The Toolbox Murders

Starring: Angela Bettis, Brent Roam and Juliet Landau
Anchor Bay Entertainment UK
RRP: 16.99
Certificate: 18
Available 25 April 2005

Nell Barrow, a young woman, rents an apartment with her husband in the Lusman complex, a 1940's building under renovation. The walls are thin and she hears many strange noises. After a call to the police proves to be a false alarm, she is seen as a busybody by the landlord. But the truth is she is worried. Two woman from other apartments have gone missing; unbeknown to her violently murdered by a madman using hardware tools. With help she discovers that the same apartment number is missing on each floor, meaning there is a large area the others are not seeing. The building's blueprints show a number of mystic symbols which create a spell which keeps the killer there, in a grim representation of life...

The Texas Chainsaw Massacre inspired a lot of horror films, one of which was the original Toolbox Murders. So it seems rather strange that Tobe Hooper should be remaking a movie which was influenced by his own Chainsaw masterpiece.

Watching the additional features, it seems the idea here was to reinvent the horror genre, the effect of which had become muted by real-life tragedies in the news. However, in my opinion it's not enough simply to depict a series of violent and gristly scenes. We have to care about the characters, and the plot has to move us along. These killings are well-choreographed using old-school techniques, and you have to commend Hooper and his team for avoiding the easy trap of CGI to cut corners, but there's simply not enough of any significance going on the rest of the time.

In many ways this film also carries a baggage of clichés which quite frankly are unacceptable in this day and age. Potential baddies queue-up for recognition: a biker, a creepy handyman, an argumentative caretaker and a long-term resident living in the past. Many classic mystery writers have said that it's against the rules and certainly a cheat to have the killer be somebody not seen as an ordinary character during the plot. I'm not sure any writer should adhere to rules, but in this case it does treat the watching audience with a modicum of scepticism.

No shame is displayed in using a Jason Vorhees-like killer. Inexplicably, Nell goes back to the apartment alone when it's all over, instead of travelling to the hospital with her husband. She knows the killer is missing, so shouldn't be surprised when he smashes through the window to attack her (a trademark of the Vorhees character). And like the final scene of John Carpenter's Halloween, the killer is shot repeatedly, falls from a window and is missing when they look. Killers just never stay dead these days; Michael Myers has a lot to answer for.

This two-disc set is nicely packaged in a slip cover. Extras include: Widescreen, 5.1; a commentary by Tobe Hooper and the two writers; a commentary by the producers; a theatrical trailer; biographies and film notes. Disc two contains: EPK (a short behind-the-scenes); a stills gallery; and a feature-length documentary called The American Nightmare. This last extra is extremely good, exploring the connection between fictional film horror and real-life horror depicted by the news (much of it soul-destroying). Some classic horror films are discussed by such luminaries as Tobe Hooper, John Landis, David Cronenberg, John Carpenter and Wes Craven. This feature alone is worth an extra point.

The Toolbox Murders in no way progresses the genre to the next level, as some might have you believe, but it is an above average horror flick.

Ty Power

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