TOOLBOX MURDERS (2003)
BINFORD OR BARGAIN BASEMENT?
DVD REVIEW | March 24, 2005
If you remember my review of the original Toolbox Murders, you’ll understand my confusion when I heard the news it was being remade. When I heard Tobe Hooper was taking the reins, I was slightly more interested, but equally apprehensive.
Admittedly Hooper is a more miss than hit director. The Texas Chain Saw Massacre is, without a doubt, a masterpiece of 70’s horror cinema, yet his follow up film, Eaten Alive, which reunited Hooper with Chain Saw’s star Marilyn Burns, proved to be far more interesting on paper than in execution. He did net another hit a few years down the road with the Speilberg produced Poltergeist, but followed it with such career snuffing films as Invaders from Mars, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2, The Mangler, and 2000’s Crocodile.
But that’s not to say the man can’t make a comeback.
As far as remakes/reimaginings go, Hooper’s Toolbox is a surprisingly high quality production. Eschewing all but the masked killer and the apartment complex setting of the original, this Toolbox holds almost no resemblance to the 1978 film.
The story follows Nell Broam (Angela Bettis), who has just moved into a new apartment complex with her husband, and doctor in training, Steven (Brent Roam). During their first night they are subjected to strange noises, a creepy handyman, loud nighttime hammering, an obnoxious landlord, and numerous amenity disappointments. As time goes by, Angela finds strange occult markings dotting the premises and a mystery box containing teeth hidden in her apartment wall (you’ll see). Then her friends and neighbors begin to disappear. She correctly surmises bad juju is at work in the building, and, somewhat foolishly, sets out to find it.
Scriptwriters Jace Anderson and Adam Gierasch have crafted a gripping, surprisingly smart, old school horror story utilizing some of the best elements of literary fairy tales. You’ve got your chamber of horrors, a la Bluebeard, your trail of clues, a la Hansel and Gretel, your mysterious elderly advisor, and a hefty touch of black magic. For the gore hounds out there, the infamous claw hammer, nail gun, and drill killings are all present and accounted for, but tweaked and improved upon, resulting in some super-wince-inducing acts of violence (even horror addicts such as Kris and I let slip the occasional, “ouch!.”) Steven Yedlin’s (of May fame) cinematography is also of note, and truly helps the apartment complex itself stand out as a character in the story. In fact, the only thing missing from this version is the bath-time fun scene, which was, admittedly, the only reason to watch the original.
As far as the DVD is concerned, the colors are represented well, and the sound is nice and clear, with sufficient bass during the more intense scenes. The extras on the DVD are slim, containing only a DVD commentary by Hooper and crew, a short snippet from a horror festival where Hooper discusses the origins of the “coffin baby” term (again, you’ll see), deleted scenes, which include the NC-17 cuts of three of the murders, and a trailer for the film. While these may not seem that exciting, they still provide a brief amount of fun.
Toolbox Murders is, dare I say it, one of Hooper’s best films, and
deserves to be mentioned alongside Texas Chain Saw and Poltergeist. While
it’s sad this didn’t receive a broader theatrical release, I’m
fairly sure it will find its deserved audience on DVD.