An accomplished TV director & veteran actors skillfully tackle the “The Toolbox Murders”

By on October 11, 2019

In Dennis Donnelly’s The Toolbox Murders (1978), three attractive female residents of an L.A. apartment complex appear to be the victims of an appalling medieval multiple murder spree committed with instruments of death pulled from a handyman’s toolbox.

It’s one of ten titles we’ve newly-added to our “Horror Month: Vampires & Psycho Killers” section on Night Flight Plus.

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The Toolbox Murders — considered one of the most shocking exploitation films of all time — is so filled with familiar-faced TV actors that we’re absolutely sure it will scar your sunshiney Gen-X childhood memories.

Horror author Stephen King once said this notorious late-’70s sickie “generates some genuinely scary moments,” calling the film “one of the ten scariest movies on video cassette.”

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The decidedly NSFW The Toolbox Murders — for both violence and nudity — beat John Carpenter’s immortal classic Halloween to theaters by a full five months.

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Here’s what it says on the back of the Blue Underground Blu-ray/DVD:

“In a quiet apartment complex in Los Angeles, a deranged handyman goes on a killing spree, savagely murdering ‘immoral’ women with the tools of his trade… claw-hammers, screwdrivers, power drills, and even a deadly nail gun! But these gruesome massacres are just the beginning of this landmark epic of violence and depravity that was vilified by critics, banned by censors, and treasured by splatter fans worldwide…!

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Local LAPD detectives are baffled by these suburban psycho-killer murders, but then another young resident is attacked, and this time she’s brutally raped before meeting her gruesome death by nailgun. Brutal!

The action then shifts as a teenage girl suddenly disappears. Her mother and father are naturally frantic, considering the events of the past twenty-four hours, but police don’t believe there is a connection to the killings.

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Their lackadaisical attitude only spurs her brother into taking matters into his own hands by investigating her disappearance on his own.

The twists and turns of plot and sub-plot will leave the viewer of The Toolbox Murders on the edge of his or her seat as clues revealing even more madness and mayhem are unveiled, finally resulting in a chilling surprise climax you won’t soon forget!

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Veteran TV and film character actor Cameron Mitchell plays “Vance Kingsley,” the lollipop-sucking owner of the aforementioned apartment building complex.

He’d come a long way since he started out in the 1940s, working with John Ford in Hollywood, and he was also in the original Broadway production of Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman.

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Mitchell’s just one of the familiar faces here from 1960s and ’70s TV, which also includes Aneta Corsaut (“Helen Crump” from TV’s “The Andy Griffith Show”) and former child actress Pamelyn Ferdin as fifteen year old “Laurie Ballard.”

She’s the one who’s kidnapped because the killer is looking to replace his own teenage daughter “Kathy,” who was killed in an auto accident.

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The Toolbox Murders also stars Nicholas (also spelled Nicolas) Beauvy plays “Joey,” Laurie’s brother, who goes on the frantic search with his friend “Kent” (Wesley Eure from TV’s “Land of the Lost”), who is Kingsley’s nephew.

Popular XXX porn starlet “Kelly Nichols” (credited as Marianne Walter) is “Dee Ann,” providing lots of naked ladyness before she’s fatally hammered by a nail gun.

Nichols had started her career as a nude model in the 1970s, and made the move to adult movies after first appearing as a Penthouse Pet Of The Month.

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Read more about The Toolbox Murders below.

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The Toolbox Murders was one of only three feature films directed by Dennis Donnelly, who was a very successful TV director.

Donnelly directed hundreds of episodic nighttime dramas — hour and half-hour TV shows, and mini-series episodes too — including über-popular shows like “Emergency,” “Adam-12,” “Hawaii Five-O,” “Charlie’s Angels,” “Dallas,” “The A-Team,” “Simon and Simon,” and many many others.

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Donnelly actually came from a family of performers and entertainers.

His aunt, Kathleen O’Malley, appeared in more than fifty TV shows and movies, and she appears in The Toolbox Murders too (her credit here is “Screamer Woman”).

Donnelly’s actor brother Tim Donnelly — with whom he’d worked previously on episodes of TV’s venerable “Dragnet” series — plays “Detective Jamison.”

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Written by Nevan Friedenn and Robert Easter — who’d previously collaborated on the ridiculous but fun Super Van — and Ann Kindberg, the closing crawl credits of The Toolbox Murders actually tell us their screenplay was based on a “true story.”

All Movie‘s reviewer describes The Toolbox Murders as a “grubby, sleazy sickie,” and it was so sick and chock-full of controversial scenes of misogyny, in fact, that it was discussed at length on TV’s afternoon talk-fest “The Phil Donahue Show.”

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Donahue’s horrified TV studio audience predictably greeted the nail-gun murder scene they’d were shown as just the most recent example of decline in polite late ’70s civilization.

Oh, those innocent citizens… they likely had no idea how horrid it was going to get here in America in just a few decades!

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The Toolbox Murders was remade in 2003 by director Tobe Hooper, whose 1974 cult classic The Texas Chainsaw Massacre was responsible for inspiring producer Tony Didio to find a similar story for Donnelly to film.

The Toolbox Murders, like so many of the films we’ve been telling you about lately, was also a UK “video nasty.” It’s presented here uncut and uncensored and newly-remastered in blood-curdling High-Def from its original negative.

Watch Dennis Donnelly’s The Toolbox Murders and other selections we’ve picked for our new “Horror Month: Vampires & Psycho Killers,” section on Night Flight Plus.

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About Bryan Thomas

Bryan Thomas has been a freelancing writer/critic for All Music Guide, and a contributor to Launch, Music Connection, Big Takeover and numerous other publications and entertainment websites, blogs and zines, most of them long gone. He's written more than sixty sets of liner notes. He’s also worked for over twenty years at mostly reissue record labels -- prior to that he worked in bookstores and record stores, going all the way back to the original vinyl daze. He lives in the Miracle Mile neighborhood of Los Angeles, CA.
  • Jonathan Mitchell

    The Toolbox Murders is an eerie little film. There’s a futility, a sad emptiness, about the characters and events that makes the whole thing unsettling and very convincing.