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Nell and her husband Steven are looking for a business, as well as a home, when they come across the Lusman Arms apartment block. They move in and begin renovating the building, in which a series of weird killings begin to take place. When she finally discovers the supernatural evil behind it all, she gets more than she bargained for! Written by
This is such a great horror-film, and it has some original-twists to it too. The story centers-around the "Lusman Arms" (really the Ambassador Hotel, once THE place for the Hollywood elite and the site of the RFK assassination), a decaying-Hotel in a seedy part of Los Angeles. It seems after recent-renovations to the structure of the building there have been some strange-occurrences: a workman hurt in an unexplained-blast, and strange electrical-surges. There is a constant-sound of hammering, even when the workmen are gone. Tenants have gone-missing, and a strange aura of oppressiveness has descended-upon the building. It seems the place has a reputation that the building manager (a concierge) doesn't want known. It's just a great film, with a bunch of oddball-characters, unlike the log-jam of boring, PG-13 pseudo-horror. The characters in this film feel real, and I like them. Because I like them, I fear for them, and that is what horror is about.
Enter Nell (Angela Bettis of "May") and Steven, two new tenants. We get to know them and some of their backstory, and the decaying-Lusman is literally filled with oddities. For those who have lived in a 1920s-era apartment building, a lot of the funny-parts about maintenance (or the lack-of) will be familiar! If you have ever lived in an old-building, you can attest to the impressions of the past within-the-walls. The ghosts of "old Hollywood" haunt this film, just like they do the films of David Lynch or Kenneth Anger. Let's face it, with the legend of the Black Dahlia (mentioned in the film), the constant-battle for the control of the water-supply (an engineer once controlled L.A. His name was William Mulholland, and designed the Owens Valley Acqueduct), the Manson Family, gangs, poverty, the desert air, all the Hollywood deaths and scandals, cults, Scientology, the Mexican Day of the Dead, Chinatown, drugs, the Ramparts scandals, decades of obscene-corruption--Los Angeles is creepy.
Nell notices a lot of hammering and other strange-phenomena, and eventually begins to probe the mystery of the Lusman Arms. This descent-into-hell is what makes this not merely a slasher, but an Occult-horror piece. The Lusman has a strange, esoteric architecture and a storied-past. It also has mysterious symbols covering it's walls in key-locations. The logical-sequence of room numbers are missing some rooms. Some have commented that the symbols are "Masonic", even calling the film "Masonic-horror", which is false and misleading. The symbols are ancient, and have been around for thousands of years, and most should be familiar. I noticed absolutely nothing "Masonic" in the film whatsoever, which is odd. I guess they were reviews by Nazi-skinheads.
The best-part of this story is that it connects the enigmatic-tale of Jack Parsons, an occultist Crowley-devotee who founded the Jet-Propulsion Lab, being an early rocketeer. It is said that Parsons claimed to have created an "homunculus", an artificial human-being, so there is a genuine-connection with L.A.'s strange-relationship with occultism here. Parsons blew-himself-up in an alchemical experiment in the late-1940s--exactly where the "Lusman-mythos" begins. Without Jack Parsons, there would be no Scientology: L. Ron Hubbard ripped-him-off in a business-deal and used the money to fund the publishing of "Dianetics". I think the occult-backstory of the killer was Tobe Hooper's idea, and it really draws-you-in. "Occult" comes from archaic-Greek, and merely denotes "hidden", nothing-more. There are many hidden-secrets at the Lusman.
The murderer in the film is great, and one could consider it Parson's homunculus in-a-way, though the "coffin-birth" masks this element. I actually thought the "coffin-baby" backstory was interesting, and had the ring of occult-lore to it. Frankly, I would have to agree with some reviewers--if you aren't familiar with occultism, you aren't going to get a lot of the premise here. So, get-familiar kids, study the occult, hah-hah. Nonetheless, it's still a film you can watch superficially, enjoying the many mysteries that Hooper and his writers treat us to. Also, the murders-themselves are pretty original and thrilling, some even gruesome in a way that would do Argento proud! Go-figure, reality isn't what you thought it was! Without giving-away too much, this is a tale of the undead, kept-active by sacred-geometry in the structure of a building. It is a story of the darkness and mystery that surrounds-us, and a story of magic and curiosity. There are so-many incredible images of horror in this film, it is just excellent and intriguing. With a budget of less-than $1 million, Tobe Hooper has created a new classic horror that is likely to be imitated. It is surely "better" than the original film, and is simply his and his writers' take on the source (with major-revisions and additions). It is a re-imagining. The score by Joseph Conlan is very good, and atmospheric, hitting all the right marks. It makes the film feel larger. Toolbox Murders has a lot on-offer for such a little film, and is a great return-to-form for Mr. Hooper. Here's to more from him.
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