The slasher movie may have received a bigger boost in the following decades, but the 70's is where it started. Well, some could argue that the old serial killer movies, films like "Psycho" and "Peeping Tom" and the Italian Giallo films helped pave the way, but it wasn't until the likes of "The Texas Chainsaw Massacre" (which I never really considered a slasher), "Black Christmas" and of course "Halloween" that these get the ball rolling. And some of these movies were just plain old mean spirited. Flicks like "Don't Go in the House" and "Bloodrage" were seaming with ugliness and decay, portraying a world in which people-particularly women-were to suffer. One of the films of this mean spirited slasher ilk was Dennis Donnelly's 1978 flick "The Toolbox Murders."
A psycho wearing a ski mask is going around am apartment complex killing off women that he sees as immoral and sinful with the aid of the contents of his toolbox. He doesn't kill all of them off though-he sees hope in a girl named Laurie Ballard (Former child actress Pamelyn Ferdin, who will always be the voice of Lucy Van Pelt* in my heart) who he promptly kidnaps and thinks he can save. Can Laurie's brother Joey (Nicolas Beauvy) figure out whose behind these slayings? What's with the weird tenant Vance (Cameron Mitchell) who is still feeling the effects of his daughter's death? And does his nephew (Wesley Eure, who many know from the old "Land of the Lost" show) know more than he's letting on?
From the get go, you know who the killer is (it's Vance) and that his nephew is also crazy. That's just fine though. "The Toolbox Murders" is a legendary slice of 70's exploitation sleaze that get's to the dirty work fast. While kills in slasher movies would go on to be more graphic, the ones present are still nasty, the highlight being a women involving a nail gun that has gone on to become one of Stephen King's favorite horror movie kills. It also helps that the film manages to capture a seedy atmosphere that doesn't overwhelm, and that the performances are largely impressive, with Mitchell doing a fine job as Vance, and Ferdin making for a great woman in distress without overacting.
The movie's flaws though, come in when it tries to make Vance into something of a sympathetic character. I know, it's okay to humanize him, but he's a psychopath. Trying to make the audience feel bad for him-especially after he kills women-is pointless. It also doesn't help that the whole thing just kind of ends. There's a large caption explaining how it's based on a "true story" (nothing new in exploitation) and it then ends.
For those interested in slasher movies before the era of "Friday the 13th", then "The Toolbox Murders" is a good choice, as it's a mean, nasty little movie that makes no apologies. You can probably do better, but for old school, ugly exploitation, you can do much, much worse. It's not perfect, but it practically defines old school Grindhouse movies.
*It's kind of funny when you imagine that it's Charlie Brown getting revenge for all those times Lucy pulled the football away.