TBK: TOOLBOX MURDERS 2 (2013)
Directed by Dean Jones
Over five fun-filled days at a recent festival the thing that surprised me most wasn’t any of the movies. Rather it was the sight of a guy in a Toolbox Murders t-shirt. Made at the height of cynical slasher releases, in the post Halloween era, the workman-like offering got a competent if confused reboot in 2004. Sadly, for the literally dozens of fans wondering what happened next, the sequel spent a long vacation in development hell before being released as Coffin Baby. However, a name change and much editing later and UK viewers can finally see the horror debut from movie-makeup veteran Dean Jones.
There’s no need to rewatch the now aged remake as a refresher since, save for the villain, there’s little to link the outings. Here the handiest killer in Hollywood (Doyle) captures Samantha (Lewis), a grieving relative of a prior victim. Following a Rob Zombie-lite metal opener (the sort of one that shows toy baby heads amidst aggressive screaming) she wakes up behind bars in the bowels of a hotel. The modest introduction gives way to a claustrophobic series of gory set pieces as the deranged captor psychologically tortures his captee, attempts to make a pet of her and brutalises whoever else he can get his gloved hands on.
A premise this basic is not necessarily a problem, as long as the acting is credible and the situation is fully exploited for its terror. Sadly Lewis does not convince in what’s a misleadingly easy role. She can do the physical tropes such as bulging scared eyes well enough, but rarely makes the clunky dialogue sound organic. This isn’t helped by her character having such a muddled arc. Indeed she is quick to join Coffin Baby in chowing down on human flesh with gusto, but is as soon repulsed by a fairly mild video (admittedly when the screen flicks on to reveal footage from the opening montage of Toolbox Murders 2 I can understand her reluctance to watch). Consequently there’s very little to connect with and the ordeal soon becomes boring. Similarly it’d have been welcome to have some insight into the killer’s motive or rationale. No, he doesn’t need a long, tortured upbringing to complain about. Just given that it is essentially a two hander, he does need to show signs of an internal logic. The lack of clarity means that the later sections, which introduce a lot of supernatural elements, lack the all-important human touch. This strand, which includes a brief cameo from miscast Oscar nominee Bruce Dern, is lazily underdeveloped and raises far too many questions. A further botched attempt at layered storytelling sees detective Cole (Kraus) investigate the case, though his sleuthing seems to serve the running time more than the viewer or his victims. These scenes build up to a badly plotted 85 minutes that will do little to convince even the most dedicated fans of the remake that the series needs another extension.
Which is frustrating, as the foundations for a solid horror really are there. First off, the aesthetic’s genuinely unpleasant. The setting is creepy and, with the atmospheric soundtrack, it adds a lot to proceedings. Similarly important are the wounds, which are as dirty and nasty as fans can hope for them to look. The camera doesn’t shy away from the blood when it flows and the practical effects are genuinely impressive, doing much to betray the film’s small budget. Furthermore, enough limbs are hacked off and skin torched to satisfy devoted gorehounds. Secondly, despite a lot of screen time, Coffin Baby is a never less than unnerving foe. What Doyle lacks in size he makes up for with a visceral energy and creates the kind of monster that deserves a better franchise. However, whilst he keeps the movie watchable, the problems are simply too many for it to really stand up. As such, don’t expect to see many more people wearing t-shirts.
Toolbox Murders 2 is out now on DVD and VOD.