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Reviews » DVD Video Reviews » Toolbox Murders
Toolbox Murders
Lionsgate Home Entertainment // R // March 15, 2005
List Price: $26.98 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by Scott Lecter | posted March 6, 2005 | E-mail the Author
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The Movie:
Other than the title - and the fact that the killer uses tools to dispose of his victims - Tobe Hooper's Toolbox Murders has little in common with the original 1978 film. More a "re-imagining" than a straight remake, Hooper's film tells the story of an old Hollywood hotel that has a history of missing inhabitants. Soon after Nell and her husband move in, while the building is being renovated, the creepiness starts to set in. It's not long before Nell finds herself in the middle of the search for the Lusman building's mysterious secrets.

Many rabid horror fans, myself included, have been hoping for a return-to-form from Tobe Hooper ever since his Texas Chainsaw Massacre days (Poltergeist barely counts), and Toolbox Murders seemed to be the perfect opportunity to showcase his talent for portraying gore in a hardcore, frightening way. In a period of horror-genre history when the PG-13 rated film seems to reign supreme, Hooper's latest film tries vehemently to deliver a glimpse of what's mostly been missing in the theaters over the last few years. It is a violent, gory return to the days of the slasher film, with a little bit of mystery thrown in.

Toolbox Murders, however, is not a true return to form for Hooper. The film is not another Texas Chainsaw Massacre (what could be, really?), but there are moments of that type of brilliance within it. The pacing is not exactly perfect, and there are certainly some logic issues at work here, but I have to hand it to Hooper where it really counts. He makes a kick-ass horror film that does a great job of frightening just when he wants it to, and he definitely knows how to crank up the tension near the conclusion. Once Nell starts her real investigation of the Lusman's oddities, Toolbox Murders begins to churn and never really slows down for the remainder of the film. Not to mention the sense of dread hanging over the hotel, which Hooper creates with his muted color palette and propensity for oddball angles. You just know something bad is going on within those walls, and you can't help but wonder who might actually make it out alive.

So we know that Hooper can make an adequate slasher film. Is this really a surprise to any fan of the horror genre? Probably not, and the fact that the film does give us a handful of the usual clichés and red-herrings doesn't really help distinguish it as anything more than a gory return to something a little harder than we're used to seeing. Hooper's film, however, does have a few things going for it that most of those other films don't have. Sure, he may use a few of the usual clichés, but he also takes those clichés and turns them on their head several times throughout the film (and especially near the end). He intentionally allows the viewer to gain a false sense of security by using those clichés, and then shocks that very same viewer by turning those clichés upside down.

The other big caveat that Hooper has going for him in Toolbox Murders is genre-favorite Angela Bettis. If her performance in May established her as rising star, this film cements her place as one of the foremost actresses working in horror today. She may be a tiny little thing, but her presence on the screen is enormous, and Toolbox Murders really gives her the chance to shine with a performance that is both nuanced and fresh. This performance alone (not to mention the inclusion of genre veterans Juliet Landau and Rance Howard) is enough to turn what could have been a dull remake of a cheesy slasher film into a surprisingly good low-budget horror film.


Toolbox Murders is presented in an anamorphic 1.85:1 transfer that suffers greatly from a shoddy source print. As much effort as Lions Gate put into the extra features on this DVD, they would have done wisely to clean up the print for this transfer. For a film (albeit a low-budget feature) this recent there is no excuse for how many instances of dirt, scratches, and debris are present throughout the entire film. I can understand there being some inherent grain - especially in darker scenes - and there is certainly a fair amount here, but Lions Gate could have at least cleaned up the print. The debris is not always noticeable, but when it does rear its ugly head, it becomes quite distracting.

Nevertheless, this transfer does attempt to overcome its problems as it does a nice job handling the shadows, colors, and vast amount of blackness employed by the film. Detail is often sharp and black levels are deep with no sign of digital artifacts. There is a very slight amount of edge enhancement, flicker, and shimmering present, but it is hardly noticeable. Shadows are nicely delineated and the muted green and brown color palette appears just as it is intended, but it's hard to get past the shortcomings of this transfer. Lions Gate really dropped the ball by not at least giving the print a once-over before delivering this DVD. If they had, this could have made for a very pleasant visual presentation.

The audio on this disc is presented in both Dolby Digital 5.1 and Dolby 2.0 stereo surround formats, and while both tracks are very nice, the format of choice is clearly the Dolby Digital 5.1 track. The film's numerous "jump scares" are portrayed so well in this track that the very few problems that arise seem barely negligible. Spatial separation across the front channels is great and the use of the surround channels is extremely well done. Whether it be to aid the soundtrack, provide a bit of ambience, or deliver some truly great surround effects, the rear channels always seem to be doing the right thing at the right time. The LFE channel even gets quite a workout a few times throughout the film, providing some very nice low-end. The only issue I had with either track is the slight level fluctuation, especially in the center channel. At times, the film's dialogue gets a bit muddled and becomes somewhat overwhelmed by the other aspects of the soundtrack. It never gets bad enough for the dialogue to be intelligible, but there are a few instances where I had to strain to hear exactly what was being said. Nevertheless, this track succeeds in its overall power and ability to provide some great surround effects that only help the film to create more tension.

Although Toolbox Murders didn't have much of a theatrical run here in the United States, Lions Gate chose to provide a fairly loaded disc with some very nice extra features.

The first, and best, special feature is an audio commentary with Director Tobe Hooper and Writers Jace Anderson and Adam Gierasch. It's clear that the three participants are great friends as they interact very easily throughout their commentary. Anderson and Gierasch do most of the talking while Hooper drops in a few nice anecdotes and comments about filming. There are a few instances where the participants fall into the awful trap of simply narrating the scenes, but most of the track is filled with insightful comments about the film itself. The trio goes on to explain why their film barely resembles the original 1978 film, and they even touch on the influence of Dario Argento's Suspiria and the novel The Picture of Dorian Gray on their film. They do tend to gush a bit about the film and the actors, but the friendly interaction between Anderson, Gierasch, and Hooper makes this a very engaging listen.

Also included on this disc is an audio commentary with Journalist Calum Waddell and Producers Terence Potter and Jacqueline Quella. This track is slightly slower and not quite as interesting, but Waddell does a nice job of moving the pace along. He's clearly well versed in the horror genre and poses some great questions to the film's producers. Potter and Quella speak at length about their admiration of Tobe Hooper, the performances of the actors, and filming at the historic Ambassador Hotel, but the most interesting aspects of this track are their comments not only about the differences between Toolbox Murders and the original film, but also the direction they might take for the already-planned sequel.

Lions Gate has also provided five-and-a-half minutes of deleted scenes. The gorehounds will love these scenes, as they are mostly extended bits of gore and violence that were excised in order to attain an R-rating. The film itself is definitely a hard-R, but the inclusion of these scenes would have really amped up the gross-out factor.

We also have a very short clip called Fearless Tales that shows Hooper, onstage at a festival, explaining the idea of the "coffin baby." Finally, there is the theatrical trailer for Toolbox Murders, and five trailers for other Lions Gate films.

Final Thoughts:
I, personally, have nothing against remakes of classic horror films (or any films for that matter), but I know that a lot of diehard genre fans recoil at the very thought of them. If the studios continue to make them with imagination, however, and pursue them as "re-imaginings" rather than straight remakes, I think we'll all be in for some really good horror films. Tobe Hooper's Toolbox Murders only goes to prove that fact. It is certainly not a perfect film, by any stretch of the imagination, but it is definitely a well-acted, gory, tension-filled horror film that will probably make you jump out of your seat at least a few times.

If only Lions Gate had taken the same amount of time and care with the film's visual presentation as they had with the rest of this DVD, I would easily make this a highly recommended disc. The audio presentation is great and the inclusion of some very nice extra material goes a long way toward making this whole package an entertaining experience. I just can't help but think they just overlooked the fact that the film's print was in desperate need of a clean up. The performance of Angela Bettis, however, and the fact that Toolbox Murders is a damn fine little horror film makes me easily recommend this disc to all the horror fans out there.

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