The gone but fondly remembered ‘zine Psychotronic would often organize its film reviews under subheadings devoted to a theme or an element. The funniest of these subheadings was “Sequels Nobody Wanted,” a reference to the fact that straight-to-video producers were about ten times likelier than their Hollywood counterparts to sequelize any vaguely successful concept if a few more dollars could be squeezed out of it. Toolbox Murders 2 illustrates the pitfalls of this approach to sequelization, revealing itself to be the kind of film that can make protracted gore setpieces dull.
This loose sequel, also known as Coffin Baby in some quarters, brings back a killer from the Tobe Hooper remake of The Toolbox Murders. At the outset of the film, he captures Samantha (Chauntal Lewis), the grieving sister of one of his previous victims, and cages in her the cell of what appears to be an abandoned jailhouse. Over the course of 85 minutes, he tortures her and tries to turn her into a “pet” of sorts as she vacillates between Stockholm syndrome and attempts to escape. Bruce Dern also pops up late in the film as another prisoner who kickstarts the expected grim finale.
If its story was coherent, Toolbox Murders 2 would stack up a grisly but forgettable example of horror from the Saw/Hostel-derived school of modern Grand Guignol. Unfortunately, the film seems to have been edited in a Cuisinart: an earlier cut of the film that made the round on the bootleg circuit featured scenes, characters and a different sequence of events that were thrown out for the completed version.
As a result, Toolbox Murders 2 lumbers from one gore setpiece to the next, with a bare minimum of characterization, virtually no plot beyond its lurid shocks and a character arc that makes no sense for its would-be heroine: one minute she is willingly participating in cannibalism with her captor and the next minute she is trying to escape.
That said, the writing within standalone scenes can be awful, too: an unintentionally hilarious moment has Samantha telling a cop he doesn’t understand what she’s going through followed by him berating her because she doesn’t understand what it’s like to deal with victims every day. It’s also worth nothing that the attempt at multiple plot twists in the finale renders it incoherent.
Thus, Toolbox Murders 2 lives and dies by its onscreen carnage: FX man turned writer/director Dean C. Jones supplies plenty of practical gore effects but they’re all staged in an artless, pornographic matter that just lingers on the visceral rather than trying to build suspense. Gory spectacles like this require some showmanship to achieve their desired rollercoaster effect and Jones is content to just trudge through his paces. The music video cinematography and bursts of fast editing to set up each “day” of the plot try to impart some style but the flourishes are utterly cliched: if it’s not trying to look/feel like a Saw sequel then it’s emulating a Rob Zombie movie.
In short, Toolbox Murders 2 is a blood-drenched, incoherent piece of work that is best left to the diehard gorehounds. Despite the intensity and the preponderance of bloodshed, it just feels like a joyless dirge of a sequel.
Blu-Ray Notes: Scream Factory rescued this title for a blu-ray release and the results look pretty good. It does well by the digital cinematography, offering a clear and colorful image. Both 5.1 and 2.0 lossless stereo tracks are offered: the 5.1 track was used for this review and its well-mixed with a decent amount of surround activity, particularly in its use of the music. The one extra is a trailer: like the movie, it’s pretty bloody.