Tobe Hooper’s The Toolbox Murders is a remake of the notorious 1978 Video Nasty The Toolbox Murders. However, Tobe Hooper’s version is very different to the original film. Although the premise is very similar to the original film – murder by handheld tools in an apartment building – there’s a lot more going on in Tobe Hooper’s remake, including supernatural horror elements, which makes the remake stand out against the original film. However, boiled down to it’s basic aspects, Tobe Hooper’s The Toolbox Murders is a straight-forward slasher film that includes a naively vulnerable survivor girl, an ‘Ahab’ style character, a quirky supporting cast, and brutal death scenes that are more visceral, more violent than what was showcased in original film that was only released uncut last year.
The first thing that stood out to me about Tobe Hooper’s The Toolbox Murders, is how incredibly low-fi/grungy the film looks: the film looks like a cheap Grindhouse film from the 1980’s, similar to Halloween 2 or Maniac. I believe that Tobe Hooper’s The Toolbox Murders was made on cheap film stock in order to save money (the film was a very low budget affair), thus making the film look very cheap and unappealing, very similar to how the original The Toolbox Murders looked back in 1978. It’s a stark contrast to how a horror movie remake usually looks: pristine, flawless, trying to replicate the look of other popular films at the time (The Ring, The Grudge, Dawn Of The Dead are examples of having the ‘pristine’ remake look). However, this cheap and nasty look that Tobe Hooper’s The Toolbox Murders has accentuates the haunting atmosphere that comes from the dilapidated look of the film’s setting: a run-down apartment complex with plenty of hidden secrets. Tobe Hooper also brings his own experience into making the film: after making The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 1 and 2, Tobe Hooper knows how to make a villain appear from the least expected angle. The film is full of bait and switch scares, most of them coming from the villain appearing from seemingly out of nowhere – from behind an overlooked door or from an empty room. Every-time the killer appears onscreen, it’s always a shock and doesn’t get old because Tobe Hooper knows how to make a killer unpredictable just by how he appears and acts onscreen. Tobe Hooper put a lot of effort into making the toolbox murderer genuinely frightening, and his effort wasn’t made in vain.
The characters in Tobe Hooper’s The Toolbox Murders are also much better than the characters in the original The Toolbox Murders, even if the majority of the characters included in the remake are mainly stereotypes – the stoner, the creep, the old man, the slut, the jock, the perverted teenager and his uncaring parents etc – with the main character, Nell, being the only character who is actually empathetic. As a viewer, it’s very easy to relate to Nell’s situation; a situation where the place you’re living in can only be described as bottom-of-the-barrel, where you can hear the people in the other rooms like the walls were made of cardboard and nothing works like they should. Many people, especially in today’s modern economical climate, have experienced those situations or have a nightmare of experiencing those situations, it makes the main character’s situation very relatable, even to people 14 years after the film was made, despite the crazed hammer wielding maniac on the loose.
However, with all the positive feedback that I give Tobe Hooper’s remake of The Toolbox Murders, understand that the film isn’t perfect. The film suffers when it comes to the writing department as the movie is full of plot-holes, confusing supernatural elements that make very little sense, and the story can be very unbelievably over-the-top at certain points near the end of the film where it wants to be a slasher, but it also wants to be a supernatural horror, but it wants a realistically insane killer, but the killer has to be affected by the paranormal, the film ends up making very little sense as the film goes on. Tobe Hooper’s The Toolbox Murders is a film best enjoyed without thinking about it too much as the story has major issues that are unaddressed, especially during the final third where the movie begins to make absolutely no sense. The film also sports a really stupid ending, or at least what the movie calls an ending: the film doesn’t really end, it just stops out of nowhere with nothing having been resolved throughout the entire story.
All in all, Tobe Hooper’s version of The Toolbox Murders is much better than the original The Toolbox Murders, it’s a much more enjoyable affair even if it is a typical slasher movie. However, I wouldn’t say that the film is essential viewing; for everything that the film does well it has a lot of problems when it comes to the film’s multiple story elements. It is an enjoyable film to watch, but I wouldn’t say that one would need to go out of their way to get a copy as there are much better slasher films that exist. Although, in the realms of horror movie remakes, Tobe Hooper’s The Toolbox Murders is one of the better remakes out there.