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Toolbox Murders Reviews

Tobe Hooper's remake of notorious slasher picture THE TOOLBOX MURDERS (1978) retains only the basic setting — a rundown apartment building — and the notion of a series of grisly murder by handyman's other implements. The once-luxurious Lusman Arms, built in downtown Los Angeles in the 1920s and now home to a motley group of struggling actors, fringe dwellers and old-timers, is in the midst of ongoing renovation. Newlyweds Nell and Steven Barrows (MAY star Angela Bettis, Ned Roam) move in the same day a workman is killed and — unbeknownst to anyone — a young woman (Sherri Moon) is hammered to death. Their apartment, building manager Byron (Greg Travis) smirks, was once occupied by Elizabeth Short, the murder victim immortalized as the Black Dahlia, and the whole place is a wreck: The elevator stalls, lights flicker, doorknobs fall off and the tap water leaks and runs brown. Doorman Luis (Marco Rodriguez), seems nice enough, but handyman Ned (co-screenwriter Adam Gierasch) is seriously spooky, and the neighbors are a motley crew. They include slutty Saffron (Sara Downing) and her brutal boyfriend (Charlie Paulson); former fat-girl Julia (Juliet Landau); computer voyeur Austin (Adam Weisman) and his squabbling parents (Stephanie Silverman, Alan Polonsky) and a genial older fellow named Chas Rooker (Rance Howard, director Ron Howard's father), who's lived there for decades and implies he knows an awful lot about the place. Nell establishes herself as high-strung by calling the police on a pair of actors running lines, so she keeps her subsequent suspicions to herself. And she has plenty to be suspicious about: Between screams that echo through paper-thin walls and the box of human teeth she finds concealed behind a wall, Nell is plenty creeped out before she ever uncovers the building's occult history. The builder, Jack Lusman, disappeared mysteriously circumstances, as did many workmen and tenants. Strange, mystical-looking symbols decorate the corridors and there are strange noises behind the walls. Jace Anderson and Gierasch's notion of an apartment building that's one vast spell owes a debt of inspiration to Fritz Leiber's 1977 novel Our Lady of Darkness (itself an homage to the spooky tales of H.P. Lovecraft, Arthur Machen, M.R. James et al.), but their script is mostly an excuse for a series of stalk-and-slash scenes that Hooper executes efficiently but with no particular originality.