Mangler, The (DVD)

On paper the very idea of The Mangler is a colossal folly Among the other short stories of Stephen King’s Night Shift, the tale works (from my ancient recollection) Gratifying in that guilty pleasure sort of way, it’s a far-fetched shred of pure pulp fiction from page one to its doozy of a finale (And, man, let me tell you, it’s a whopper!) As a film, however, well…therein lies King’s challenge to the Hollywood development machine In an unconscious sort of way, I’m sure, it was like he was daring someone out there to make a film about his possessed laundry press.

Just who would’ve believed that the “House of Krueger” and the guy who did the original Texas Chainsaw Massacre would actually come around to the lunatic task and test the tolerance level of horror fans everywhere with a proficiently made, yet unintentionally farcical adaptation

By the time The Mangler rolled into theaters in ’95, it was no secret that the roaring chainsaw that was Tobe Hooper’s career had sputtered out Ask anyone when, exactly, it had taken a moribund turn, and the answers would be as varied as Hooper’s post-Chainsaw directorial choices Some would say Spontaneous Combustion sucked on toast while others would claim Invaders from Mars was an abortion, especially in relation to John Carpenter’s own remake of a certain 1950’s sci-fi classic You can lay blame for Hooper’s past efforts on either lousy screenplays or on the meddlesome financiers he often scrapped with, or , you could simply chalk it up to loss of inspiration Nevertheless, one thing that remains a constant about his work is its outrageously erratic nature and iniquitous edge that you could tell was struggling to contend with outside influence (those money guys I was talking about) And sometimes, just sometimes, it was this suppressed off-kilter method of madness infused with flashes of visual brilliance (Salem’s Lot, anyone?) that made stuff like Chainsaw 2, The Funhouse, and Lifeforce such a hoot The Mangler, in spite of its monumental problems, could cozy up alongside these modest efforts as something entirely watchable if it wasn’t so damn…goofy.

That’s not exactly a word that should ever be used to describe a film that involves “three masters of horror,” but the plot of The Mangler demands nothing less It focuses on John Hunton (Levine), a police officer coping with the death of his wife, and his investigation of the Blue Ribbon Laundry where a worker was devoured by one end of an industrial laundry press and expelled out the other side a gloopy, folded mess He suspects foul play of some kind, but a conspiracy involving the town’s officials and Blue Ribbon’s cantankerous owner, Bill Gartley (Englund), is doing a good job pulling a curtain over the whole incident Involuntarily enlisting the help of his occult know-it-all brother-in-law Mark (Matmor), Hunton gets to the bottom of it all even if it means opening his eyes to a world where it’s possible for such things as the aforementioned laundry press to become possessed by, wait for it, demonic spirits!

If that sounds ridiculous to you, then simply turn away; however, if it sounds like the ultimate recipe for cheese, then you’re in for a whole platter of it with the centerpiece cuts being represented by scenes involving Hunton’s battle with a haunted old-fashioned icebox and a laundry press exorcism spectacle These are reinforced by two leading performances that also elicit plenty of guffaws Englund, by this time part of the “Hooper acting troupe,” endures more time in the makeup chair as Gartley after years of latex exposure for New Line He pulls off a light representation of Hooper himself, chewing both scenery and cigar while hobbling around on leg braces and mumbling curses under his breath It’s a shame he didn’t get more screen time than what is already there because it would only serve to lessen the embarrassment you sometimes get watching The Silence of the Lambs‘ Ted Levine slipping into “leading man” material The camera loves this guy, and he’s got a great face and unique voice to back it up. There’s a presence about him that fluctuates between creepy and amiable, but The Mangler couldn’t have been a more awkward film for him Staggering from scene to scene, he depicts Hunton as a bit of a buffoon as he fumbles with his badge, barfs on a crime scene, and does his own fair share of incoherent mumbling Any and all conviction is lost on us. Luckily for Levine he’s supported by some decent costars — namely, Daniel Matmor, who revels in his thick occult jabberings all the while looking like a wimpy version of FX man Rob Bottin Then there’s Jeremy Crutchley as “Picture Man,” another actor beneath more borderline unconvincing heavy makeup that, like Englund, he also makes his own to pull off a rather effective role.

David Barkham’s grim production design is a character all of its own as is the William Hooper-designed Hadley-Watson model number six laundry press (aka the mangler) Hooper and photographer Amnon Salomon give the machine its due, rightfully treating it as a Hollywood star Long, slow tracking shots pick up every dent in its hammered iron surface and follow every larger-than-life chain as the gears menacingly spin (Reportedly, the machine was built to be fully functioning and could actually fold sheets that were run through it.) Suffice to say, the mangler’s threat level dissipates the minute it turns into a CGI monstrosity running amok through the Blue Ribbon warehouse

For its introduction to DVD, The Mangler is presented in its theatrical cut only even though New Line had previously released an unrated version on laserdisc many years ago The company gave us the option between selecting from a cut and uncut version last year with Leatherface so it’s puzzling why they didn’t repeat that satisfying move here What we’re instead presented with is a gore-heavy split-screen Alternate Edit Comparison of three scenes The cuts range from monumental to a few trims here and there to lessen the impact . . and give the MPAA justification that they’re doing their jobs. Some shots linger more on blood-splattered faces, Englund’s demise is extended, and a sequence where the foreman’s arm is lopped off is less choppy (pun intended) than its theatrical counterpart New Line has also included the film’s original trailer (1m 27s) as well as a theatrical preview for Jack Sholder’s The Hidden. Picturewise, the film itself (presented here in an anamorphic 1.85:1 widescreen transfer) is passable with contrast and grain being the biggest complaint Print quality is clean, and the 5.1 DTS Surround, which is solid but not entirely impressive, plays heavy on the bass.

The Mangler is a true test for the guilty pleasure connoisseur Bad in every respect, there are definitely worse ways to blow two hours of your time (this film’s sequel comes to mind); it’s just a shame Hooper was implicated in it.

The Mangler (1995)
(New Line Home Entertainment)
Directed by Tobe Hooper
Starring Ted Levine, Robert Englund, Daniel Matmor, Jeremy Crutchley

Special Features
Alternate Edit Comparison

3 ½ out of 5 Mugs O’ Blood

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