Toolbox Murders (2003) Movie Review

Serendipity sometimes works in Romantic Comedies, but they almost always come across as manufactured. The same is true for horror movies. In Tobe Hooper’s “Toolbox Murders”, the killer is not the brightest guy in the world, but he keeps getting away with it. When he kills a woman and nails her to the ceiling, the cops can’t find her because they never bother to look in the bedroom. When the killer uses a power drill on another victim, he gets away with it because a voyeur who had been watching the woman in secret was distracted at just that moment. You don’t just need to suspend disbelief with this movie, you need to rip it out, stomp on it, and then burn it with acid.

“Toolbox Murders” stars Angela Bettis (“May”) as Nell, an unemployed teacher who has moved to Los Angeles with her husband Steven (Brent Roam, “Tremors 4”), a doctor with a new job. Left to her own devices at the rundown apartment building where they have moved into, Nell starts to suspect that bad things are happening in the rooms around her. But after a false alarm ends with the cops kicking in a door, Nell essentially becomes the girl who cried wolf. Meaning, of course, that from now on no one believes whatever she’s saying.

If the writers of “Toolbox” didn’t keep having their killer get away with things by the most ludicrous stroke of blind, dumb, and clueless luck, the film would have been over in 10 minutes. The other problem with “Toolbox” is that it has a red herring that is just so obvious as to be condescending to the viewer. Even my 5-year old nephew could have figured out that the Ned character wasn’t the killer, even if the filmmakers kept insisting it might be him.

“Toolbox” is directed by Tobe Hooper, one of the original masters of Teen Slashers. Hooper burst onto the scene with “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre” almost 30 years ago, making his cinematic bones alongside Wes Craven and John Carpenter. Of the three, Hooper has fared the worst, relegated to doing absurd horror movies in the ’90s like “The Mangler” and “Crocodile”, as well as sporadic TV work in episodic horror. “Toolbox Murders” is a moderately budgeted horror film that doesn’t really represent a return to glory for Hooper. Then again, he’s pushing 60, so any directorial gig outside of TV was probably welcome.

Alas, “Toolbox” is rather pedestrian, with an odious script by Jace Anderson and Adam Gierasch. The latter writer also played the Persistent Red Herring aka Ned. But for cheap scares and some unnecessarily bloody violence, “Toolbox” delivers more than enough for genre fans. Hooper still hasn’t forgotten how to scare with very little, as the movie’s limited budget requires that he use creative sleight of hand with the camera to make the audience jump. He does some good work here, and I will admit to being “got” on numerous occasions.

Although Hooper and company don’t have high production values on their side, they do have a good lead in Angela Bettis. As Nell, Bettis is onscreen for almost the entire movie. We see the narrative unfold from her point of view, learning things about the building and its occupants as she does. It’s not until the hour mark that the film even bothers to really introduce its A plot. Which is that the building’s previous owner had designed it for nefarious purposes involving the occult, and now a killer in a ski mask is collecting — and has been collecting — victims for some dark purpose.

For those unconcern with scripting problems or an overwhelming case of logic-defying serendipity, “Toolbox Murders” delivers what it promises. The film oftentimes looks like a ’70s horror film, as if Hooper had simply found a film he had done in the ’70s but forgot to release it back then. The film’s final 30 minutes are its highlights, as the killer goes on a rampage by eviscerating everyone in sight, using that one choice invention all killers in Teen Slashers have in abundance — his personal teleporter, which allows him to be everywhere at once.

Then again, the bothersome script does show its face once again, in particular during long sequences where characters are being chased by the killer, but nevertheless takes the time to discuss exposition. Proving that they’ve seen their share of Teen Slashers, the writers even throw in an Old Guy Who Knows Stuff. “Toolbox Murders” bares some similarities to Hooper’s “Texas Chainsaw Massacre”, only this time around the murder items of choice are various toolbox items. I guess you could say the victims were all…”toolboxed”?

Tobe Hooper (director) / Jace Anderson, Adam Gierasch (screenplay)
CAST: Angela Bettis …. Nell Barrows
Juliet Landau …. Julia Cunningham
Brent Roam …. Steven Barrows
Chris Doyle …. The Killer
Rance Howard …. Chas Rooker

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