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Review: Toolbox Murders

Tobe Hooper’s latest is not unlike an episode of Melrose Place as imagined by Lucio Fulci.

Toolbox Murders
Photo: Lionsgate

A loose remake of Dennis Connelly’s cult shocker The Toolbox Murders, Tobe Hooper’s latest is not unlike an episode of Melrose Place as imagined by Lucio Fulci. Nell and Steven Barrows (Angela Bettis and Brent Roam) move into a Hollywood hotel where a madman is running loose. Hooper creates a genuinely terrifying sense of place—the floors in the building are in various states of repair, a hierarchy of gloom that anticipates Nell’s Dantesque journey at the end of the film. That unflinching, almost unbearable sense of realism that fueled Hooper’s Texas Chainsaw Massacre is all over the film’s spectacular murders. Though the killer’s entrances are scarcely announced in advance by cheap music cues (in most cases the boogeyman is already inside his victims’ apartments when they finally sense his presence), gore-hounds won’t be disappointed by the camera’s unrelenting taste for blood. If there’s nothing scarier than having your personal space invaded, it’s a fear that Hooper understands and repeatedly exploits by linking sex to shame. A boy whose computer offers a mainline into a woman’s apartment attempts to cover his video feed with a game of solitaire. Later, he just misses the woman, Julia (Juliette Landau), being butchered by the film’s driller killer, but the moment is equally brilliant because Hooper parallels the pleasure of a once-heavyset woman deriving pleasure from being watched to a boy being caught participating in her pleasure by his mother. Aesthetically and theoretically, Toolbox Murders may be Hooper’s most impressive film in years, but there’s still the matter of the characters: loony red herrings or vessels that exist to deliver the occasional hollow sentiment (“You lost the first man you ever loved,” says Julia to Nell when the latter misses her father) or push the film’s ludicrous supernatural plot along. You see, an ancient evil is summoned when the manager decides to renovate the hotel. When Nell stumbles onto a creepy rocking chair on the roof of the building, atmosphere goes out the window, the plot wheels begin to turn, and the film, in more ways than one, goes to hell.

Cast: Angela Bettis, Juliet Landau, Brent Roam, Rance Howard, Sara Downing, Greg Travis, Marco Rodriguez, Adam Gierasch, Eric Ladin, Sheri Moon, Adam Weisman, Stephanie Silverman, Reeves, Alan Polonsky, Carlease Burke, Stone Price Carson, Chris Doyle Director: Tobe Hooper Screenwriter: Jace Anderson, Adam Gierasch Distributor: Lionsgate Running Time: 95 min Rating: R Year: 2003 Buy: Video

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