Children Shouldn’t Play With Dead Things

The Toolbox Murders

The Toolbox Murders

Denez McAdoo

After deciding that 1978’s original, rather unusually sleazy and degenerate film, The Toolbox Murders, was a bit too unusually sleazy and degenerate to try and justify and praise in the this column. I instead decided to review the more current remake of the film. Released in 2004, this updated version of The Toolbox Murders was directed by cult-horror film legend Tobe Hopper, who, following the directing of a series of genre-defining classics such as 1974’s The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, 1979’s made-for-TV Salem’s Lot, and 1982’s Poltergeist, has since been supplying the world of horror films with a steady flow of mediocre to completely meaningless drivel. Almost every succeeding film of his is hailed in its prerelease hype as his undisputed return to form. Well, it never actually is, and The Toolbox Murders is no exception.

This is too bad, because I really wanted to like this film. The 1978 original was a haunting and all-too-real slice of late seventies’ grind-house foray in uncompromising and unapologetic filmmaking, more of an exercise in graphic and shocking violence than any strong scene or story development. Much of the first half of this film consists of a series of seemingly unexplainable strung-together scenes that follow the same basic development sequence: 1) introduce an attractive female resident of a local apartment complex; 2) develop her character’s background a bit through dialog and action; 3) kill her.

The murderer’s apparent need to utilize a different power tool for every killing isn’t really addressed but if you can manage to make it past the mostly unredeemable misogyny of the film’s first half, it ends with a truly offensive ending that reaches such a level of repulsiveness, it almost justifies itself. Almost.

The new version of the film works a little something like this, but first you have to go through the excruciation process of introducing and acquainting us with the central characters. A newlywed husband and wife have just moved into a new apartment complex, where they are greeted with an eccentric array of neighbors and building attendants. There’s the strung-out ramblings of the down-the-hall wannabe rocker chick, the mumbled brooding of the unkempt and socially inept handyman, the… well, it goes on like this for a while, each character more clichéd and unlikable than the last. Eventually you can’t help but count down the time that goes by until somebody, heck, anybody just puts an ax in their heads just to shut them up. The sad part is that even when that eventually does happen, it’s often mostly disappointing. Most every horror convention is covered and on the few occasions that something original is actually attempted, it ends up being so over blown and poorly executed that it destroys my already strained sense of suspended disbelief.

The film tries to scare us by unsuccessfully creating an uneasy and frightening atmosphere, which really just amounts to little more than slapping an off-color green filter on the camera lens and then filling the screen with a bunch of over-done whodunit type characters, which would have had me guessing, if only I cared in the slightest. Sometimes characters would die improbable deaths, but by then I had already forgotten who they were.

The film wraps up with some nonsensical supernatural explanation that serves to puncture and deflate any sense or hope that some sort of tormented human soul lies at the root of the carnage-something to make me care about the events that have just passed before my eyes. Sorry if I’m spoiling the “surprise” here but, truthfully the only explanation for the supernatural evil is that the killer was born from the womb while his mother lay dead in the casket. This is actually a rather cool concept, though it doesn’t really explain anything. If only they had some how worked the zombie corpse-birth scene into the movie, that alone would have made the five bucks I wasted on renting this film totally worth it. But they didn’t. The only impressive thing this movie did was manage to be worse than the original.