The Mangler is a very weird film—first of all, Ted Levine plays the lead. He’s a good actor, but just not that type. Coming after the Salem’s Lot TV movie, it’s the second Stephen King adaption by Tobe Hooper (Texas Chainsaw Massacre), a good director but one who never lived up to his promise. The Mangler’s source material comes out of Night Shift, King’s first collection of short stories. This collection gave rise to multiple King adaptations, from Children of the Corn to The Lawnmower Man. There’s an odd theme in this collection, with scary household objects including a mangle, a ladder and a lawnmower…
Hooper and the other two screenwriters had to expand quite a bit beyond the 17-page story that it comes from. The idea of it isn’t bad (it’s King, after all)—in this laundry there’s a machine known as “The Mangler” that has supernatural powers and starts killing people. A detective, Tom Hunter (Levine), is investigating to find out what’s really going on. He’s joined in this pursuit by his demonologist brother-in-law Mark Jackson, played by Daniel Matmor. There’s a little commentary about capitalism, since the owners of the place don’t care that their workers are getting killed, and that’s fun.
His turn as Buffalo Bill in Silence of the Lambs is iconic, but Levine isn’t the person you’d choose for this part. I can’t figure out what he was trying to do, but if you can imagine Buffalo Bill as a detective, you’re getting close-ish. Robert Englund (who you’ll know as Freddy Krueger) shows up as the evil capitalist boss of the Blue Ribbon Laundry Service, who doesn’t care that his machine is mangling his workers. In its favour, “The Mangler” is pretty cool, like a budget H.R. Giger machine, and the kills are gory and creative. But it’s way too long, and pretty boring, there’s just not enough story to justify its 105-minute running time. There’s also a bunch of sub-plots that don’t go anywhere.
It shows the decline of the career of Tobe Hooper, who never managed to live up to making a film as brilliant as The Texas Chainsaw Massacre—every film he did after even the good ones don’t have the same visceral power. The fact that there were unfair rumours that Spielberg directed Poltergeist, may have kept Hooper from ever getting more work at that level. It’s a shame that he ended up making a lot of TV movies, and this was mostly a straight to video release, with just a two-week cinema run in a few markets—but it did spawn two sequels (The Mangler 2 and The Mangler Reborn). Although I don’t get it, The Mangler does have its fans. A better political horror film made around the same time is Wes Craven’s The People Under the Stairs.
The Arrow release comes with two new audio commentaries, one by critics Alexandra Heller-Nicholas and Josh Nelson and the other with critics Matty Budrewicz and Dave Wain; a commentary by co-writer Stephen David Brooks; visual essay Nature Builds No Machines from Scout Tafoya (author of Cinemaphagy: the Films of Tobe Hooper), and another visual essay, This Machine just Called Me an Asshole!, by author and critic Guy Adams who digs into the weird world of evil inanimate objects in the work of Stephen King. Also on the disc are an archival interview with Englund, behind-the-scenes footage, the theatrical trailer and, for those who grab the first pressing, an illustrated collector’s booklet with new writing on the film from Michael Gingold, Johnny Mains and Henry Blyth.