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Toolbox Murders, The (1978)

The Toolbox Murders opens with a mix of a flashback to the death of a young woman in a traffic accident and the real-time stalking of single women in Los Angeles by a silent man in a ski mask.

He kills women with handyman tools – hand drills, hammers, screwdrivers and nailguns. The death scenes are graphic and gruesome at times with the most famous one being the bathtub masturbation sequence with Kelly Nichols.

The man’s fifth victim, 15-year-old Laurie Ballard (Pamelyn Ferdin), is not killed but kidnapped. This sets her brother Joey (Nicolas Beauvy) – irked at the lack of police action by the inept Detective Jamison (Tim Donnelly) – off on the trail of the villain, Hardy Boys style. He is aided by schoolyard buddy Kent (Land of the Lost star Wesley Eure), who turns out to be a nephew of the handyman.

The crazed killer, Vance Kingsley (Cameron Mitchell) – the owner of the apartment building where the slayings occurred – turns out to be a religious fanatic driven over the edge by the car accident death of his daughter. He kills the women because they’re “evil” – they were drunk, they masturbated, they loved other women – but Laurie comes close to his fevered memory of his daughter.

Joey is killed as he discovers the identity of the murderer, Vance is killed by his nephew, Kent (who has long loved Laurie from afar) and Laurie kills Kent – after he rapes her – and escapes.

The film was loosely based on a news story about a man in Minnesota who committed ritualistic sex murders and received a critical mauling upon release, with the Los Angeles Times describing it as “degenerate, unmotivated and pornographic trash”. Conversely, Stephen King publicly declared it one of the scariest movies ever made and during the 1980s, The Toolbox Murders was on the UK’s banned “Video Nasty” list.

This was child star Pamelyn Ferdin’s final film role. She took up a nursing career in 1979. She later became an animal rights activist.

Tobe Hooper directed a remake simply entitled Toolbox Murders in 2004.

Vance Kingsley
Cameron Mitchell
Laurie Ballard
Pamelyn Ferdin
Kent Kingsley
Wesley Eure
Joey Ballard
Nicolas Beauvy
Detective Jamison
Tim Donnelly
Joanne Ballard
Aneta Corsaut
Mrs Andrews
Faith McSwain
Debbie
Marciee Drake
Maria
Evelyn Guerrero
Dee Ann
Kelly Nichols
Sgt. Cameron
Don Diamond
Woman in Apartment
Victoria Perry
Man in Apartment
Robert Bartlett

Director
Dennis Donnelly

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