|Written by Abbie Bernstein|
|Tuesday, 17 August 2004|
Normally, it’s common wisdom that, if you’ve got to see a bad movie, a bad horror movie is the way to go. Unlike bad comedy, which tries to be funny and isn’t, bad horror is generally pretty amusing and therefore entertaining. “The Mangler” is a rather curious entry in this respect – it is a solidly bad movie that, despite an outrageously silly premise and a fair amount of scenery-chewing, manages to not be much fun. Having said that, it still provides some kicks for both gore hounds and connoisseurs of self-aware schlock.
Based on a short story by Stephen King, “The Mangler” concerns (of all things) a possessed laundry-folding machine. This device is the centerpiece of the Blue Ribbon Laundry, a small-town establishment presided over by the sinister, wealthy and metal-limbed Bill Gartley (Robert Englund). Gartley seems curiously unconcerned when some of his employees begin having bizarre, fatal accidents involving the machine. Local cop John Hunton (Ted Levine) becomes suspicious and delves into the dark doings with the help of his friend and neighbor Mark Jackson (Daniel Matmor), an eccentric who just happens to be an expert on the occult.
To be fair to the filmmakers, there are inherent limits in the premise. It’s hard to sustain feature-length horror when the set-up requires that people continually walk right up to the monster rather than have the monster chase after them – which is probably why it’s rarely done (exceptions that spring to mind are “Der Lift,” a slow but funny movie about a homicidal elevator, and “Little Shop of Horrors,” which is parody from the get-go). Even so, it’s difficult to tell what director Tobe Hooper and his co-screenwriters Stephen Brooks and Peter Welbeck want us to feel. “The Mangler” is too campy to be serious and not campy enough to make us laugh in knowing recognition. The splatter is pretty extensive without being either especially realistic or so over the top that it comments on itself, and the plot ambles along without ever developing any real paranoia. Hunton’s realization that there’s a conspiracy doesn’t especially pay off and the movie doesn’t have any fun at all with the notion that the cop’s friend happens to have loads of handy information. There’s a strange sense of temporal displacement, too – much of the production design looks as though “The Mangler” is set in the ‘30s, but the cars the characters drive and a few other details set it in the ‘80s or ‘90s.
On the DTS track, there is a good, enveloping sound of the laundry continuing its business in the background in Chapter 5 and in Chapter 9, there’s a big, solid whooshing sound during a refrigerator attack (yes, one of the characters is assaulted by a possessed refrigerator), with a good detail as something Hunton throws in the foreground lands audibly in the rears. Dialogue is a bit raspy in Chapter 12. All hell breaks loose, sonically and in all other ways, in Chapter 19, but the music tends to overwhelm the sound effects, so that we don’t get much in the way of discrete details. Chapter 21 rounds the movie out with a surprisingly atmospheric, eerie song over the end titles, perhaps the most effectively creepy aspect of the movie.
Extras are few but intriguing. There are split-screen comparisons of three sequences from the film with alternate (generally bloodier) versions that nicely illustrate how specific editing choices can affect the mood.
In the end, “The Mangler” feels like a longer, bloodier edition of a middling-quality segment of “Night Gallery.” Completionist fans of King, Hooper, Englund and Levine will all want to see this movie, but those seeking either real scares or hearty schlock laughs should look elsewhere.