Toolbox Murders (2003)

Author: Brett Gallman
Submitted by: Brett Gallman   Date : 2008-06-22 13:54

Written by: Jace Anderson and Adam Gierasch
Directed by: Tobe Hooper

Reviewed by: Brett G.

Tobe Hooper has had quite a distinguished career in the horror genre with films ranging from the iconic and influential Texas Chainsaw Massacre to the low budget Freddyís Nightmares pilot ďNo More Mr. Nice Guy.Ē There have been quite a few duds along the way (Night Terrors, anyone?) and heís even got a film thatís been attributed to him that he didnít really direct (Poltergeist, which, by all accounts was directed by Spielberg himself). In 2003, Hooper announced his intentions to remake The Toolbox Murders, a nice little slice of 70s exploitation pie. The result is something altogether different from the original; however, does this make it another hit for Hooper, or can we add another to his list of misses?

Well, to elaborate, Toolbox Murders is one of those ďremakes in name only.Ē Very little of the original remains hereóin fact, the only aspects shared by the film are a similar looking killer stalking people in an apartment building. The remake also borrows the kills from the original film before adding several of its own. Besides that, this could very well be its own film, but I suppose Hooper wanted to capitalize on a somewhat well-known title in the horror genre. Whereas the original is a low key study of a killerís sadistic motivations, Hooperís version is pretty much standard slasher fare. Here, our main character is Nell, a teacher who has moved to Hollywood with her husband, Steven. Specifically, they have moved into an old apartment complex called Lusman Arms, a building with a mysterious past and a lot of charm according to the landlord. It soon becomes apparent that more is wrong with the building than thin walls and substandard plumbing, as the tenants are systematically dispatched by a mysterious killer. When Nellís neighbor and jogging partner, Julia, disappears, she begins to investigate the sordid past of the old building in an attempt to unravel the mystery of the Toolbox Murders.

Fans of the original can already see the glaring differences here. While the eponymous toolbox is given some lip service in its role as a red herring, thereís pretty much no reason for this to be called Toolbox Murders. In fact, I donít consider this a remake at all, as the tone, plot, and direction are entirely unlike that of the original. Now, this isnít necessarily a bad thing as far as the film's quality is concerned, because it's not really that bad at all. In fact, it features some pretty solid performances, especially from Angela Bettis (horror fans might remember her memorable performance in May). In terms of direction, Hooper turns in a solid job, as the film has a creepy atmosphere. For the most part, the film is very slick, quickly paced, and straightforward.

In many ways, the film plays out like a haunted house film, as thereís no shortage of strange occurrences in the Lusman building. Furthermore, Hooper handles the murder scenes very well; whereas the original film focused on unflinching and brutal violence, Hooperís film is a bit more stylized in this respect. In short, this film is much more cinematic, as the original film is almost like a documentary (which, interestingly enough, is reminiscent of Hooperís own Texas Chainsaw Massacre). That said, the film is quite gory and even more so than the original, as bodies are maimed, mutilated, and even torn apart. Visually, the film has a very grainy quality to it, which is probably an attempt to match the grimy atmosphere of the apartment building.

Unfortunately, the film follows up on its ďhaunted houseĒ atmosphere a bit too much. Without completely spoiling the ending, Iíll just say that the film takes a hard left supernatural turn. This isnít bad in and of itself, but the story just isnít handled very well. We learn a lot about mysterious symbols and curses, but it never really goes anywhere properly, and the film features a deus ex machina thatís not explained very well. This hurts the film because, unlike the original (which reveals the killer midway through), it builds on mystery and suspense, and the pay off just isnít very satisfying. The film is pretty solid (if not unremarkable) until the final fifteen minutes or so, as the film sort of unravels and falls flat by leaving a lot of unanswered questions.

If anything, however, it is a sort of a welcome return for Hooper, as this is better than most of his output from the 90s. In the grand scheme of things, itís not going to be remembered as one of his great films, but it wonít fall in with the duds either. If youíre a fan of the original Toolbox Murders, just go into this one expecting something completely different, as this film trades in the 70s exploitation and subtexts for standard slasher motifs like elaborate deaths and jump scares. In terms of entertainment, this is a more ďfunĒ film than the original, which is slower-paced and unsettling at times. Itís not a better film overall, however, as the original is worth a purchase, while this one is nothing more than a rental to pass the time. The Lionís Gate DVD is well done, even if the transfer is grainier than most recent releases (Iím sure this is intentional anyway, and I rather like the look because itís befitting of the material). The soundtrack is very aggressive too and will probably have you jumping from time to time. Thereís also a commentary with Hooper as a special feature, so if youíre a huge fan of his, youíll want to check it out. Rent it!

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