On the whole, this is a fine presentation from Blue Underground. The film was found to be in great condition by DiDio when it was released to DVD, and it seems as though this print has been used for the hi-def transfer. Seen here in 1.66:1, with very small vertical borders down either side of the screen, Toolbox still has some damage of the speck and fleck variety. But what you will notice throughout many scenes - though not all - is the tainted extreme left of the frame which, on dark backgrounds produces a lighter strip, and on lighter backgrounds the strip appears dark and faded. Now this is definitely down to the source material and certainly not a fault of the transfer. Fans should also be pleased to hear that no DNR has been brought into play and that Blue Underground's release retains all of its grain. However, there are certain shots that exhibit much more grain than others - though I'm sure that this really isn't going to bother anyone. With a film of this somewhat jaded pedigree - low budget, independent and shot with a TV style on possibly the cheapest stock that they could find (DOP Gary Graver maintains that it wasn't the softer Fuji Film they used that was all the rage at the time) - the grittier the aesthetic, the better.
Although skin-tones don't look right - perhaps in-cahoots with the pasty-face style TV makeup and the lighting - colours are actually quite strongly presented. The palette doesn't necessarily look realistic, but it looks bright and cheerful for the most part. Primaries don't seem overly boosted, but they are bright and well-saturated. Blood is dark and splashy during some early sequences, much more conventionally scarlet at the end. The red band around the killer's ski-mask is fairly bold too. Exterior daytime shots are quite vibrant, whilst the interiors drop down a peg or two yet still maintain a healthy palette for a low-budget late 70's genre pic. The orange of flames and the drip-dry gloss of neon also come across well. High whites aren't the most stable around, but they resist the urge to bloom. Blacks are actually quite stygian at times and may even be responsible for some slight crushing during some of the earlier scenes - the hammer-kill and some of the shots of Mitchell loitering around in the shadows of the corridors. Contrast, however, is actually quite consistent.
Detail is roughly as you would hope for. It is not terrific, but you really wouldn't have expected it to be. The image is soft without being too flat, and it manages to yield some fleshy details that have been smudged and blurred on every other version that I have seen - yes, we are talking nipples and nethers, here, plus the nail that gets removed from the damsel's noggin on the autopsy table. The tools of the killer's nefarious trade are also much clearer - blood stains, reflections etc - as are the splinters in the door that the killer drills through. Paintings and bric-a-brac and overall décor appear serviceable, though not exactly finite, and the objects in the garage, where some of the later action takes place are certainly more pronounced than on any previous edition.
All in all, this is a very respectable transfer of a film that has never, to my knowledge, looked very good. I can't imagine any fans out there being disappointed with its hi-def appearance.
The image does possess some edge enhancement and there were a few instances when I caught some aliasing. But, to be honest, I wasn't bothered by any of this in the least. The Toolbox Murders looks more colourful and more detailed than ever before. That is beyond question. The few digital bugbears that come along with this improved image are surely not going to hamper it for anyone.
Well, it would seem that Blue Underground go a couple of audio tracks too far with The Toolbox Murders. Whilst their release of The Living Dead At Manchester Morgue (reviewed separately) actually did feel suitably widened-up and atmospheric and I would say benefited from the new lossless surround channels, Toolbox just doesn't gain a thing. What we have on offer here are the original mono track, a DD 5.1 EX variation and a full-on and totally unnecessary DTS-HD MA 7.1 mix. Neither surround track adds anything at all that convinces - a wider, more spatially aware separation across the front, maybe, but nothing worthwhile taking place anywhere else. In fact, the distancing, depth and location of the voices, at times, sounded unrealistic with both surround mixes. Nothing too pronounced, maybe, but not as concise as in the mono.
Dialogue, though, is always clear, although the killer's humming doesn't seem as obvious as I remembered it being. The effects are low-range and low-rent, but what is still pretty meaty is the nasty impact of the claw-hammer as it mashes-in a young head. This has always sounded quite grim and all three tracks, here, do it proud, if you know what I mean. The score, partly electronic and partly small band ensemble, from George Deaton lacks vigour and presence, but comes over with clarity. Bass is thread-bare and surround activity just isn't worth talking about.
My advice is to stick with the mono track.
Well, we don't get much, folks - but probably more than the film actually deserves.
Primarily, we have a joint Commentary Track from DiDio, Pamelyn Ferdin and DOP Gary Graver. All three are upbeat and pleased to be involved, but Ferdin is incredibly annoying - whiny, over-the-top and just too damn bubbly to be endured. What is also highly apparent is that they all big up the horror aspect of the film enormously, really revelling in its notoriety and bringing in the likes of Stephen King, Donahue, and all and sundry, in the hopes of convincing us, too, that they somehow captured lightning in a bottle. But there is plenty of interesting trivia and recollections regarding Cameron Mitchell and Wesley Eure and, of course, Marianne Walter. Often not very scene specific, and containing a few too many lulls, this features lots of stories of prior productions, and some moments when they each cannot help but spiral off-tangent. Again, they may have been a little ahead of the game at the time, but this movie is not what they think it is. Texas Chainsaw was the inspiration, of sorts, and DiDio is refreshingly candid about the genesis of how his movie came about. A reasonable chat track, then, but let down by the excitable Ferdin and the joint belief that they actually made a classic.
Next out of the toolbox comes a feature very reminiscent of the interview with Zora Kerova on their New York Ripper disc (see separate BD review). In “I Got Nailed In The Toolbox Murders” we meet up with actress Marianne Walter, who discusses her infamous role of bath-tub babe-cum-nail-gun victim. Happily dishing the dirt on masturbation, nudity and lashing out at Cameron Mitchell when she got totally in-character, she also tells us off how proud she is of her early screen exposure - even of bringing her friends and brothers along to a showing! Then she divulges how she moved from this and got into adult movie-making and how she now runs a successful makeup artistry business in Hollywood. You just have to congratulate Blue Underground on this sort of thing, I mean no other label would bother to give the punters exactly what they want to hear about. Tasty naked ladies talking about some of the most notorious sequences in exploitation history. Gotta love 'em!
Rummaging about a little further in the toolbox and we come up with a few odd nuts and bolts in the form of TV and Radio Spots and the film's theatrical trailer.
Let's be honest, for a film as low down the scale as this, you can't complain about the bonus material.
Blue Underground deserves credit, once again, for delving deep into the dark and bloody barrel of cinematic and cult exploitation and fishing out something that most “nice” people would steer well clear of, and then sprucing it up for a spangly hi-def presentation. But, the phrase “scraping the barrel” does also, sadly, apply to The Toolbox Murders. Poorly acted and scuppered by a plot that derails itself and alienates the very people who would be drawn to such a title in the first place, this Cameron Mitchell oddity is one for the completists only. Bolstered by a falsely savage reputation this runs the risk of boring modern audiences who have become immune to such tepid fare by the likes of the Saw films, Hostel and Martyrs. Skilful writing and delicious twists and turns this doesn't have. But, having said all this, I still couldn't wait to get it once I'd heard its Blu-ray release had been announced. There is always something alluring about the return of a once banned movie, the moral-baiting stigma they once possessed still arouses curiosity, and the exciting sense of “the forbidden” that so many of us devoted gore-hounds from the 80's video-boom fondly remember still creates an illicit frisson.
It seems silly to profess a soft spot for such sleazy, badly conceived dross, but The Toolbox Murders, probably for all the wrong reasons, is a trip down memory lane for some people, and for that reason, alone, I would recommend it - but only to those who have already seen it and share something of the same nostalgia.
And those blood-loving ghouls from my generation will certainly be pleased with the transfer. The image has some issues, but is largely fine and a lot better than you might have thought it could be, but the audio has one of those utterly redundant 7.1 lossless makeovers that the film simply doesn't warrant. So, therefore, I would stick with the mono track. The extras are typically eyebrow-raising and in-keeping with the label's brazen approach to their subject matter and the most taboo aspects of it, and the release is certainly a welcome one for the die-hard fans out there. But The Toolbox Murders is more fitting, perhaps, as a slice of vintage censor-baiting and an example of how controversy can be raked-up over nothing at all when the climate calls for it. This, then, is the rebirth of a historical scapegoat that, whether it deserves it or not, now has that nail-gun scene in 1080p!
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