The fact that The Toolbox Murders was Banned in the UK as a Video Nasty is about as surprising as the fact that Crack Cocaine is still illegal in the US. This one most certainly contains eroticized depictions of murder and (at least psychological) torture (as big a no-no as Animal Killings to the BBFC). There are incredibly beautiful women shown naked, doing all kinds of sexy things, right before being murdered in various creative ways by a handyman using every tool in his toolbox.
Case in point, Penthouse Pet Kelly Nichols (credited as Marianne Walter) plays the part of Dee Ann, a vivaciously beautiful redhead who draws herself a hot bubblebath, takes off all her clothes and plops into the tub for a nice soak. Then she takes her time masturbating herself to a climax and is then chased naked around her apartment for a while by the killer. The sight of Kelly Nichols (whose other screen credits include 1980's Sexboat, 1983's Wine Me, Dine Me, 69 Me and 1995's Ten Handed Tickle Team) soaking wet, running around naked is, to say the least, erotic. The fact that she's nail gunned to death right after this is anything but. The combination concerned the British Screeners enough to pull this one from the shelves with the intention of protecting the youth of the UK.
And that's only one small fraction of the moments in this attraction that caught the attention of the Conservative Factions and caused them to take action.
The story begins as two women are murdered by this black clad killer in their apartment using drills and screwdrivers. The neighbors are stunned. Detective Jamison (Tim Donnelly) and the rest of the police are baffled. The apartment manager, Vance Kingsley (Cameron Mitchell) is horrified.
As the murders continue we focus on one family in the complex. Jo Ann Ballard (Aneta Corsaut) has two kids, Joey (Nicolas Beauvy) and Laurie (Pamelyn Ferdin). After the death of the beautiful Dee Ann, Jo Ann becomes more focused on protecting her daughter than ever. Obviously (if you've ever seen a horror flick), it's already too late, as the Killer has kidnapped Laurie and taken her away. At this point, Joey teams up with his friend (and Vance's nephew) Kent (Wesley Eure) to attempt to track down the killer and get Laurie back. But the killer could be anyone and he may have his sites on new victims.
There are times in which The Toolbox Murders breaks the confines of its genre and gives an interesting character study into certain players in this strange chess match. In particular Cameron Mitchell pulls a few interesting acting bunnies out of that hat of his when faced with unspeakable horror. Further, Kelly Nichols is more than just a pretty face here. Though she's essentially naked the entire run of her character, she does great work as a scream queen! After this, however, she transitioned into Adult Films and became a queen of a different kind of screaming. She was also Jessica Lange's breast double in 1976's King Kong!
Aside from these standouts (again on the Kelly Subject... wow), The Toolbox Murders is not a great film, even though it does have its B-Movie charm. It's really just another in a long, long series of slasher vs. naked woman flicks with an extra bend you might recognize from The Driller Killer. Director Dennis Donnelly (Tim's brother) wasn't going for a whole lot more, nor were writers Ann Kindberg, Robert Easter and Neva Friedenn! They knew they were making Exploitation fare, and that's exactly what they did. I would say that it's all in good fun, which is the way this clearly was intended, but for the reasons that got it banned. Is it offensive? That's in the eye of the beholder, to be sure. However opposed to censorship you might be, the BBFC did have a point here. Mature, reasonable adults could watch this one and move on with their lives. Those already whacked out of their minds on misogynistic violent streaks would probably take this one as a primer.
But the same can be said for most films of this kind. Love them or hate them, banning them all would be a tall, tall order. Currently The Toolbox Murders is available on DVD in both the US and the UK, though almost two minutes had to be cut for its UK Release in the year 2000. Since then, this thriller about a serial killer using common utilitarian implements to murder people, and purports to be based on a true story has been remade by, who else, Texas Chain Saw Massacre director Tobe Hooper!
This is not the remake, though, and any assumption that these films are linked in too much more than name and theme would be a mistake. It's not a great film but The Toolbox Murders has got its interesting points and it's worth Two Stars out of Five. Now, if you'll excuse me, I'm going to go download a great number of Kelly Nichols' later films! It would be a rare treat to see her naked and screaming for completely different reasons. See you in the next reel.
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