The Toolbox Murders 2004 Review
The Toolbox Murders 2004
aka La Masacre de Toolbox
Directed by: Tobe Hooper
Starring: Angela Bettis, Brent Roam
Review by Luisito Joaquín González
Throughout the seventies and early eighties, Tobe Hooper was widely considered as one of the greatest horror directors ever to grace the silver screen. If it wasn’t for his 1974 video nasty The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, then we may never have seen movies like Slumber Party Massacre or any of the other slasher ‘massacre’ titles. We may not have even witnessed classics like Halloween. Sometime after his career redefining joint venture with Steven Spielberg (Poltergeist), Hooper fell into an awful run of consistently poor form. Later years saw uninspired efforts like Crocodile, The Mangler and Night Terrors completely ruin his almost peerless resume. It was somewhat ironic then that he decided to direct a remake of the 1978 gruesome slasher (The Toolbox Murders) at exactly the same time that New Line Cinema were renewing his very own masterpiece (Chainsaw Massacre).
The original Toolbox flick is a tough act to follow, let alone reproduce. What it lacked in style and quality, it more than made up for with brutality that has never been expressed in such a gratuitous fashion. Some of the gruesomely vicious scenes are almost impossible to forget and seeing a masked maniac use a nail gun to slaughter a naked teenager while he merrily hums away like he’s changing a light bulb is a shock tactic has never been used as effectively since. I must admit I hoped for more of the same from Hooper and I knew that he had already proved that he had the quality to break the hex of extremely poor horror remakes.
The Lusman Arms is a run down hotel in Hollywood, which has stood since the early twenties. In the opening scene we see a young woman get brutally murdered by a hammer-wielding black shrouded menace in one of the guest-rooms. Her body is dragged into the shadows and it seems that no one notices her disappearance. Next up we meet Nell and Steve Burrows (Angela Bettis and Brent Roam), a young married couple that have only just moved into the Lusman Arms. Steve is a doctor and spends most of his time out of the house, which leaves Nell suffering with her noisy neighbours through the wafer thin walls. Having already mistaken two rehearsing actors for someone being slaughtered, the Local Police are less than impressed with the housewife’s over-active imagination. But after hearing the diving screams of her neighbour, she begins to realise that the complex has more to its history than first meets the eye. Nell eventually heads out to solve the mystery of the disappearing residents, and what she discovers is more shocking than she could ever have expected…
Toolbox Murders is something of an impressive return to form from Tobe Hooper. Slasher movies are always easy templates to unleash some directorial flair and the veteran horror icon seems to lap up the chances to shine with relish. You can tell from the off that this is going to be something of a step up from the typical post-Scream lowbrow trash. Joseph Conlan’s impressive score keeps the tension running on a knife-edge, and the set locations prove that the feature has been slickly produced. Hooper does a great job of making an ordinary everyday backdrop like an apartment complex feel as creepy as a haunted castle and the conclusion is as exciting as it is enjoyable. The two lead characters are fairly well acted, and kudos to the scriptwriter for giving the viewer the option to sympathise with the protagonist. There are enough mysterious suspects to partake in a reality TV Cluedo marathon and each of them will give you a good enough reason to think that they could be the masked maniac. I especially enjoyed the stuttering manager, who describes a tin full of torn out human teeth that Nell found in her bedroom wall as, “Part of the building’s charm and character!”
At the time I wrote this in 2005, Toolbox Murders had not yet been released in either the US or the UK on DVD, which is somewhat inexplicable. I’m not sure what kind of business this took at the box offices, but I believe that it does certainly deserve a bigger status. There are a few flaws that perhaps undermine Hooper’s experience. The use of stereotypes is beyond belief; and as soon as a creepy toolbox-clutching handyman popped up as a hackneyed red herring, the movie lost a touch of credibility. At times the characters behave with a knack of ineptness that was totally nonsensical and perhaps underlined a lack of effort from the screenwriters. Victims leave themselves open to the killer’s murderous advances in such a fashion that makes you wonder if they were suicidal, and the director fails to add anything remotely different to the conclusion.
Questions will be raised about the numerous plot holes that are scattered throughout the runtime, but personally I feel that they add an extra layer of mystery to the synopsis. Audiences don’t always need to be hand-guided hand through a story. Gaps can be filled by a creative imagination and that is part of the beauty of cinema.
Toolbox Murders is not so much a remake of its 1978 ancestor as it is a complete re-imaging. Yes there’s a nail gun murder and a similar masked killer theme; but this time around we have an intriguing supernatural sheen, which makes the movie a tad more interesting. The rubbish mystery has been replaced with a good old school horror plot that works wonderfully, making this one of the best remakes of the nougties
All in all this is well worth picking up. Gory (one guy gets his head sawed in half ala Intruder),suspenseful (the final stalking scenes are brilliant) and well watchable to boot, this is Hooper almost back to his best. Let’s just hope that he can keep up the good work with his latest adventure – Mortuary (another remake?).
Killer Guise: √√√
Final Girl √√√√