Many aspiring movie stars come to Hollywood to realise their dreams of making it in the film industry, but many never succeed, in fact some completely disappear. One such aspiring actress is Daisy (Sheri Moon), who returns from her shift one rainy night to the dingy apartment block where she lives, the Lusman Arms. The building is undergoing repairs and Daisy learns from the doorman, Luis (Marco Rodriguez), that a workman has been injured by an electrical fault; Daisy continues up to her floor in the elevator and enters her rooms, carefully locking the door behind her. She then gets ready for bed and notices a couple of minutes later that the locks on her door are open. And why is that? It's because there's a masked maniac right next to her.
This version of The Toolbox Murders was scripted by Jace Anderson and actor Adam Gierasch, but bears only a slight resemblance to the nineteen-seventies original. The killer in this one is not so easy to spot, the plotting is not quite so dementedly nasty, and most important of all, there's nothing as disturbing as Cameron Mitchell's singing in this one. Rest assured, the killer does use the contents of a toolbox in his spree, but the murders have the strange effect of seemingly belonging to another film, as the main plot involves the uncovering of the dangerous secret of the Lusman Arms in a Scooby Doo style by new tenant Nell (Angela Bettis).
Young wife Nell has just moved in with her husband Steven (Brent Roam), and she is not impressed by the seedy surroundings she has found herself in. The wallpaper is peeling off the cardboard-thin walls, the neighbours are noisy and the maintenance leaves a lot to be desired. The building's manager, Byron (Greg Travis) arrives to welcome them, but brushes off their complaints, telling them that they should use the intercom to speak with Luis or Ned the caretaker (Gierasch). Then their next door neighbour knocks on the door, a neurotic young woman who almost constantly argues with her boyfriend. The cranky neighbours are in abundance here, and Nell has an embarrassing incident with one of them when she hears shouting from their apartment.
Of course, he's not having his head bashed by the killer but rehearsing a scene for an audition. This sets up Nell as a "cry wolf" type of personality with the tenants, especially when she hears her next door neighbour screaming. The police are called again, but she is not found - the reason for that being she has been overlooked by being nailgunned to the ceiling. The way Hollywood eats up the dreamers and the ambitious could have been a strong theme, but not much is made of it; the killer simply strikes at random, picks off another wannabe, and is forgotten about yet again. You would have thought that someone would have noticed the vanishings, but nobody does except Nell.
The identity of the killer could have provided a neat twist, but director Tobe Hooper doesn't seem interested. The film shares some of the callous attitude towards the victims that The Texas Chain Saw Massacre had, but only a measure of the intensity. In its favour, there is a creeping atmosphere of decay in the building, and the secrets Nell uncovers about it, some vague stuff about the occult which links in with the symbols on the walls and the hidden rooms, contribute to this. Bettis does well enough with her sleuthing role, but isn't offered many chances to shine, and it's irritating that she has to be saved by the end instead of saving herself. Nevertheless, Toolbox Murders (what happened to the "The"?) is a sturdy horror that is a cut above many of the horror remakes, probably due to inventing a fresh story for the title. Music by Joseph Conlan.