols – covers topics similar to those in the longer interview. While fine on its own, this shorter chat feels fairly redundant.

After this comes Slashback Memories, a 24-minute, 40-second chat with film historian David Del Valle. He tells us about aspects of actor Cameron Mitchell’s career.

Del Valle offers some decent notes but his discussion seems a bit loosy-goosey and all over the place, and it becomes about Del Valle himself a bit too often. A tighter conversation would work better.

They Know I Have Been Sad presents a “video essay” that spans 19 minutes, 27 seconds and features notes from film historian Amanda Reyes.

“Sad” offers interpretation of Toolbox as well as genre reflections. This becomes a fairly intriguing take on the flick, even if I think much less of the movie than does Reyes.

Finally, we find a Poster & Still Gallery that includes 111 frames. These mix ads, shots from the production, and promo materials. We get a nice compilation here.

Note that the package includes a new Blu-ray and not the original release from 2010. I didn’t review the 2021 BD because Blue Underground didn’t release it outside of this 4K set.

As a mix of thriller and slasher horror, The Toolbox Murders comes with the potential to create a compelling tale. However, it ends up as a spotty drag, a flick without the coherence or competence to develop into anything nerve-racking or impactful. The 4K UHD offers generally good visuals and a nice array of bonus materials but its Atmos remix stinks. I can’t find much to like about this turgid movie.

Viewer Film Ratings: 2 Stars Number of Votes: 2
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Review Archive:  # | A-C | D-F | G-I | J-L | M-O | P-R | S-U | V-Z | Viewer Ratings | Main