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Toolbox Murders – 6

Director – Tobe Hooper

Cast – Angela Bettis, Brent Roam, Marco Rodriguez, Rance Howard, Juliet Landau, Adam Gierasch, Greg Travis

Release Year – 2004

Reviewed by John of the Dead

Toolbox Murders marked the return of famed horror writer/director Tobe Hooper to the scene of bearable horror. Hooper hit a low spot after The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 in 1986, spending almost two decades giving us TV movies and less-than-favorable efforts like Spontaneous Combusion, Night Terrors, and The Mangler, although he did take part in the awesome 1993 anthology, Body Bags. Of course, Hooper sadly returned to to the negatives after Toolbox Murders with Mortuary, but that is enough history for now. Toolbox Murders is the obvious remake of one of the more popular of the 1970s “Video Nasties”, The Toolbox Murders, and while I do not see it living up to the name of the original it did give me a decent experience in the end, and gave hope to those Hooper fans who felt he had lost the talent he harnessed during the 70s and 80s.

Looking for an affordable place to rent in Hollywood, Nell (Angela Bettis; May, The Woman, Bless the Child) and her husband Steven move to an old building with a long history, Lusman Arms. During the 60s the hotel was glamorous but is now near decrepit – the halls filled with the screams and yelling of wayward couples. When renovations start, the tenants in the complex begin disappearing – suffering violent deaths along a path leading directly to Angela.

The story does not follow the original to the “T”, and I enjoyed that. Writers Adam Gierasch and Jace Anderson, who teamed with Hooper 4 years prior for Crocodile, did a decent job in their writing execution of this story. It took me a while to warm up to the story, mainly because of their characters and how they interacted with one another. I usually find Angela Bettis enjoyable in films, but she came off bland and unlikable, which of course did not go well in keeping my interest. The same can be said for pretty much every other character in the film aside from Julia, Nell’s neighbor and only friend. The usual cliches are provided, with Nell’s husband Steven always away at work and refusing to believe Nell’s claims that her neighbors are being murdered by someone in the complex. There is a new handyman employed to do the “remodeling”, a creepy guy who says little but creeps A LOT, and of course eventually you find out whether or not he is performing the killings. Aside from this we are treated to a few sweet kills, with the severity of the kills growing as the film progresses and ultimately building to a fun effort despite a mediocre first two acts.

Tobe Hooper did a fairly good job with the direction. From the get-go it had an “old” grainy feel reminiscent of his earlier works, and it did not come looking cheap or amateurish. The sets used worked well for the film and I enjoyed the locations for the old decrepit apartment complex, which 90% of the film took place in. Acting-wise the performances were good enough, and I felt that the dialogue written into the screenplay played into some of the less-then-stellar performances. Of course, Hooper excelled where it mattered most…the horror. The kills slowly built up in intensity, with the final act coming as blood-soaked as I wish the entire film had been, but nonetheless the earlier kills were enjoyable. We were also thankfully given live-action gore here and there instead of relying only on the CGI stuff like most modern day horror films do.

Overall, Toolbox Murders is a fair remake that manages to deliver a few things reminiscent of the original – the gore and the kills. The story is OK and it delivers a good amount of kills by the time the end credits roll, but the majority of the film’s faults will be found in the screenplay. It was nice to see Hooper make a return to positive directing, something that plagued him before and sadly even after this film, but the guy shows that he still has the talent to make a good horror film, and in the style he wants to do it in.

Rating: 6/10

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