The Mangler

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It’s probably best to employ a certain level of subtle sophistication when approaching a Stephen King adaptation with the intent of turning his many, many words into freakish visuals. The reason for this is something we’ve covered in this page before and it’s because the many outlandish concepts he concocts that work creepily well on paper, don’t particularly transfer particularly well to third dimensions so a delicate hand is probably well advised, especially when your primary villain is a possessed mangler.
However, director Tobe Hooper was never really one for delicacy as his outrageously chaotic productions of Lifeforce and his Texas Chainsaw sequel proved so his crack at the short story seen in the 1978 collection, Night Shift.
Thing is, Hooper has taken a sucessful trip around the Stephen King block before with the genuinely creepy Salem’s Lot miniseries back in the 70’s; could he be the one to wrestle one of the author’s most out-there tales into submission?

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Something sinister is going on at the steamy and oppressive Blue Ribbon Laundry and that’s even before all the supernatural mauling start occuring to all the downtrodden workers. During to the aggressive workrate imposed by gnarled old boss Bill Gartley, a twisted old fuck who makes Mr. Burns from The Simpsons look like a spritely humanitarian, an accident was bound to happen with the giant, wheezing, groaning speed iron that sucks in sheets like a hungry animal and then folds and presses them with brutal efficiency – but when a kindly old lady is dragged, screaming, into the machine and pressed into a bloody pile of mush, it kicks off a string of events that hinge around demonic possession, faustian pacts and virgin sacrifices.
As impossibly rumpled cop John Hunton attempts to investigate the death while trying to move on from the death of his wife but his demonologist brother-in-law Mark (yup, you read that right), seems to be convinced that the big nasty mangler is possessed and it may have been the blood from the hand of Gartley’s  sixteen year old Sherry that’s triggered it all.
After having a run in with a possessed ice box that’s “contracted evil” from the mangler, both John and Mark realise that to bring all this demonic hullabaloo to a close, they’re going to have to perform an exorcism on the hulking machinery. But it’s not just the mangler that’s the problem as old man Gartley turns out to be the last of a group of town elders who have sacrificed their kids for power and wealth and he has similar plans for the unwitting Sheri. Can John and Mark manage to expel the evil before Gartley’s rites can be performed?

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Much like its mulched victims, Tobe Hooper’s The Mangler turns out to be an impressive, fucking mess that amusingly chooses to take this strange tale and try and treat it as full on as it possibly can. Maybe there was a dark, slow burning mood piece lurking within King’s original premise somewhere, but if there was, Hooper obviously has no fucking intrest in finding it as even the quieter moments are loaded with the kind of acting histrionics usually associated with a community theater troupe badly attempting to ad-lib all their lines. When you have such animated cast members such as Ted Levine in an incredibly rare lead role and Freddy Krueger himself, Robert Englund playing an old, crippled lunatic, its probably wise if you put at least a little restraint on their performances, lest they go too large – intsead, the director seems to have let them go to the point where their acting is so large it could be seen from the damn moon. Englund goes through his sizable villain repertoire of croaks, screams and sneers while once again being buried under old man prosthetics that looks as thick as a phone book and staggering around in leg braces as he yells nonsensical shit like “Hells bells, Adele!” while someone is turned into ground beef by the titular machine. But even he is eclipsed by the sheer amount of horrified gurning that Levine brings to the party. Throwing himself around so much his trench coat flies all over the place like the cape from Spawn, the character of John is so embittered by his loss and the rigors of his job, he’s almost cartoonishly finished with life as he utter lines like: “You wanna threaten me, I’ll shove you crutches up your moldy ass you fucking clown!” in that distinctive voice of his that sounds like a saint bernard has learned to speak english.
Elsewhere, no one else is really given room to manuever apart from screaming “OH GOD, NO!” a lot when the mangler casually decides to maim or murder some other, overworked sap while Vanessa Pike’s Sherry looks more on the side of thirty than the virginal sixteen year old she’s supposed to be – but Jeremy Crutchly’s mysterious photographer, J.J.J. Pictureman, is so obnoxiously enigmatic you want to boot him clean in the butt and demand to know why Hooper’s cast an obviously younger guy and stuck him in spongey old man make up instead of simply hiring an actual old man.

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Still, despite containing all the decorum of a car crash in a Mexican telenovela, all the ramped up melodrama and vicious gore ends up being weirdly amusing; a supposedly touching farewell from a dying Pictureman ends with him suddenly vomiting blood directly into the camera, the mangler comes alive drags itself through the bizarre climax like a dog with worms thanks to some very 1990’s CGI and there’s a certain chuckle to be gleaned from seeing Levine sitting astride a dazed Englund and calling him a “miserable piece of dogfuck” before belting him in the mouth.
In fact, if the actual script (written by noticable schlock-scribe Harry Allen Towers) wasn’t so rotten, you’d be half-way convinced that Hooper was trying to make a comedy and simply not tell anyone in the cast, but the movie makes insulting leaps in logic in order to get to the squishy, bloody bits quicker as we’re expected to swallow that John’s freaky brother-in-law not only studies demon possession and the supernatural, but also just happens to have prior, working knowledge of laundry presses? I mean, screen writing can’t be that easy, can it? Elsewhere, the supposedly world weary detective seems to jump on board with the whole idea of a possessed mangler shockingly quickly and a side plot concerning a possessed ice box somehow makes things even more ludicrous.

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A darkly silly story is given an even siller movie adaptation by a director who seemingly has forgotten how to channel the gut-gnawing tension of A Texas Chainsaw Massarce or the chilling wonder of Poltergeist into a story that seemingly can’t wait to laugh at itself – Jesus, it doesn’t even have the goofy charm of Lifeforce, his infamous, over-budgeted, sci-fi clusterfuck that bombed spectacularly in the middle of the 80’s.
For Hooper and King completists only, The Mangler wears its weird heart on its sleeve for better or worse, but for all of its random chaos, it falls predictably flatter than a pressed sheet.

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