Toolbox Murders (2004)

In an act of cultural cannibalism, Tobe Hooper remakes 1978 video nasty The Toolbox Murders which was itself a ripoff of Hooper’s The Texas Chain Saw Massacre. Talk about scraping the bottom of the toolbox.

“Either this wallpaper goes or I do.”

For this 2004 retooling, Hooper reportedly told the writers not to watch The Toolbox Murders (good advice in general), retaining only the LA apartment block and titular toolbox from the rusted original. This one opens with the caption: “Every year thousands of people come to Hollywood to pursue their dreams. Some succeed. Some move back home… And some just disappear.” Incidentally the film’s second-billed actor doesn’t have a wikipedia entry.

We then meet a couple (Angela Bettis from The Woman and Brent Roam from the elevator scene in Six Feet Under) as they move into a visibly decaying apartment building (presumably sight unseen) that offers “renovation special” rates while under construction; an almost laudably insane plot contrivance that leaves a bunch of tools lying around, which are soon used to butcher the residents, including Rance Howard (father of Ron), Juliet Landau (Drusilla in Buffy) and Sheri Moon (now Zombie – she didn’t die, she just got married).

And the Academy Award for Worst Font goes to…

Toolbox Murders spends a pleasing amount of time getting to know these strange side characters, starting out like a giallo version of Sean Lock’s 15 Storeys High before descending into the “Plenty of full-frontal gore – Daily Star” promised by the DVD packaging. Apparently one of the production companies dissolved during filming, so production was shut down with only two-thirds of the film shot – and it’s still more coherent than the average Blumhouse movie.

The mouldy green cinematography and grim production design bring out the creepy architecture of the Texas Chain Saw-style festering flesh house, its crumbling walls as paper thin as the plot. But unlike the 1978 version this movie is entertaining and delivers on its title, and Hooper is clearly having fun playing with his slasher toolkit. Extremely silly, occasionally funny and oddly compelling, Toolbox Murders is sharper than the original in every way.

A sequel was made but ran out of money halfway through production (again), plus it turned out they didn’t actually have the rights to the Toolbox Murders franchise, so it was completed with the title Coffin Baby. A third instalment failed to secure crowdfunding. Even Toolbox Murders fans have their limits.

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