In light of the untimely August 26, 2017 death of director Tobe Hooper, here’s a look back at one of his late period films. It is, unfortunately, very much in keeping with Hooper’s output of the era, being an altogether ridiculous adaptation of the Stephen King story of the same name. The early nineties were of course a banner time for bad Stephen King movies—see GRAVEYARD SHIFT, SLEEPWALKERS, SOMETIMES THEY COME BACK, THINNER, THE DARK HALF and NEEDFUL THINGS—and this 1994 misfire fits right in with such not-so-hallowed company.
About a laundry folding machine (like the ones upon which King used to work in his early years) that’s demonically possessed, this bummer obviously can’t compete with Hooper’s better films, but even on its own limited terms it falls short. In fairness, Hooper was allegedly replaced as director toward the end of the shoot, so he can’t be entirely blamed for the pic’s shortcomings.
The story: an accident at an industrial laundry plant kills an old woman employee and maims one of her much younger colleagues. Officer John Hunton (Ted Levine) is called in to investigate the accident, caused by a massive laundry pressing machine known as the Mangler. Hunton is suspicious about the circumstances of the death, but the conclusion reached is that it was purely accidental.
Another accident, this one involving the Mangler’s steam hoses, hits the plant, leaving a woman employee with severe burns. The plant’s uber-creepy foreman (Robert Englund) does his best to write these accidents off as aberrations, but Hunton remains suspicious.
Hunton’s eccentric pal Mark (Daniel Matmor) concludes that the Mangler is possessed, and is, furthermore, seeking the blood of virgin women. This would seem to be confirmed by a portable laundry folding machine that attacks a woman, which according to Mark is due to a “transference of evil” from the Mangler. Mark decides they’ll have to exorcise the Mangler, but first he and Hunton will need to rescue the latter’s sixteen year old daughter, who it seems is set to be the Mangler’s latest victim.
It climaxes with a Mangler exorcism that’s every bit as ridiculous as you might imagine. It’s been claimed that these scenes were supposed to be comedic, and that’s really the only way they can be plausibly taken.
Beyond that there’s really nothing worth recommending. Neither Robert Englund nor Ted Levine are particularly memorable in the main roles, both having evidently been cast because of their horror cache rather than their acting talent. The lighting is glitzy and artificial and the camerawork overdone, with distractingly low angles and distorted lenses predominating. Such things were Hooper trademarks, but they’re not used with the artfulness that characterized THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE (or even THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE 2).
Beyond all those things is the simple fact that there just isn’t much to the film, which feels quite padded and under conceived. That it was adapted from a short story is painfully obvious throughout.
Even in its simplest form, as a gore fest, THE MANGLER fails. Like many horror films of the period, it was heavily shorn for its US release, with the European version proving quite popular on the greymarket VHS scene, as it contained extra gore footage. That footage, alas, didn’t help the movie any.
Distant Horizon/Filmex/Allied Film Productions
Director: Tobe Hooper
Producer: Anant Singh
Screenplay: Tobe Hooper, Stephen David Brooks, Harry Alan Towers
(Based on a story by Stephen King)
Cinematography: Amnon Salomon
Editing: David Heitner
Cast: Ted Levine, Robert Englund, Daniel Matmor, Jeremy Crutchley, Vanessa Pike, Demetre Phillips, Lisa Morris, Vera Blacker, Ashley Hayden, Danny Keogh, Ted Le Plat, Todd Jensen, Sean Taylor, Gerrit Schoonhoven, Nan Hamilton, Adrian Waldron, Norman Coombes, Larry Taylor