Toolbox Murders ★★★½

How could I not pay $3.99 to rent The Toolbox Murders with a poster like that?

The 2000s were an interesting transitional time for the horror genre. American horror in particular developed a hyper-gruesome aesthetic as a response to the camp and satire of the 90s. Movies like Saw and Hostel are typically cited as examples of this tonal and stylistic shift, but "torture porn" wasn't the only culprit. I remember being too terrified to step anywhere near the horror section in Blockbuster as a kid in the early 00s for fear of being bombarded with images of gnarly mangled faces and chewed up, severed body parts. No matter where I looked, someone was trying to shock me; and of course it worked - I was only, like, 6?

Looking back on the trend now - hyper-realistic gore, grungy production design, an obsession with green color grading, and, of course, nu metal end credits - I have an undeniable affection for it. Toolbox Murders fits the bill for a 2004 horror movie in just about every category, though it's the only one of the bunch that benefits from the creative direction of arguably the father of grimy, realistic, blood-soaked horror - the kind that inexplicably evokes the scent of gasoline and burning garbage - Tobe Hooper. It's his input and skills as a director of the brutal and the macabre that elevates this film beyond the tropes of the decade, even if it does also rely on them.

Yes, Toolbox Murders is a remake of a movie from the 70s, but it feels through-and-through of its time. It ends with a song by someone trying their damndest to sound like Marilyn Manson, if that says anything.

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