Combustible Celluloid
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With: Angela Bettis, Brent Roam, Marco Rodriguez, Rance Howard, Juliet Landau, Adam Gierasch, Greg Travis, Adam Weisman, Christina Venuti, Sara Downing, Jamison Reeves, Eric Ladin, Sheri Moon Zombie
Written by: Jace Anderson, Adam Gierasch
Directed by: Tobe Hooper
MPAA Rating: R for strong violence and gore, language, some sexuality and brief drug use
Running Time: 95
Date: 03/15/2005

Toolbox Murders (2004)

3 Stars (out of 4)

Hammer Horror

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

It's true that director Tobe Hooper has struggled in his career since his groundbreaking The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, but that doesn't mean his career isn't worth anything. A remake of a 1978 movie, Toolbox Murders (2004) was his first theatrical film (sort of... it barely had any kind of release) in nine years, since The Mangler (1995). Though it may not be a masterpiece, it has many of the hallmarks of his best work.

Angela Bettis (from May) stars as Nell Barrows, an out-of-work teacher who moves with her husband into the Lusman Arms, a crumbling luxury hotel in Los Angeles. Since her husband works at a hospital, he's frequently out, leaving Nell alone in the creepy place.

She meets some of the neighbors, like exercise fanatic Julia (Juliet Landau, from Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Ed Wood) and old-time actor Chas Rooker (Rance Howard), but at the same time, people keep disappearing.

The movie really gets going when Angela realizes that certain room numbers are missing from each floor, and that there's an entire section of the building that is simply hidden. So what's left to do but go exploring?

Just as in his best work, Hooper relies heavily on location to create his horror, and it usually has some connection to somewhere that's supposed to be safe. This, after all, is Nell's home base, and she's never far from her front door. Yet Hooper's angles increasingly emphasize the unfamiliar, the distorted; it's not realistic, nor is it meant to be.

Then, rather than play typical horror movie tricks, his bursts of violence come from unexpected places. They're genuinely startling, rather than calculated. Of course, there's a measure of silliness that goes along with this, as well as a tip of the hat to old-time Hollywood, where a good director might have earned a little bit more respect.

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