31 Days of Halloween- Day 25- The Toolbox Murders (1978)

31 Days of Halloween- Day 25- The Toolbox Murders (1978)

This infamous film from 1978 starts with an anonymous man wearing a balaclava and going on a killing spree. He uses a different  tool for each murder such as an electric drill, a screwdriver and nail gun.

But then events take a bizarre twist as we get to see who the killer is and…to tell you anymore would ruin several surprises that the movie has in store. And it has plenty of surprises to shock us with!

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This film has such a notorious reputation and none so much as in Britain where it was firstly cut for it’s initial cinema release but then banned outright on video as it was then labelled as one of the more shocking video nasties.

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The UK video artwork

There is an authenticity to the killing spree we witness and with the film in general. The balaclava motif felt all so real as it was a staple of killers such as Ted Bundy who was prolific during this era. Also, The Yorkshire Ripper was killing women with the implements used in the film around this time which gives it an extra layer of horrific realness.

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The Ted Bundy murder kit. Notice the balaclava

Your jaw will hit the floor when you watch Cameron Mitchell’s central performance. It truly is demented genius.

I’m so glad that The Toolbox Murders is now appreciated as the fantastic piece of psychotic art that it truly is. Watch out for the 4K scan on Blu Ray. The film looks and sounds amazing and has finally gotten the treatment it so rightfully deserves.

Grade- A-

31 Days of Halloween- Day 24- No Place To Hide (1981)

31 Days of Halloween- Day 24- No Place To Hide (1981)

Amy leaves her art class late at night and goes to her car. However, she then finds a man dressed all in black resplendent with a black balaclava and shades waiting for her in her backseat. She gets away but isn’t taken seriously by the police when she goes to report the incident. Apparently the same man has been following her on previous occasions but has always gotten away. The police think she is a crank and that this mysterious man who is threatening and stalking her is a figment of her imagination.

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Soon afterwards she receives a funeral wreath from the same man. Realising that this is the first tangible piece of evidence that there is that in fact someone stalking her, she goes with her stepmother to the florists to ask who placed the order and what he looked like. The florist is amused as he says that it was her, Amy who walked in and placed the order just hours earlier.

Is Amy mad? Or is there really a man stalking and threatening to kill her?

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No Place To Hide is another example of an excellent made for TV horror movie. Tense, suspenseful and very well written not to mention perfectly acted.

In fact it has so many twists and turns that it would make a great episode of either Tales of the Unexpected or Thriller.

Grade- B

31 Days of Halloween- Day 23- The Case of the Hillside Stranglers (1989)

31 Days of Halloween- Day 23- The Case of the Hillside Stranglers (1989)

A pretty faithful account of The Hillside Stranglers starring Dennis Farina as Angelo Buono and Billy Zane as Kenneth Bianchi. Richard Crenna is cop Bob Grogan who is hunting them. This made for TV movie is based on the book Two of a Kind: The Hillside Stranglers By Darcy O’Brien.

I love TV movies based on true crime cases especially those made in the 80’s ever after I saw The Deliberate Stranger starring Mark Harmon as Ted Bundy.

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This movie has chilling reverberations to the recent Sarah Everard case as it depicts the killers using a police badge to get their potential female victims attention so that they would go with them.

The film also has it’s fair share of tense moments such as Grogan’s girlfriend going to see Buono just to see what he’s like after she had discussed him with her cop boyfriend for so long. Obviously, this was a really foolhardy thing to do!

A solid TV movie.

Grade- C+

31 Days of Halloween- Day 22- Crowhaven Farm (1970)

31 Days of Halloween- Day 22- Crowhaven Farm (1970)

Maggie and Ben inherit an old farm by default (the man who it was actually left to had to inhabit the farm within 30 days but we see him attempt to move in in the dead of night but runs his car into a tree after swerving to miss a mysterious girl who intentionally caused the accident which results in the car exploding on impact). 

Maggie has a strong feeling that she’s been at the farm before and wonders if a phenomenon such as reincarnation actually exists as she remembers cooking in the farm kitchen, living at the farm and more sinister episodes. This freaks her out as she tells her husband Ben that she doesn’t want to move in even though he is excited at the prospect.

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There is quickly established links to witch trials which took place at the farm in years gone by. 

For a 1970 horror TV movie, Crowhaven Farm pulls no punches. There are some very taboo aspects to the plot that are just as taboo now as they were back then. With the short running time, the action zips along which adds to the quickly developing insanity of how the plot develops that lends a surreal aspect to proceedings.

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As I’ve said before, I hope a Blu ray company invests more in these made for TV gems and releases them looking and sounding as good as they possibly can with tons of extras. There are plenty of these movies to mine into and a horror audience who would gladfully lap them up. 

Grade- B

31 Days of Halloween- Day 21- The Last Shark (1981)

31 Days of Halloween- Day 21- The Last Shark (1981)

The opening scene of this opus shows us what could almost be a kind of commercial of a windsurfer doing his thing on the water. However suddenly he is attacked and killed by a shark. Following this, successful horror novelist Peter Benton teams up with wizened shark hunter Ron Hamer to try and find and kill the shark which could very well attack again now that it has gotten a taste for human flesh. They want to cancel the upcoming windsurfing regatta but the local mayor doesn’t want this as it may harm his election campaign for becoming the new state governor. 

Yes, I know what you’re thinking. This is basically the plot of Jaws. And you’d be right for thinking that. This Italian film is a blatant Jaws copy made on a millionth of the budget of the original but herein lies something great about the film and about cult cinema in general. Whilst it’s easy to dismiss a film like this, it’s harder to dismiss that The Last Shark is also fantastic and very cheesy fun. There are great kills, a groovy soundtrack and a feel that is more reminiscent of an early 80’s Euro porn movie as well as a horror rip-off.

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In fact, the film seems to want to be a ‘homage’ (ahem) to not just Jaws but also it’s sequel judging by the ‘shark vs helicopter’ scene which is as genius as it is laughable. 

But whilst you may get mainstream Hollywood films that have budgets of millions of dollars which earn back much more at the box office, they may be completely soulless, forgettable and mediocre. And these are three words that could never be levelled against The Last Shark. It has character and charm coming out of every pore even if most audience members will choose to laugh at proceedings rather than fully suspending their disbelief at what is happening in the film’s running time.

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Give me this film over the myriad of boring, bland and beige Hollywood films made to run in any number of worldwide multiplexes any day of the week. 

Grade- B-

31 Days of Halloween- Day 20- Terror Train (1980)

31 Days of Halloween- Day 20- Terror Train (1980)

A prelude shows a prank in which a socially awkward and sexually inexperienced student is lured into having his first sexual encounter. What he doesn’t know is that the woman waiting for him in bed is actually a corpse stolen by medical students. On discovering this, Kenny becomes unhinged and is rightly traumatised.

Three years later the same students sans Kenny travel together on a train that doubles as a costume party. They start to be picked off one by one. Who could the killer be?

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It’s pretty obvious who it is but y’know…

This is one of the horror films that starred Jamie Lee Curtis that helped cement her status as The Scream Queen after Halloween in 1978. Of all of her horror vehicles from this time, I have to say Terror Train is my least favourite. It’s beautifully lit, with a gorgeous colour palate but remains strangely cold for me. A cross-country on a sleeper train could have been the perfect locale for a horror film but for me the movie is surprisingly suspense free and not very atmospheric at all.

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Slasher films in these days offered more than just kills for their audiences and theres plenty of teen drama between the characters and even a magician in the guise of David Copperfield to add something different to proceedings.

But Terror Train is certainly substandard when compared to Halloween 2, Prom Night, The Fog and, of course, the first Halloween.

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A far too mediocre entry in the slasher sub-genre.

Grade- C-

31 Days of Halloween- Day 19- The Boogey Man (1980)

31 Days of Halloween- Day 19- The Boogey Man (1980)

This film begins with the vile abuse of a small boy and his sister after they spied on their mother getting it on with her boyfriend. After Willy is tied up and gagged on a bed, his sister Lacey grabs a huge butcher knife, cuts the ropes that are holding her brother to the bed and then hands him the knife. He then stabs his abuser repeatedly.

The film then flashes forward as we see Willy (now dumb after what had happened that night) and Lacey who is now married with a son. Lacey is also still traumatised from past events as she regularly has nightmares and night traumas. Lacy receives a letter from her mother in the mail who is writing as she doesn’t have long to live and wants to see her children again.

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She goes to see a psychiatrist (played by John Carradine) to try to fathom out how to overcome her past traumas. A visit to the old childhood house where the past traumatic events occurred is suggested. Lacey’s husband finds that the house is up for sale and so looking around inside it should be easy. It’s here that Lacey sees a vision of her mother’s abusive lover in a mirror and so smashes it with a chair. The mirror and it’s broken pieces are all taken back with Lacey and Jake to the farm they live on. Unbeknownst to them however is that the mirror and it’s broken fragments hold a malevolent evil for anyone who comes into contact with it as we see with very gory results throughout the rest of the film.

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Even though there are loads of references to other more famous horror films (I counted bits pinched from Halloween, The Exorcist, The Amityville Horror, Carrie, Nightmares…) The Boogey Man is still a really entertaining horror film. It would earn it’s own notoriety in the UK as it would earn it’s own place on the DPP List and would forever be known as a Video Nasty. It was actually passed uncut for it’s initial cinema release in 1981 but was then banned in 1983 after being issued on the VIPCO label. It was issued on video in 1992 but only after being cut by 44 seconds. This was the release I watched when I saw the film for the first time.

Seeing it today I’m glad that it’s now looking fantastic on Blu ray and completely uncut. It has a great feel to it, even though it steals from many other films. Check out Tim Krog’s score for the film. It’s early 80’s slasher movies personified.

In fact, the poster for the film is hanging on the wall of the exploitation production company that John Travolta works at in Brian De Palma’s movie Blow Out. I bet De Palma referenced The Boogey Man when he was making the starting sequence of his film (cheekily called Co-Ed Frenzy within Blow Out) as there are many nods to The Boogey Man- the POV shot, the ultra sleazy analogue synth soundtrack…

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Grade- B

31 Days of Halloween- Day 18- Watch Me When I Kill (1977)

31 Days of Halloween- Day 18- Watch Me When I Kill (1977)

This prime slice of Giallo starts with us witnessing the murder of a pharmacist. A women sees the murderer leave the premises which places a target on her own head. Her boyfriend undertakes some amateur sleuthing to try to find out who could be her would be assassin. Many twists and turns ensue with a few very stylish murders thrown in for good measure.

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This is a really interesting film as the emphasis is on the whodunnit aspect of Giallo (the original pulp novels were actually crime novels that incorporated a whodunnit aspect as well as gruesome murders. These books had distinctive yellow pages with yellow being ‘Giallo’ in Italian) rather than the murders although these are fantastic in this film.

What more can I say? Beautiful direction, gorgeous locales, style coming out of every pore- this is Giallo, baby!

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You’ll never guess the ending in a million years.

Grade- B-

31 Days of Halloween- Day 17- How Awful About Allan (1970)

31 Days of Halloween- Day 17- How Awful About Allan (1970)

Allan (Anthony Perkins) wakes to find the family home is on fire. The fire kills his father and burns his sister. The trauma also makes him go blind. It was Allan who accidentally caused the fire as he placed cans of paint thinner too close to a heater making him take on a huge burden of guilt over such disastrous proceedings.

Allan returns home after being resident in a mental hospital. His sister explains that they will have to take on a boarder as the house can’t be upheld any other way. The man who takes the room instantly makes Allan suspicious. Add to this the blurry figure who he sees who appears to be haunting him (Allan can now partially see the world but everything is distorted and blurred). Is this figure real or the imaginings of his fragile mental state?

There is paranoia and ennui seeping out of every pore of this made for TV movie from 1970. This was actually produced by Aaron ‘Charlie’s Angels’ Spelling and goes to show how fantastic horror made for TV was at one period of time.

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I could watch Anthony Perkins all day long. Not only was he a great actor but theres something about his mannerisms and body language that makes him perfect for the screen especially in horror ventures. He is in cracking form here as are all of the cast. Allan’s vulnerable state due to his impaired vision is fully exploited by the film and it works amazingly well as a device.

This was directed by Curtis Harrington who of course made the excellent Ruby starring Piper Laurie and Whoever Slew Auntie Roo?

Watch out for the sting(s) in the tail. This film manages to have more than one trump card up it’s sleeve which it delivers expertly for maximum chills.

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As I’ve said in so many reviews thus far, this release deserves a fantastic Blu Ray release preferably on Scream Factory seeing as they are resurrecting other fantastic horror themed TV movies such as John Carpenter’s amazing Someone’s Watching Me!

Grade- B

31 Days of Halloween- Day 16- Lonely Water aka The Spirit of Dark and Lonely Water (1973)

31 Days of Halloween- Day 16- Lonely Water aka The Spirit of Dark and Lonely Water (1973)

One of the fantastic things about growing up as a child of the 70’s and 80’s and being a horror fan were the Public Information Films that were shown at random times both day and night on British TV. These could convey any burning issue from the dangers of abandoned old refrigerators on rubbish tips through to the importance of not using different kinds of tyres on your car.

Some could be quite humorous in tone. But some were the stuff of nightmares. They set out to scare the living bejesus out of you. And by Christ, they worked. Everything from the dangers of Rabies, how you could be maimed if you misuse fireworks and, as you will see, what can happen to the show-off children who play near water.

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Lonely Water aka The Spirit of Dark and Lonely Water was made in 1973 and directed by Jeff Grant. The jewel in it’s crown was that Donald Pleasance was used to voice the ghostly monk who appears when a child is about to come a cropper near a river or stream.

The eagle eyed will also see Terry Sue Patt aka Benny Green from Grange Hill as one of the kids.

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This Public Information Film scared a whole generation from even thinking of going near their local river. This would also have been the generation who would later see Jaws either at the cinema (if they were old enough) or when it was first shown on TV. I wonder how many of my generation actually have hydrophobia as a result of this double whammy.

Lonely Water is a masterpiece of horror that was permitted to be shown at any time pre and post watershed on British television. Generation X have never gotten over it.

Grade- A+