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 its 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 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 its 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 its 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 its own notoriety in the UK as it would earn its own place on the DPP List and would forever be known as a Video Nasty. It was actually passed uncut for its 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

Meathook Cinema Hall of Fame- The New York Ripper (1982)

Meathook Cinema Hall of Fame- The New York Ripper (1982)

I love any film that is so notorious it generates it’s own urban legend regarding it’s controversial release, whether this account is true or not.

One such film is Lucio Fulci’s 1982 sleazy slasher gorefest, The New York Ripper. Rumour has it that when the UK distributor submitted it to the British Board of Film Classification, the censors were so appalled by what they saw that the print was given a police escort out of the country. The truth of the matter is that chief censor James Ferman (apparently) decided to send the print back to its rights owners in Italy to prevent the distributors from making copies for video or getting local approval for regional cinema screenings. Mr Ferman did this to prevent the distributors from being found guilty of obscenity if the matter was taken to court. Ferman is conveniently framed on the BBFC’s website as doing them a favour- whilst effectively making sure that they didn’t get their own way and distributed the film anyway.

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Not many films have become synonymous with epitomising both the 42nd Street and Video Nasties scenes but The New York Ripper does and it does it brilliantly. This is a truly brutal piece of slasher cinema and is so grimy that you feel like you need to take a shower after it.

It starts as it means to go on with an old man playing a game of fetch with his dog. But instead of bringing back the piece of wood thrown for it into a bush on the banks of the Hudson River, the dog brings back a decomposing human hand. The film’s title is even superimposed over this image as if it’s typical of the film’s content. And it is! Fulci is proudly extolling the film’s content and intent.

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It’s discovered that this is a body part of the latest victim of a crazed killer who is stalking and killing prostitutes in the city. The prostitute’s landlady tells the cop on the case that the guy who Anne went to meet bizarrely had the voice of a duck.

Throughout the film, we get to see other victims as they are butchered but the actual killer isn’t revealed until the end which in typical Giallo fashion means that this is a whodunnit as well as a horror film. A number of characters are set up as potential suspects for both the police and the audience, particularly the mysterious man who has two fingers missing from his right hand.

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Most of the characters in the film are interesting, quirky, and in some cases, just as sleazy as the film. One such example is that of Jane Lodge. We first see her in the front row of a live sex show theatre in Times Square. She is not only avidly watching the action but also recording the encounter. We find out that she does this for her husband whom she is in an open marriage with. She takes home mementoes from her daily search for sexy trysts for them both to enjoy (she’s clearly living her best life). Whilst front row we see that she is clearly getting off on what she is seeing and is revealed to be dressed for the occasion by wearing suspenders under her fashionable garb of trilby, raincoat and immaculate make-up. We later see her on another sexcapade that takes place in a Hispanic dockside bar that defies belief. Let’s just say it involves toes. She reminds me of an even sleazier version of Angie Dickinson’s bored housewife character from Dressed To Kill.

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Secret double lives seem to be a thing within the film. Williams who is hunting this homicidal Donald Duck is shown in bed with a prostitute he regularly visits. The fact that he’s a cop seemingly doesn’t deter him. Even the doctor whom Williams hires to advise on the case is shown buying a gay porno mag from a street vendor (‘Have a nice evening!’ the vendor says to him with a chuckle).

And then there are the kills. Oh my. The murders are extremely graphic and, in some cases, involve razor blades being used on faces, eyeballs as well as on female anatomy. There are also guttings. A coroner describes one decapitation to Williams in graphic detail and even throws in the word ‘joytrail’ for good measure as to where the killer entered his knife. There’s also a murder that involves a broken bottle being thrust into a woman’s ‘joytrail’ who has just come offstage at the sex show that Jane had a ringside seat for. There is even a POV shot for the bottle.

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The film feels like Fulci wanted to make the ultimate piece of exploitation centred around the Big Apple which in those days was rotten to the core- a crime-ridden city where danger lurked on every corner but particularly for women. Think of the opening credits for The Equalizer and you get the idea. Every man is a rapist, mugger or murderer. The backdrops for the kills within the film showcase the different appropriate locales that the city had to offer with the subway, dirty ‘rent by the hour’ motel rooms and even the Staten Island Ferry being utilised. There are also lingering shots of 42nd Street. The Deuce has never been so beautifully captured since Scorsese’s Taxi Driver. It would seem that Fulci’s film is a lower rent, exploitation descendent of that film just as William Lustig’s Maniac and Abel Ferrera’s Driller Killer are.

For such a grimy and sleazy movie, it has been beautifully shot and lit as the new Blue Underground 4K Blu Ray fully shows. This is the best edition to grab if you are new to this masterpiece.

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With The New York Ripper, Fulci set out to outdo himself and make the most sleazy, gory and sensationalistic Grindhouse movie of all time. Boy, did he succeed! The New York Ripper is a perfect storm of 80’s Giallo, 42nd Street and the Video Nasties’ moral panic. And, it lives up to its reputation whilst being a fantastic movie to boot. Whilst Zombi 2 may be a good ‘in’ for those who are new to Fulci, The New York Ripper is a great film to investigate after this. It’s also a great date movie (although that probably says more about me than anything else…)

Day 15- 31 Days of Halloween- Unhinged (1982)

Day 15- 31 Days of Halloween- Unhinged (1982)

Three women are travelling to a music festival but crash their car. They awake in the isolated mansion of an elderly matriarch and her daughter.

I love this film and not just because I found it in Poundland of all places.

This is a chiller that keeps you guessing until the shocking and completely nutty climax. Look at how great the film is framed and notice the tight editing. This film packs in so much but without any unnecessary filler. Also experience one of the sleaziest soundtracks I’ve ever heard. It’s like the director knew he was making a shocker that was destined to be a video nasty.

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And that just what happened. The film was classified by the BBFC as an 18 but was then placed on the DPP list and banned anyway. This has meant that it has earned it’s place in horror history rather than being a very good movie that faded into obscurity. Thats one good aspect of the Video Nasties list.

The violence is graphic, the tone unique to this film alone. I hope this gets the Blu ray treatment it richly deserves.

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The ending is shocking in a Sleepaway Camp kind of way. Un-PC in these over sensitive times but thats just what makes me love the film even more.

4 out of 5 stars

Day 11- 31 Days of Halloween- Don’t Go In The House (1979)

Day 11- 31 Days of Halloween- Don’t Go In The House (1979)

Donny is a very damaged person. After an incident at work sees one of his colleagues set himself on fire, we see Danny freeze with terror at the incident. This is explained through flashbacks. We see that as a boy his mother used to punish him by burning his forearms.

When he returns home from work he finds that his domineering mother has actually passed away. We then see her throughout the film in different stages of decomposition.

Donny then constructs a flame-proof room in his house and lures women back there to strip them naked and set fire to them using a flamethrower whilst they are hung up.

As a study of mental decay this is closer to Maniac than Repulsion. Lurid, sleazy and generally unsettling, this shocker deserves it’s notorious reputation.

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The original title of the film was actually The Burning (the print I saw actually had this title card) but when the filmmakers found out that another film was being made using this name they quickly changed it.

The BBFC cut three whole minutes from this film for it’s cinema release and then banned it outright for video. Most of the cut material was from the first murder involving the florist Donny tricks into coming back to his house. And this sequence is VERY full-on! Theres shades of Ed Gein to Donny’s MO. But without Gein’s flair for interior decoration.

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Hows that for a double bill?! A pyromaniac and the silver spheres.

The first three victims he torches to death he then dresses in his dead mother’s clothes and places in armchairs. He rants to them as if they’re still alive which gives us a very darkly entertaining glimpse into his twisted psyche. He sometimes hears their voices.

As you can tell from the plot elements I’ve described above this certainly isn’t a film to put on in the middle of a family get together (unless you want them to leave of course). But if you love deranged, unhinged and off kilter horror then you’ll love this Check out the new Blu Ray release. The print is gorgeous.

4 out of 5 stars

Review- The Slayer (1981)

Review- The Slayer (1981)

The infamous video nasty that was banned in the SS Thatcher days of 80’s Britain.

It’s a solid effort with great gore and decent suspense as two couples go to an island for a vacation.

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I loved the lead character who feels like she’s been having nightmares all her life about the place she’s just arrived at. She even feels like the creature who roams the place is of her own creation.

You’ll never look at a pitchfork in the same way again.

3 out of 5

The Driller Killer – Day 26 – 31 Days of Halloween

The Driller Killer – Day 26 – 31 Days of Halloween

Another serious contender for the title of ‘The Most Controversial Video Nasty’ (the film shared that title with The Evil Dead).

And whilst the film does have its shocking moments of lurid horror (yes involving an electric drill) this is more a slow and meticulous study into alienation, the descent into madness and mental illness amidst a gritty 70s New York backdrop. File this movie more under ‘arthouse’ than ‘video nasty’.

Reno is an artist living in an apartment but finding it hard to survive on next to no money with bills arriving and his utilities about to be switched off. He lives there with his two girlfriends (how very bohemian!) and is regularly disturbed in his work and his sleep by the punk (or at least they think they’re punk) band living in the same apartment block. He goes out of his apartment to witness the violence on the street (on one such occasion he witnesses a stabbing) and also watch the homeless (he is seen drawing them in one scene).

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Reno- the artist at work

This film is like Roman Polanski’s Repulsion transported to 70’s New York. The slow journey into madness is there for all to see- the film even shares the motif of the skinned rabbit with Repulsion. Director Abel Ferrera does an amazing job of depicting the slow building tension that eventually explodes.

It was the film’s UK VHS cover that sparked the controversy in the early 80s. The lurid and graphic artwork was designed to entice the viewer into renting the film whilst it competed with other lurid video cover artwork that also wanted to catch the browsers eye. Initially this backfired- the film was held up by Mary Whitehouse and Graham Bright as some kind of totem regarding the filth that the proles could get their hands on and watch in the privacy of their own homes. Conversely though this worked in the film’s favour- the film was given a platform and free publicity.

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The lurid UK VHS video artwork

And it deserved it- its a great movie. This isn’t all blood and guts but a great character piece. It also serves as a great time capsule of a New York that is long gone. A New York that was on the verge of bankruptcy, is crime ridden and a place of real danger (check out the scene where Reno sees that his friend is sleeping rough. They are suddenly interrupted by a stampede of youths running riot on the streets who they hide from). It also captures the music scene of New York at the time- punk turning into No Wave/New Wave. There is even a trip into Max’s Kansas City.

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Reno and Pamela play pinball in Max’s Kansas City

Mary Whitehouse didn’t want you to see this. Arrow Video have just announced the release of a 4K Blu ray. This I can’t wait for. The film is finally getting the kind of restoration that it deserves after spending far too long in Public Domain limbo. The film’s legacy will now continue to grow.

And I’ll always side with Arrow Video over SS Whitehouse when it comes to film.

You can buy Arrow’s edition of Driller Killer HERE

4 out of 5..