Toolbox Murders owes as much to supernatural films like The Ring and its imitators (The Grudge, Dark Water, Skeleton Key, etc.) as it does to the original Toolbox and other traditional Slasher films. It offers an origin story that is mystical in nature, along with kills that are all Slasher, as the movie’s title demands.
Nell and Steven Barrows have just moved into the Lusman Arms, and quickly determine that the place, originally built by a Hollywood eccentric to house local stars, is now an absolute craphole. The building is under constant but static renovation, the building manager is worthless, the handyman is creepy, and the odd collection of neighbours are all far too audible through the paper-thin walls.
Eventually, the Lusman’s inhabitants are picked off by a masked killer armed with a variety of tools. Only Nell seems to suspect anything and begins a quest to solve the recent disappearance of Julia, a neighbour she’d befriended. Her search leads her deep into the building’s history and its architect’s connections to the occult.
The original The Toolbox Murders was a straight Slasher (and not an especially good one), with no supernatural elements at all. This remake, with its links to dark magic and its urban setting (a relative rarity for Slasher films) brings to mind the works of Clive Barker, especially the criminally underrated The Midnight Meat Train, directed by Ryuhei Kitamura. Still, it manages to remain true to its Slasher roots with a mysterious, decidedly hands-on killer. The kills here are brutal, though no more so than the average Savini creation. At times, the film veers dangerously close to torture porn territory, but never long enough to qualify it for that particular trash heap.
Nell is an interesting heroine, capable and determined, though I’d say she deserved a greater, more direct role in the film’s resolution. Though she is the prime mover in the killer’s eventual unmasking, the writers have her depending too much on men who barely registered as primary characters before the crap hit the wood-sander.
The film also suffers somewhat from an uneven pace. There’re long stretches during which little happens, with Nell rapping on hollow walls, looking intrigued. Overall, though, Toolbox Murders demonstrates that director Tobe Hooper still knows how to craft a solid Slasher, and offers a little something new in its use—but not overuse—of the supernatural.
It’s worth a watch but not a must-see.
Length: 95 min