Sometimes it is way too easy to simply forget about the slasher movies. We're living in a time when horror in film doesn't begin and end with a guy in a mask killing off teenage girls with their tits out. These days, audiences are generally accustomed to getting a little more for their money - i.e. less cliché, more innovation (with particular regard to films coming from the Far East), but it's also wise to acknowledge where the clichés came from in the first place.
The first film in tonight's heinous ZC session is The Toolbox Murders, a nasty, disturbing American flick from 1978. We were ALL Toolbox virgins tonight (though Rawshark and Jim had seen Hooper's mixed-reception remake), so with a newly purchased uncut region one release from the wonderful Blue Underground, we were getting quite excited about the prospect of some screwdriver damage. Second on the bill is a big (and very old) favourite of mine - an uncut DVD of The Burning from 1981 - a Friday the 13th rip-off which is arguably better than the film it supposedly ripped off.
Sitting comfortably? Good. Let's get nasty...
This evening's selection has been chosen by Zomblee in association with the Cameron Mitchell School of Singing.
The Toolbox Murders (1978)
Plot Cameron Mitchell (or is it Tony Curtis?) brutally kills a lot of women with various tools. He then kidnaps a girl and begins to portray quite the mentalist, believing the young girl to be his dead daughter. The police are on a hunt for both the killer and young girl. Concerned friends are also searching for clues, and whatever they're looking for may be a lot closer to home than they think. Based on a true story.
Zomblee Nasty. The first 20 minutes of The Toolbox Murders sees Mitchell in a balaclava offing pretty young things, mostly in their own homes, with screwdrivers, nail guns, drills - you get the general idea here. Yes, that's right - it's called The Toolbox Murders.
However, the film does not continue the same way throughout, and in fact there's no way it could. Or should. Most of the story involves his kidnapping of young Laurie, whom he keeps tied to a bed with gorgeous matching pillows and sheets with a nice 70's flowery design. He's clearly mad - humming to himself, sucking his lollipops and fantasising (and believing) that she is his dead daughter.
The first scene depicting him talking to her goes on for a very long time but each and every one of us were staring at the screen, 100% entranced by his mesmerising, intense performance. It's savagely adventurous and gutsy acting for B-movie standards. His monologue somehow makes everything that you've just witnessed in the first 20 minutes seem even worse. And it is.
The Toolbox Murders suffers slightly from its lack of budget, and lack of acting talents. I felt that it also suffered from the characters' consistent willingness to be murdered without much of a struggle. No one seems to put up a decent fight against this masked fucker, hence stretching the plausibility factor somewhat. If a masked man has broken into my apartment and is trying to kill me with an implement from his toolbox, I'd either make a convincing effort to run away very quickly or bash his head with something hard. Sadly neither option occurs to the pretty lady victims in this film.
The Toolbox Murders also has a lot of nudity, more than fulfilling the slasher movie blood and tits‚ criteria. You just gotta love that kind of tradition. Early on in the film, an attractive young lady comes in to shot. Jim says, "I hope she shows her breasts." Then a few seconds later, she does. Everyone in the room goes silent.
I love Zombie Club.
"Dying is easy. It's over in a second. This hurts worse."
Jim Oh come on, that's making me out to be a right sleaze. I'm not, of course – I’m perfectly respectable - but Zombie Club does have a way of bringing out your perverse streak, I suppose.
Or maybe it was just the film - The Toolbox Murders is a very sleazy affair, what with this masked killer offing all those defenceless women back-to-back and all. It takes it out of you actually - no dialogue just death after death for the opening stretch - made even more disconcerting by the unusual and unsettling use of an unsuitable country and western score. ("Those weird ambient love songs just preceding the violence..." - Rawshark). Zomblee, on the other hand, rose above the weird mood and just enjoyed himself, ("This is great, it's just a guessing game - what tool's he going to use next?")
But having not seen The Toolbox Murders, I didn't know what to expect. The movie starts with murder then moves into Scooby-Doo whodunit territory for a while, before it all of sudden becomes clear that it's Cameron Mitchell doing the deeds (should have guessed really, he does have top billing). From then on it turns into a psychological drama, drawing in the relevance of the car crash at the beginning of the flick.
Stylish editing, brutal killing, disturbing conversations between kidnapper and kidnappee, and a very bizarre rendition of "Sometimes I feel like a motherless child..." by the near deranged Mitchell. That's the kind of film this is. And then there's that extremely cool ending - I for one felt really naive to have not seen this flick before.
"Sometimes I feel like a motherless child...
Sometimes I feel like a motherless child...
Sometimes I feel like a motherless child...
Sometimes I feel like a...
Rawshark Another Zombie Club, another nasty film to cross off the list. Tonight it was Dennis Donnelly’s 1978 slasher film, The Toolbox Murders (recently remade by Tobe Hooper), and you know what? Surprisingly it’s not that bad at all.
The first half hour is the toughest to get through as our friendly Toolbox Murderer offs 5 women with different tools from his toolbox (a drill bit, a claw-hammer, a screwdriver, a nail gun, and finally a glove – Jim-“That last one doesn’t count as a Toolbox Murder!”) The killings are all suitably gory, although the killing of the naked woman with a nail-gun is especially disturbing, and obviously caused (probably still does) the BBFC a few concerns.
From there on in the film seems to switch genres, as our two teen ‘heroes’ team up amateur Hardy-Boy style to track down the killer (at one point Kent states that “This must be where she died” before the camera pans down to the body chalk outline on the carpet – no shit Sherlock!). Soon after that the film switches to a standard kidnap movie when it’s revealed that Cameron Mitchell (Tony Curtis, William Shatner, Burt Reynolds – he looks like a cross between all of them) is the man with the Box and has tied up the 15 year old girl on a daughter-replacement motive.
On the whole it works very well if you can ignore the occasionally low-budget film-making (some of the acting is terrible, and the sound FX guy must have taken a few months off). Cameron Mitchell hammers (sorry) home a stunning performance as the crazed dad with a screw (sorry again!) loose and Pamelyn Ferdin is totally convincing in her panicked state as she nails (stop it!) the part of Laurie. Oh, and as Jim has already pointed out, the last shot of the film is definitely one worth waiting for. All in all, it’s fun and cheap exploitation trash and here at Zombie Club, that suits us down to the ground.
“Nail gun. He used a nail gun. You know, one of those things that fires nails.”
Director Dennis Donnelly
Cast Cameron Mitchell
Runtime 93 min
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The Burning (1981)
Plot Some guy kills people. With garden shears.
Rawshark A summer camp, a crazed revenge-seeking maniac intent on slaying the film’s cast of young (sexually-awakened) American teens, Special FX by the one and only Tom Savini – it’s not difficult to see why The Burning suffers from endless comparisons to the Friday the 13th series. In fact Tom Savini turned down a job on Friday the 13th Part Two to work on the The Burning, and what a good choice it was too, as this film proves itself to be far superior to anything that Jason Voorhees has appeared in.
The Burning is no doubt a clichéd storyline (a summer camp caretaker gets burned in a practical joke gone wrong and returns several years later to wreak revenge), but what we have here is a host of well crafted characters (although Holly Hunter’s famed appearance is not really all that – she only gets one line in the whole film) and plenty of plot logic, which is pretty rare for a film of this kind.
The film happily takes it’s time to get going, teasing us with an early Cropsy killing of a prostitute, before settling down for a slice of Porky’s-style summer camp character introductions (there is always a copious amount of bare flesh readily available on standby for when the stalk’n’slash set pieces are being held back). Yet as soon as the canoe expedition sets off up the river to Devil’s creek, we know we can expect the carnage to begin and indeed the gore in the uncut version (check out the multi-hack raft attack!) is splendid, and suitably gruesome throughout.
Holly Hunter aside, other cast members include Seinfeld’s Jason Alexander (with hair!) and Brian Backer from Fast Times at Ridgemount High who plays the annoying camp-dweeb Alfred, but star billing must surely go to Cropsy – often only seen in Black and White ‘raised shears’ profile – who makes a great final appearance with all his full-on Savini make-up right at the climax of the film. The Burning is one of Zomblee’s most treasured films, and it’s not hard to see why. Fiery stuff.
“Tonight’s the night we scare the shit out of Cropsy!”
Jim Yeah, impossibly skinny teenage girls, a mad pyscho killer out for revenge and gore effects by Savini himself - that's enought for most people, which is why The Burning is a bit of a surprise.
For an early 80s teen slasher with a premise a little too close to Friday the 13th for it's own good, the characters are - all in all - very well defined and the comedy, that's so often half-heartedly written in to movies of this type, actually works for once. Right near the beginning when Cropsy's lurking in the bushes like a dirty old perve, there's an excellent set-piece gag involving a raft, a pea shooter and Alfred's bully's ass, which made me laugh out loud - Rawshark's comparison to Porky's is more accurate than you might think.
Talking of rafts, there's one outstanding moment in The Burning which I'd completely forgotten about. I don't want to give the build up away too much, but the scene involves a raft, a big scare and then Cropsy slicing and dicing his way through half the cast in about thirty seconds, accompanied by some very full-on stomach churning gore. I guess that's why I'd forgotten about it actually - the old edit of The Burning had half this sequence cut to get it past the sensors. In it's full glory, Savini does himself proud, as you'd expect he would.
Soon after, the raft is discovered and the remaining survivors try to regroup and get away, except that is for Todd, the self-proclaimed ass-buster of the group ("How do you bust ass anyway?"). He manages to find Cropsy's hang out and take the nutter on with an axe - demasking him in the process to reveal a rather nasty complexion. Ouch.
I always knew The Burning was good, but uncut it's easily one of the best Slasher movies ever made. There is no official DVD version available in the States, but a widescreen uncut print apparently surfaces on the US cable channel 'Showtime' every now and again. As MGM own the rights, expect a restored 'Midnight Movies' edition eventually, like the treatment they gave Squirm.
"Hey, all the canoes have gone!"
Zomblee There’s something about The Burning that just makes it work. It’s funny, scary, gory, and dynamic as fuck. It has no delusions about what it is – a maniac slasher flick – but for a change we’re offered characters we can actually warm to, people we care about before they’re butchered by slightly charred party pooper, Cropsy.
Camp Stonewater looks like a fun place to be. The boys are horny red-blooded little devils and the girls are hot, hot, hot. We see familiar faces from US television shows and comment in a "Ah…so that’s what he looked like when he was young" kind of way. The kids really look like they’re having the time of their lives and the cast of characters is both solid and credible:
Dave - The funny fat guy (Jason Alexander). He survives, right?
Woodstock - The athletic guy with pellet gun (Fisher Stevens). Great pellet gun shot – looses fingers to Cropsy’s blades
Alfred - The little creepy Peeping Tom Pervert (Brian Backer). You wouldn’t like him. He survives.
Glazer - The beefy hard-man bully (Larry Joshua). Suffers from premature ejaculation. Gets his comeuppance via ingenious use of garden shears.
Todd - The responsible supervisor (Brian Matthews). Reasonable guy. We like him, though as Jim pointed out, he really needs a change of clothing ("He must stink!"). He’s quite the hero. Survives.
Eddie - The hot-tempered Italian wise-ass (Ned Eisenberg). Thinks all girls like to play rough. Asshole. Another participant in Cropsy’s game of blade-in-throat. Ha ha, that’ll teach him.
The Burning boasts an intriguing angle on the "why are you walking into the dark woods when there’s a killer on the loose?" theme. With most slasher movies, it’s always been there as a pedestrian, lazy way to dispose of the next victim. With The Burning however, this is not the case, and as Rawshark points out above, there is plot logic at work here, and most welcome it is too in a sub genre usually starved of such a feature.
The characters are better than Friday the 13th. The killings are better than in Friday the 13th. The soundtrack is better than in Friday the 13th. The Burning is better than Friday the 13th.
"This guy is burnt so bad, he's cooked. A fuckin' Big Mac... overdone. You know what I mean?"
Director Tony Maylam
Cast Brian Matthews
Runtime 91 min
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The lights go up. The smell of pizza lingers. Wine bottles empty.
Both Toolbox and The Burning offer great key elements – nastiness, female nudity, caretakers on fire, more nastiness, good gags, female nudity, garden shears, flame-throwers, nail-guns, nerve-damaging maniacal verbal monologues, more nudity, female nastiness, and a poor man’s Tony Curtis as a humming toolbox fanatic. We didn’t feel short-changed tonight.
All serious fans of the horror genre should see these two films. While Toolbox may have more of a grind house, sleazy feel about it than The Burning it’s still a pretty well made little flick and has plenty to offer in terms of visceral and psychological impact. And The Burning? It’s arguably the best maniac slasher movie around. Someday, somewhere, we will be able to buy it as nature intended - totally uncut and widescreen.
If tonight’s ZC was a meal at a restaurant, we’d be happy, full, satisfied. The waiter would probably get a tip, too.