A bland disc for a boring, awful movie.
Horror master Tobe Hooper’s 2004, erm, ‘re-tooling’ of ‘70s exploitation fav The Toolbox Murders (1978) was a victim of poor timing. Not only was Hooper’s striking carve-’em-up lost amidst the early ‘00s remake shuffle, its limited release overshadowed by bigger boys like Zak Snyder’s Dawn of the Dead (2004) and Platinum Dunes’ 2003 overhaul of the Texas Chain Saw king’s own terror landmark, it was also a touch too early to capitalise on the torture porn explosion that occurred post Saw II (2005). It would have seamlessly fit alongside that wave of grisly shock as well, with Hooper’s accents on slaughter and grungy production design a neat but unacknowledged footnote in the subgenre’s evolution. And with Hostel (2005) et al setting a new standard for the type of full-frontal gore acceptable in mainstream(ish) fright fare, the slightly trimmed Toolbox Murders would have easily sailed through the MPAA completely unscathed, instead of having its moments of juicy splatter pruned right back, unexpurgated only in the deleted scenes section of its US DVD.
The irony, then, is that it’s the explicit grue of Dean Jones’ TOOLBOX MURDERS 2 that makes this dud follow-up feel as similarly mistimed; completely antiquated, in fact, now that gorno has fallen by the wayside. Of course, it being left on the shelf for over two years hasn’t done it any favours (litigation between Jones and the film’s producers saw Toolbox 2 stagnate officially, with the FX man-cum-director resorting to sneaking out his unauthorised alternative cut, ‘Coffin Baby’, on disc across Europe). But even compared to torture porn’s dying embers (think Scott Spiegel’s tepid Hostel: Part III (2011) or Marcus Dunston’s hokey The Collection (2012)), Jones’ sequel is a stinker. It calls to mind Roland Joffe’s utterly horrific Captivity (2007) more than anything, in content and in tedium.
Admittedly slickly made, just how boring Toolbox Murders 2 is is the biggest surprise. Whereas Hooper’s ‘original’ – a barnstorming blend of Hollywood ghost story and giallo-esque murder mystery – entertains and enthralls, Jones’ slog is lethargy personified, with confusion and ramble exacerbating an already substantially below par screenplay. Narratively, Toolbox 2 never kicks out of a befuddling first gear, even with the scenes of limb lopping and body bisection (naturally, the gore is provided by Jones’ own American Makeup FX crew). It’s a simple, tried n’ true concept that’s muddied too: part serial killer thriller, part hostage drama, and part police procedural as twentysomething Samantha’s (an ineffective Chauntal Lewis) crusade to bring her sister’s murderer to justice soon finds her shackled in some subterranean cesspit, experiencing the maniac’s bloodlust first hand.
However, with only a few illogical connections to its predecessor (chiefly, Bruce Dern’s groaningly named Vance Henrickson, who occupies the same supernatural space as Rance Howard’s character in Hooper’s o.g.), it’s Toolbox Murders 2‘s condensing of the funhouse-esque Lusman Arms apartment complex, full of hidden passages and secret corridors, into a single location that sucks the most. Here, the seemingly endless amount of time spent in the still cool-looking villain Coffin Baby’s (a returning Chris Doyle) stereotypical lair quickly grows tiresome; Jones lacks the sense of claustrophobia needed to pull off such single set-based shtick convincingly or, indeed, competently. It’s a shame, really, as when Jones does briefly open things out, the sun-soaked sparseness he conjures is actually quite impressive, him styling modern L.A. as a surreal, anonymous hellhole.
Extras free (well, trailer aside), TriCoast UK’s DVD offers the supposed director and producer approved ‘final cut’ of Toolbox 2. Presented uncut in a pleasing 1.78:1 transfer, it’s supported by a pair of serviceable audio tracks in either 2.0 stereo or 5.1. If you must pick it up, it’s at least a mite cheaper than the majority of the overpriced Blu-ray sets.
TOOLBOX MURDERS 2 is out now on UK DVD
Follow Matty on Twitter @mattybudrewicz