A young woman named Nell and her husband move into an old hotel that has been converted to apartments. The other tenants are a bit strange and their building manager is a creep. But the rent is reasonably priced. The building is undergoing renovations, thus the reason for affordable rent. While the construction work proves to be a small nuisance, the real problem is the killer lurking the halls and slaughtering the building’s residents.
Toolbox Murders (2004) is the rare exception – a remake that far surpasses the film on which it is based. This 2004 reimagining only loosely borrows from the 1978 original. It takes its title and some very basic plot points from the grindhouse sleaze fest on which is based but that is where the similarities stop.
Toolbox Murders (2004) is co-written by Adam Gierasch and Jace Anderson. The pair previously collaborated on the screenplay for Mother of Tears. Tobe Hooper serves as the director of this reboot. Toolbox Murders may very well be the best Tobe Hooper film since Poltergeist. The director has experienced somewhat of a dry spell. But this film is proof that Hooper still has the knack for putting together a smartly executed film. Toolbox Murders is full of of scares and memorable kills. Hooper’s direction works in concert with a smart script from Gierasch and Anderson to create a suspenseful horror-thriller. The screenplay doesn’t always take the viewer in the obvious direction. It follows some of the pre-established slasher film conventions, but goes to a wildly unexpected place in the third act. I was pleasantly surprised the first time I watched this film.
Angela Bettis (The Woman) is great as Nell. She is a champion of horror cinema and seems right at home with her role. Bettis instantaneously brings a vulnerability to the character that makes the audience want to look out for her.
Another thing that stands out about Toolbox Murders is the set design. It gives the film a gritty and unsettling feel. The apartment complex has a very seedy aesthetic that makes the viewer feel uncomfortable. It’s the perfect setting for a slasher film.
Toolbox Murders is smartly paced. It moves along quickly and without any snags. The running time is a brief one hour and thirty-five minutes. And the time passes very quickly. The deaths occur early and often. There isn’t a great deal of exposition bogging the film down. The backstory is limited to only what the viewer absolutely must know. As such, the film is free to focus on cleverly choreographed death scenes.
This reboot has a very respectable body count. The kill scenes are very inventive and plenty violent. In one especially outrageous scene, the killer butchers one of Nell’s neighbors with a nail gun. He then hangs her up on the wall like a piece of art.
Toolbox Murders provides ample misdirection to keep the viewer guessing in regard to the identity of the killer. Everyone is a suspect and trying to pinpoint the killer’s identity is entertaining. The big reveal occurs at the perfect time, so as not to feel tacked on to the end of the picture. But the killer’s identity is kept under wraps for long enough to keep the viewer in suspense.
This smartly executed slasher film didn’t receive any kind of US theatrical release. Toolbox Murders played some theaters overseas and then went straight to DVD in the United States. As a result of the film’s unceremonious release, a lot of horror fans have missed out on this title. If you haven’t checked it out, it is quite brutal and very suspenseful. It offers some unexpected twists along the way. Toolbox Murders is currently available on DVD from LionsGate.
Director(s): Tobe Hooper
Writer(s): Adam Gierasch, Jace Anderson
Stars: Angela Bettis, Tony DiDio
Studio/ Production Co: LionsGate
Length: 95 Minutes