A cop investigates a brutal death at the local laundry company and finds that the big press machine nicknamed ‘The Mangler’ is actually possessed by an evil spirit that needs blood to keep its owner immortal.
A horror film about a killer laundry-folding machine? That’s what The Mangler is about! Adapted from a short story by legendary horror writer Stephen King, brought to the big screen by Tobe Hooper, the man behind The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, and starring Freddy Krueger himself, Robert Englund, how could this fail? Well, let me repeat myself – it’s a horror film about a killer laundry-folding machine! That’s how it could fail.
Despite the best efforts of the production designers and the cinematographer to give the laundry machine a distinctly evil appearance, at the end of the day it’s still a big lump of metal and it presses cloth for a living which doesn’t really get the goose bumps growing, does it? But then nothing in The Mangler has been conceived well, a messy melting pot of ideas which never clicks in any shape or form and its one glaring problem is the only reason why people will watch it – the idea of a killer laundry-folding machine! It’s stupid to think that anyone could have believed that this would make for a decent film but everyone involved here has an arrogant self-belief that they can make it work. Their blinkered devotion to the cause gives the hare-brained material an even sillier edge.
The first half of The Mangler isn’t too bad it has to be said. There’s a pretty gruesome death when a woman is crushed inside the machine and the plot, as it stands at this early point in the film, is reasonably believable. The idea of feeding people to a possessed machine to make its owner immortal wasn’t that far-fetched by any stretch of the imagination considering the lengths that other horror films have gone to provide a story. But instead of keeping this idea as grounded as possible, The Mangler loses its steady footing.
This semi-interesting plot is lost beneath a torrent of unnecessary sub-plots and strands which go nowhere and only pose more questions such as why do the townspeople have to sacrifice their first born to the machine? The film gets increasingly silly and more ridiculous, with refrigerators coming to life and attacking people, the attempts to exorcise the machine and then in the film’s finale, the machine itself starts to move around. Now I haven’t read the original short story so can’t really compare how well it has been adapted. But all I can say is that sometimes what works well on paper doesn’t work well with full blown visuals and the idea that this laundry machine can actually move would have been better left on the page (if it did move in the story). The sight of this machine chasing people around the building is a total joke and the special effects are atrocious. Watching a laundry machine chase people through dark tunnels really needed some cash behind it to work so this idea should have been binned and the story re-written if it needed to be.
Though the sight of this machine chasing people around proves to be an unintentional comic highlight, the film sadly lags whenever it is not doing anything remotely evil….which is unfortunately quite a lot of the time. At a brutal 106 minutes long, The Mangler outstays its welcome long before the end credits roll. Hooper has no grasp of pace and seems content to pad out the film with as much as possible. A more efficient director could easily have skimmed twenty minutes or more from this without major alterations to the narrative – not that it could have been disjointed any more than it was.
At least the film features a couple of solid hands in lead roles. Robert Englund has an overplayed hoot under layers of prosthetics as the disfigured and crazy laundry owner, complete with eye-patch and leg braces. Ted Levine, fresh off success as Buffalo Bill in The Silence of the Lambs, plays the detective charged with solving the case. It’s hardly both actors’ best work but they’re not bad and at least give the film some level of competency that it doesn’t really warrant.
The Mangler may be worth a brief look for people who are curious to see how bad it really is but believe me when I say it, it is every bit as awful as you’ve been led to believe. The Mangler is further evidence of just how far Tobe Hooper has fallen from his 1974 genre-busting classic heyday– or is further proof that it was a fluke? What is more depressing is that this has since spawned a couple of non-related sequels. The mind boggles.