SEPTEMBER 4, 2010
Most folks I talked to about it said that the remake of The Toolbox Murders was better, which dampened my interest in seeing the original. But since I am so swamped as of late, I've been using (non-extra feature enabled) Netflix Instant for all of my HMADs, and Toolbox was recently added, giving me a rare push to see it. And while I agree that the remake is better, this one isn't a total loss, especially if you're a Cameron Mitchell enthusiast.
I think what most people dislike about the movie is that it starts off as a gory slasher and becomes a half-assed procedural, with a cop trying to figure out who the killer is before he strikes again (and for once, he sort of does!), as the brother of a kidnapped girl doing his own investigation. It's an odd setup, and no one involved is as talented as the cast/crew that pulled off the similarly structured Zodiac, so it's not a successful switch at all.
Also, it's way too obvious that Mitchell is the killer. They go out of their way to hide his face during the kill scenes, at least until he puts on a ski mask, under which we can clearly see Mitchell's eyes. They "reveal" that he is the killer around the halfway mark, so why they bothered is beyond me. It's probably just to make the cop stuff slightly more interesting as the movie moves away from slashings and into a kidnapping thriller. For example, he interrogates the brother about the disappearance, and the kid's alibi is rather slim, plus he gets caught in a lie - it actually momentarily made me consider whether or not it was indeed Mitchell I saw under that mask.
It's not too long after that that Mitchell comes out full force as the villain, but now instead of killing folks he's more just a crazy old loon who thinks the girl he kidnapped can replace his daughter. Here's the stuff his fans will dig, as he plays a doting dad, singing about lollipops and making PB&J sandwiches. In most of the movies I've seen with him, he's just sort of a loud, garish man (Raw Force) or an understated villain (Haunts), so it was fun to see him act sort of goofy/crazy for once.
As for the slashing stuff, well, it's quite gory, but not particularly scary. We never even know most of the victims' names, and we only meet them when they're about to die (I'm actually a bit puzzled why he even killed them in the first place). The murders themselves are decent enough setpieces (particularly the first one, with the drill and the moron who sees the drill and yet decides to lock herself in a bathroom with a thin door a screwdriver could probably get through), but they are too disjointed to live up to the few other slasher films that existed prior to Friday the 13th.
The movie has some... UNUSUAL editing at times. I can't say it's outright bad, because there are a number of interesting techniques that couldn't have been easy in this pre-digital editing world, such as when a corpse is laid out exactly like the killer's daughter's body was when she was killed in a car accident - we see footage from both scenes cut rapid-fire back and forth, further selling the similarity. I also liked the quick cutting during the famous "bathtub" sequence - as the masturbating woman in said bathtub gets closer to climax, they begin cutting faster and faster to different angles of her. But other times the editing is just painfully clunky, particularly in the opening scene of the car crash. It's very confusing, awkwardly blocked (at one point they cut from one angle of the ambulance to another angle that's only about 10 degrees different), and not the best way to start off a film. If this was the B picture of a drive-in double bill, I can easily imagine people watching this first 90 seconds and saying "screw this" and leaving early to beat traffic.
Director Dennis Donnelly never helmed another feature; this is the only non-TV show credit in his directing filmography (he did do 2nd unit stuff on other features, however). However, writer Ann Kindberg (yes, this was co-written by a woman) has had a pretty laudable career, producing a number of TV shows, including Private Practice and The Shield. This is the type of movie where I expected to look at the resumes of the key personnel and see next to no other credits, so that was a nice surprise. I say they all get together and try to improve on one of Tobe Hooper's lesser films, in order to even things out. There are certainly plenty to choose from.
What say you?