Toolbox Murders, 2004
directed by Tobe Hooper
starring Angela Bettis, Juliet Landau, Rance Howard
Over two decades after the original film was released and subsequently banned apart of the “video nasties” censorship movement in the U.K., Tobe Hooper appropriately re-envisioned Toolbox Murders in 2004 with one of his more graphically violent, gruesome films. The story here is of a young couple that movie into a low-rent, rundown Hollywood building that turns out to be nothing short of a nightmare. Neighbors start to go missing and no one seems to really care, police included, leading new tenant Nell (Angela Bettis, May, 2002’s Carrie) to take matters into her own hands and seek out what is seemingly hiding within the walls of the old building. While the film is primarily a slasher, there is an attempt to introduce a supernatural, mysterious element to the plot, which is a mixed result at best. The mystery plot line really only seems to exist to advance the kills, not really providing too much drama or actual intrigue. It’s standard, predictable stuff, but at the very least it does make the film feel like a little bit more than a by-the-numbers slasher.
More effective than the mystery plot line in the film is the sense of claustrophobia and helplessness created. The tight, narrow corridors of an old, dingy, run-down building create a feeling of unpredictable peril. Especially along with a seemingly careless landlord, a predictably creepy maintenance guy, and several tenants all with their own connections to the building. Where the mystery fails, particularly in building up obvious characters to be the perpetrators of the crimes happening, the atmosphere prevails. The sense of vulnerability felt by Nell is displayed well, as she is also portrayed convincingly by Bettis, even if her character is often illogical and running through a predictable and easy to foretell script. Her surroundings, though, as well as her feeling of isolation create a character that is definitely one to root for, a rare deviation from main characters in slasher films where there really is little sympathy evoked.
Being a remake of a film that was notorious for violence and banned in many countries, the film perhaps pays tribute to that style by almost approaching splatter-levels of violence. Taking context clues from the title, it shouldn’t be too hard to guess how some of the kills in the film are portrayed, but there are several creative ones and the effects are quite well done. There are also some great scenes later on in the film where residents of the building discover some of the horrors hidden within the walls that are very graphic and are shot in a similar style to Sally finding herself in a pile of bones in Hooper’s The Texas Chain Saw Massacre. And I am self-conscious of seeming unoriginal or repetitive by always looking back (or forward) to Hooper’s work to that particularly iconic film, but so often there are certain scenes that have similar themes and styles.
Overall, while Toolbox Murders is an enjoyable and gruesome slasher, it really doesn’t do anything too special or original. Although, for this kind of movie that’s never too detrimental of a complaint. What hinders this one so much is the mystery subplot that is predictable and not that captivating, really taking away from what could have been a little bit more a high-paced movie. Still, the acting is a notch above the average horror movie and the setting creates a good atmosphere. It’s bloody and enjoyable enough, even if it’s not going to go down as a classic.