"If you can't be someone great, do something terrible" is the motto COFFIN BABY, the DTV sequel to Tobe Hooper's maligned supernatural remake of THE TOOLBOX MURDERS, comes to Blu-ray under something like its original handle TOOLBOX MURDERS 2.
After her sister (disgraced former horror columnist Lianne Spiderbaby) – seemingly Angela Bettis' heroine from the Hooper film since the incantations from the first film are scrawled on her bathroom mirror – is brutally murdered, Samantha Forrestor (Chauntal Lewis, THE COMUNE: A NEW CULT CLASSIC) barely has time to whine about the slow investigation to detectives Cole (Brian Krause, SLEEPWALKERS) and Jackson (Clifton Powell, MENACE II SOCIETY) before she is abducted by a ski-masked killer (stuntman Christopher Doyle) who has been cutting a swath through the Los Angeles nightlife. Trapped in a cell in a secret wing of what might be the apartment building from the first film (but what looks like an abandoned hospital and then a warehouse later on, suggesting multiple reshoots), Samantha is forced to watch the killer bludgeon, bisect, carve, sautee, and roast various victim after victim. Transitioning from terrified witness to desensitized observer and driven by hunger to share the killer's meals, Samantha's only motivations for escape are the chance to reunited with her boyfriend (Kyle Morris, REEL EVIL) and the imperative – impressed upon her by bible-thumping fellow prisoner Vance (Bruce Dern, HUSH, HUSH SWEET CHARLOTTE) – to save a terrified little girl who wanders freely through the killer's lair.
Nine years in development after the release of Hooper's remake and spending another two years on the shelf after completion, TOOLBOX MURDERS 2 – also known as COFFIN BABY but bearing the onscreen title TBK: TOOLBOX MURDERS 2 – is relentless… crap. Missing the "torture porn" boat by about half a decade, the film was the directorial debut of make-up effects artist Dean Jones (NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD 3D) and it pretty much shows with TBK's torture den seeming more like an effects workshop with every single prosthetic torso and skeletal model trotted out and Doyle's killer trying out just about every gore gag Jones could come up with on various un-introduced victims (and several more that were just mannequins to start with in a sub-Brothers Quay death montage used under the credits and then later to torment Samantha). Lord knows what poor Dern was doing in the film, or even Krause who does not seem hard up for work in marginally better DTV and cable dreck. Lewis thoroughly irritates at first; and yet, one truly feels for her pain towards the end as we suffer with her through the mind-numbing tedium in which brutality ceases to produce any sort of visceral response for either of us. If the film was meant to be an indictment against "torture porn" fans, it needed to be more clever (the humor is just dumb when it wants to be macabre), better acted, and better modulated in conveying Samantha's breakdown. There is a certain laziness in the use of crime photos of TBK's victims on crime reports used to bracket the film's sections (the days of Samantha's captivity) in which the description of the crime is always the same unrelated paragraph about President William McKinley's assassination, that extends to the in the end credits of "'s character as "Samantha Stevens" rather than "Samantha Forrester" as she is introduced in the film.
Scream Factory's 1080p24 MPEG-4 AVC 1.78:1 widescreen transfer does what it can with a deliberately ugly film, with the level of detail enhancing the grisliness of some of the effects (like a tracking shot surveying a vertically bisected corpse) and the artificiality of others. Colors are deliberately subdued with night scenes attempting a sort of gritty noir-ishness and daytime scenes seeming flat more due to coverage than color correction or encoding issues. The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 and 2.0 tracks sport clear dialogue and sound effects, while it is hard to tell if passages of the tired metal score are distorted or meant to sound that way. Optional English subtitles are also included. The sole extra is the film's trailer (1:42). The first pressings come with a slipcover (a luxury not afforded to some of the company's more legitimate special editions). (Eric Cotenas)
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