Tobe Hooper’s latest foray into horror is a film called The Toolbox Murders. Not a remake, he insists, of the 1978 Dennis Donnelly horror flick of the same name. (Despite an identical plot). From an original script by Jace Anderson and Adam Geirasch, Toolbox murders is a sharp, dramatic horror flick with a traditional deformed slasher and an inquisitive heroine who unwittingly endangers her very life by following the mysterious disappearances in her new apartment building. Called Toolbox Murders because the killer uses a different tool for each slaying, it results in some very creative and enjoyable deaths. Tobe Hooper has not lost his flair for over the top effects and excessive gore that made him famous with films like the Texas Chainsaw Massacre despite his hiatus from horror films in recent years. His last feature film was1995’s The Mangler. Toolbox is an apt name, for it is the tool that Tobe uses to reinforce his position as one of the best, and most violently gory horror directors ever. With a script that borrows from so many horror films before it and leaves so many loose ends flapping in the wind, it is a daunting task for director Tobe, indeed.
Toolbox is set in Los Angeles. Not the Los Angeles of green lawns, corvettes and glamour, but the seedier, grimier, and uglier Los Angeles of the Raymond Chandler and the infamous exploits of film stars gone by. In an old apartment building titled the Lusman, a young couple from Providence RI, try to adjust to their new surroundings. Living next to troubled and strange neighbors, Nell Barrows (played by Indie Horror film May’s Angela Bettis) is suspicious and unhappy in her new apartment. Steven, her husband (Brent Roam) is too busy and stressed out with his residency at the hospital that he doesn’t have time to help her. Avoiding the creepy handyman Ned (Adam Geirasch) and the dismissive, and sneaky, landlord, Nell tries to find solace in her one friend Julia (Juliet Landau) that she finds she has something in common with in the building. They both like to jog. Julia is normal, and nice, unlike the disturbing neighbors that live in the other apartments. Then, one morning, Julia just disappears. Tormented and confused, Nell spends her time trying to piece together the clues in order to find her friend. As she investigates the creepy old Lusman building, she learns about its cryptic past and legendary builder, Mr. Lusman. It seems that it was built back in the days of classic Hollywood, and all of Mr. Lusman’s rich and famous Hollywood friends were going to invest in his new luxury venture, and even live there. When a scandal hit the papers that Lusman had been a practicioner of witchcraft, all of his rich and powerful friends abandoned him, and the building’s construction abruptly halted. Over teh next ten years he spent all of his time and money finishing it the way he had always dreamed, with a few extras. He added mysterious secret passages, strange pagan symbolism, and some inexplicable noises that rumble through the abandoned building. As the tenants are picked off one by one, Nell decides that it is up to her to find out what is at the bottom of the terrible Lusman history. Sneaking around places that she is discouraged from visiting, she stumbles across clue after clue until the terrible truth is right in front of her face. And it’s got a box full of tools ready for her.
The intriguing aspect of this film is that it becomes a mystery and a thriller as Nell becomes more enmeshed in the story. There are twists and turns, false scares, red herrings, and suspects galore. Is it Ned Lundy, the Handyman? Is it one of her neighbor’s creepy boyfriends? Is it the landlord, trying to protect the secrets of the building? Or is it something much darker and more frightening than any of these? You won’t find out in this review. And, when you watch the film, you’ll probably still have some questions after finding out who the killer is. The last quarter of the film seems to abandon the intricate mystery and concentrate on death and interesting ways to mutilate people. It’s slightly dissatisfying to find out that you’ll have to keep guessing about some of the most interesting points of the film, but it seems like a deliberate attempt on the part of the writers to be able to create inexplicable situations for our gore enjoyment.
Aside from an interesting story, this movie will be appreciated by horror fans because of all the gore. Hooper has creatively utilized the tools in the toolbox to create some very disgusting and elaborate deaths. He spares no creative expense in his death scenes, as was evident from Texas Chainsaw Massacre, where he made cleavers and meat hooks a viable tool of human death. Same here in Toolbox. Drills, screwdrivers, hammers & nails, etc. You name it, Tobe did it in this film, and the effects are wonderful.
Fast paced and never dull, Toolbox embodies all of the necessary elements to be a great horror movie. Less artistic and original than his Texas Chainsaw Massacre, but more polished and dramatic than Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2, Hooper’s Toolbox Murders will bring him a major new following from horror lovers too young to have seen his first films, and will re-ignite the love of loyal followers from decades part. Toolbox is a strong film likely to boost Tobe Hooper back into the top rung of horror directors along with names like Craven, Carpenter, and Romero.