Greetings, from your friendly neighborhood, unrepentant TOBE HOOPER apologist; I’m sorry but I kinda love 2004’s TOOLBOX MURDERS. I know that’s not the consensus but the heart wants what the heart wants. How can a movie from 2004 fill me with such nostalgic glee? I’m not sure, maybe because it’s just so fabulously old school in its stance. No, there’s nothing very revolutionary going on here, just a plain, mostly straightforward affair cooked medium rare and served garnish free, but I find it hits the spot all the same. I don’t need any more than this. That’ll do pig, that’ll do. Oh, just allow me to break my affection down for you…
Give this guy a break will you? He drops the ball now and again but he knows what he’s doing. There may not be anything as robust as the famous door slam from THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE in TOOLBOX but there’s plenty to relish anyway. On several occasions HOOPER steers your attention one way and then slams you from another direction entirely, that’s what I call a scare that’s earned, baby. He knows what you expect and he likes to tease you. One of my favorite bits involves a bathroom medicine cabinet that is opened to reveal…nada. TOBE, you foiled the medicine cabinet scare! I could kiss you!
What a spitfire. Imagine an unhinged HOLLY HUNTER fused with a robotic praying mantis and then set free to needle at will. BETTIS just fascinates and the horror world is a better place having known her. Her character here “Nell Barrows” is more tack sharp and caffeine restless than her usual wounded birds; she’s a vintage observer who senses something afoul and won’t be stifled. She is also quietly mourning the recent death of her father and am I reading too much into the movie to say her journey is all about confronting the ugly eventuality of the grave?
BRENT ROAM is a refreshing change of pace from the lantern jawed Aryan dullards usually picked to play the rational boyfriend plus, if you ask me, he was born to wear scrubs. JULIET LANDAU is lead material and she is able to transform a sidekick part into something exceedingly sympathetic. SHERI MOON is SHERI MOON, she’s got a Manson gal meets my hippy babysitter vibe that is too strong for me to resist. Go ahead and find her annoying if you must. I want her to read me a bedtime story and teach me how to smoke. RANCE HOWARD, father to RON and CLINT, is just plain Hollywood royalty and it’s nice to see him treated as such within the film.
Director of photography STEVE YEDLIN also shot MAY, so you know he’s no slouch. There are some velvet black nighttime scenes spiked with wet, reflected colors and even the scant daytime scenes have an otherworldly, corrupt Garden of Eden quality. The interiors overall have a pungent air of romantic sleaze that bring to mind NAN GOLDIN photos. This is a low budget film that, to my eyes, looks top of the line even as it’s delighting in dilapidation.
THE AMBASSADOR HOTEL
Playing the role of the creepy Lusman Arms apartment complex is the legendary AMBASSADOR HOTEL. THE AMBASSADOR has appeared in hundreds of movies from A STAR IS BORN to SE7EN and it just drips history and personality. It was demolished by a bunch of idiots in 2006 and this is one of its last few cinematic appearances. I’m adding this title to the ever growing list in my head that says when it comes to creating horror there are three important things to consider… location, location, location.
Not unlike delicious Razzles brand treats which are first a candy and then a gum, TOOLBOX is first a slasher and then a supernatural shocker with a SUSPIRIA boner. I dig the MULHOLLAND DRIVE-light “Hollywood’s gonna stomp your dream” theme that weaves through it too. Traditionally, in name only remakes make me see red but in this case I call it kosher. TOOLBOX is not trying to be a more modern, hipper version of the original and it ends up offering a denser mythology than the previously existing one. As much as I appreciate the original and its outstanding cast, I’m glad this doesn’t go down the same torturous trail.
“Coffin Baby” as named by HOOPER, is a creepy and intimidating creation with a tasty back-story to sink your teeth into. We’re given enough information to intrigue but not so much that we feel he’s completely pinned down or knowable. TOBE does a crackerjack job of never allowing the viewer too much time to focus on the killer’s mug but delivers enough so that you don’t feel completely cheated either. We’re dealt pieces and splinters only, leaving our brains to assemble and assume the worst. Like many a great monster, Coffin Baby, as the looser in a Faustian deal, has got his cursed tragic side too. His giddy victory dance exuberance after disintegrating a victim’s face with lye makes me want to get to know him better. Last I heard there was a sequel in the making, speed it up!
If you check out the deleted scenes on TOOLIE’s DVD you’ll see some classic, over-the- top, blood splattery kills that were sadly dumped in order to obtain a useless “R” rating. Considering the film’s nearly nonexistent theatrical life this is sort of like chopping off your nose to go to a dance at a country club that won’t let you in. Filmmakers please don’t bow down to the antiquated “R,” better you should save your bloody charms for the more appreciative home viewing crowd. I’m not saying the “R’ rated TOOLBOX is too weak, just that the difference between seeing a drill going into a head and a drill going into head and then coming out of a mouth is a big one for gore fans like me.
ALL IN ALL
TOOLBOX is really one of the better films that came out of the 2000’s if you believe my notoriously indiscriminate opinion. In fact, I suspect that only ageism and anti-HOOPER sentiment keeps it from being heralded as such. If this movie was released with the false claim that it was directed by a young first timer named, say “Travis Hasbro” everybody would be all over the place claiming “Travis Hasbro” was the next big thing. Well, fuck Travis Hasbro, TOBE HOOPER is the man. I hate it when people call the director of THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE, SALEM’S LOT, THE FUNHOUSE, the seriously underrated EATEN ALIVE, and POLTERGEIST for Pete’s sake (not to mention superior episodes of THE OTHERS and TAKEN) a “one hit wonder.” It’s called counting, my friends. I’m not blind to HOOPER’s duds but I think it’s preferable for an artist to create some great and some bad rather than all mediocre.
Just to prove I’m not all puppies and rainbows (actually, I am) here are a few, special bonus nitpicks for you cranky folks out there! Sometimes the movie may be a bit too dark (particularly during the kills), some of the sideline characters are a bit too cartoonish and dilute the tone, the closing BUDDHA STALIN song blows chunks and whoever chose the hideous glowing SLIMER fonts for the opening and closing credit sequences needs to be retroactively fired. There, I’m out! Here’s hopin’ I see you again soon Coffin Baby!