1 Hr., 46 Mins.
The Mangler July 15, 2019
t's sometimes said that The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974), the third and best movie from the American filmmaker Tobe Hooper, was a fluke. Because aside from 1982’s Poltergeist, which is ruinously rumored to have actually been directed by its executive producer, Steven Spielberg, none of Hooper’s other movies are as uniformly considered, pardon the label, good — something unexpected from a director who had helmed a pair of horror
The majority of features making up Hooper’s pithy but decades-strong filmography are forgotten, or, in some cases, memorable specifically for their badness. Frequently looked at as Hooper’s nadir is The Mangler (1995), a modestly budgeted, untidily plotted adaptation of the Stephen King-penned short story of the same name, which, in turn, opened his short story collection Night Shift (1978). Specifics do not have to be offered in order to you to infer how lousy a movie it is. All one must do is recall its main storyline, which features a possessed industrial washing machine as its primary villain.
The film begins inside a cavernous facility called Gartley’s Blue Ribbon, an industrial laundry service. Its inners are a hellscape. Not only is the air dank, hot, and unbreathable, but the workers, all of whom are never allowed to take breaks or enjoy meals during their shifts, are brutishly bossed around by its always-lurking owner, Gartley (Robert Englund).
The man is horrible to look at and be around. He's a cartoonishly evil, Rockefeller-like tycoon who looks like the Monopoly man crossed with Mr. Waternoose from Monsters, Inc. (2001). (It does not appear as though the makeup artist cared much while applying the old-age coverup on Englund’s already-caricaturish mug; it's as if they were only able to use their hands and had a little less than 25 minutes to get the job done.)
With conditions so dire, it isn’t a surprise when, shortly after the opening credits announce that this is both a Stephen King adaptation and a Tobe Hooper production — promising signs if there ever were — someone dies. A worker whom we assume is in her 60s, Mrs. Frawley, accidentally spills a handful of her carefully tucked-away antacids on the main laundry machine’s moving tread. Rashly, she decides that it’s a good idea to try to grab them, even though, by the looks of it, this is the sort of contraption that could chop a limb off if touched the wrong way. Something close-enough happened, after all, before Frawley even dropped her stomach-soothers. Moments earlier, Gartley’s niece, Sherry (Vanessa Pike), scraped herself on machine's lever. Frawley, though, is undeterred by the signs — and this leads, troublingly, to a grotesque, bizarre death. After being inexplicably pulled into the machine, she is crushed, then folded, as if she were a set of lightly soiled Egyptian-cotton sheets.
John (Ted Levine, visibly miserable), a local police officer, is brought in to investigate. Though the death is deemed accidental, he remains troubled by the incident — so much so that, after getting to talking with his wild-eyed, mousy-haired brother-in-law, Mark (Daniel Matmor), who is obsessed with demonology, he begins abiding by the belief that the supernatural, in some way or another, played a part in Mrs. Frawley’s death. Perhaps the machine, who seemed to take in its victim as if she were a steak cooked medium-rare, is possessed. Maybe Gartley, who objectively looks like a supervillain you’d find stalking the pages of a comic book, is a touch more evil than your typical operatically avaricious capitalist.
So begins an antic investigation. But coming out of it are not satisfying twists nor conventional scares but unintentional comedy, and, if not, flagrant unpleasantness. The closest the movie comes to noticing how hopelessly doltish it is stems from a handful of moments during which John, who is a take on the misanthropic, always-drunk anti-hero running from a tragedy, has to ask Mark, always-enthused, to stop and think about what he’s saying when a particular rant goes off the rails. (Of course, John’s stance as the skeptic is a rather loose one, especially after it becomes clear that maybe there is validity to the ideas that this washing machine is really bloodthirsty.)
I haven’t read the short story The Mangler is based on. But I'd like to assume, based on the parts of King’s bibliography that I am familiar with, that at least it’s an amusingly harebrained descent into the ludicrous morbid akin to Christine (1983) on the page. Though undoubtedly backed by pretty resoundingly phantasmic visuals — by pumping the faux fog and artificial lighting, the film is efficiently claustrophobic and hellish — this adaptation is just ludicrous. C