Directed by: Tobe Hooper
Written by: Tobe Hooper, Stephen David Brooks, Harry Alan Towers
Starring: Robert Englund, Ted Levine, Daniel Matmor, Vanessa Pike
Country: UK, South Africa
Running time: 106 mins
BBFC Classification: 18
The much maligned (on its initial release all the way back in ’95) The Mangler may not be held in the same regard as other Stephen King cinematic classics such as Misery, Carrie, The Shining and Maximum Overdrive (just kidding, though this nobody reviewer really loves MO!), it now seems to finally be getting the love it deserves. Though has probably always had a lot of love from horror fans who, rightly so, dig this far out mix of haunted machinery, Robert England buried-under-layers-of-prosthetics-madness, lashing of shocking gore, and that sweaty-trippy weirdness that the late great Tobe Hooper was so good at conjuring.
Based on the short story by Stephen King (featured in his ace short story collection Night Shift), The Mangler’s silly concept (haunted laundry press!) is given credence thanks to King’s deft touch at making inanimate killer objects so terrifying and, in the cinematic version, Hooper’s gifted commitment to fully embracing the madness that comes with such a mad concept. Said press is the hulking black monolith found in the bowels of Maine’s Blue-Ribbon Laundry, which is causing frequent mutilations, bloody injuries and (on occasion) outright devouring employees, meaning local cop Horton (Levine) is called in to investigate. Not completely sound of mind himself, Horton is plunged into a surreal plight as he tries to figure out why the laundry press is killing so many of the staff and what the eccentric (read: unhinged!) owner Gartley (Englund) is really up to with his terrifying machine.
Eschewing subtly and tension for blood, queasiness, sweaty surrealism, and just outright madness (and all the better for it), Hooper’s adaptation of The Mangler is an absurd dreamlike gore-soaked horror treat. While not reaching the heady heights of his classics The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Poltergeist or the greatly underappreciated Lifeforce and Spontaneous Combustion (yep, love ‘em both!), The Mangler is nevertheless a great Tobe Hooper film. While King and Englund bring much horror gravitas to the story and proceedings, this is a Hooper joint through and though and he imbues the crazy concept with his cheeky sense of fun while never lapsing into full parody. Events are kept on the right side of earnestness, so the characters take matters seriously enough but Hooper packs the film with strange characters, gore splashed set-pieces (which still impress!), and a heightened sense of dreamlike reality which all adds to the weird out vibe. A bit like his grungy giant swamp croc flick Eaten Alive, The Mangler has that great feel of taking place in a slightly off-kilter reality that Hooper was so good at creating.
Coupled with a decent budget, he was also able to create the giant laundry set to house the hulking press which is impressively built through practical effects. This in turn leads to several impressively staged practical gory deaths and the set/press are as much characters as any of the weirded-out humans (the laundry building being a health and safety nightmare come to life!). Englund is great as the deranged Gartly (complete with leg braces and scary old man make-up!) hamming it up with relish, and Ted Levine gives an effectively loopy performance as the cop on the edge of all the madness. There’s also great support from Daniel Matmor as Horton’s would-be-exorcist-neighbour, and Jeremy Crutchley as a mysterious wisdom-spouting police photographer, a character who could only exist in a King story!
It may be a tonal see-saw, those only into “serious horror” may turn their nose up at it (though there are digs at greed the more astute reviewer would be able to pinpoint better!), and it will unfortunately always be in the shadow of Hooper’s other well-known work, but The Mangler is a dark, delirious and blackly comic horror hoot that all horror (and Hooper) fans should seek out if they haven’t already.
Arrow Video will release The Mangler on special edition Blu Ray January 10th, 2022.
SPECIAL EDITION CONTENTS
• High Definition blu-ray (1080p) presentation from a 2K restoration – Arrow’s clean up looks great showing off the great cinematography that captures the epic-ness of the sound stages used to create the huge laundry set.
• Lossless DTS-HD MA 5.1 and 2.0 stereo audio
• Optional English subtitles for the deaf and hard of hearing
• Brand new audio commentary by critics Alexandra Heller-Nicholas and Josh Nelson
• Brand new audio commentary by critics and self-confessed ‘Manglophiles’ Matty Budrewicz and Dave Wain
• Audio commentary by co-writer Stephen David Brooks
• Nature Builds No Machines, a brand new visual essay by Scout Tafoya, author of Cinemaphagy: the Films of Tobe Hooper/This Machine just Called Me an Asshole!, a brand new visual essay by author and critic Guy Adams on the monstrous life of inanimate objects in the work of Stephen King – 2 very different visual essays (one quite serious, the other somewhat snarky!) looking at the works of both Hooper and King touching on their careers and various themes. Rather dry as essentially a voiceover with clips and stills from both genre legends work and careers that are interesting to a point but perhaps more fulfilling for those who appreciate the visual essay form.
• Gartley’s Gambit, an archival interview with star Robert Englund – this is more like it. A great 22-minute interview with the ever interesting and charismatic Englund who gives some great insights into making the film, his experiences filming the movie in South Africa, and his working relationship with Tobe Hooper. Could have watched and listened to him talk for hours but it’s great to hear how fond he is of The Mangler and how much he thought of Tobe Hooper. Great stuff.
• Behind the Scenes footage – a short but sweet compilation of BTS footage from the shoot mainly from the massive soundstage where all the mangler action was shot. Great to see the likes of England and Hooper at work (and lots of retro 90s fashion!) and Hooper’s positive reaction to one of the special effects crew’s creations is particularly memorable and warming.
• Theatrical Trailer – great old school trailer for the cinema release with that awesome voiceover heard on pretty much all big releases of the time!
• Reversible sleeve with original and newly commissioned artwork by Adam Rabelais
FIRST PRESSING ONLY: Fully illustrated collector’s booklet featuring new writing by Michael Gingold, Johnny Mains and Henry Blyth – not available at time of review.