With the latest iteration of Pet Sematary in theatres, I decided to watch an old Stephen King ditty I'd been meaning to revisit, Tobe Hooper's The Mangler from 1995.
After several fatalities involving an old laundry pressing machine, grizzled cop Hunton (Ted Levine) begins to suspect it may be possessed by evil.
I watched this when it came out in theatres and remembered liking it, but oh my did this not hold up as well as I thought it might. First off, just from the title graphic alone, The Mangler had direct-to-video written all over it. It's amazing some of the horror movies that got a wide release back in the nineties, but, to be fair, the trio of King, Hooper & Robert Englund does carry a large amount of cache. And considering it was largely shot in South Africa, I can't imagine it cost a lot to make either. But I digress.
Perhaps not surprisingly, the most striking thing about this movie was The Mangler itself. Apparently designed by Hooper's own son, William, it's a truly menacing piece of machinery, right down to the sound design. It's also fortunate that the movie at least delivered on its promise of crushing and folding more than a few people like so much laundry. I was little sad that the icebox scene was not nearly as outrageous as I remembered it. Dang recall!
Everything aside from the machine eating people was kind of a mess... Okay, a different kind of mess. I remembered Englund's performance as the machine's owner being a tad cartoonish, but holy mothballs! I feel like Englund asked Hooper on day one, “so how far do you want me to take this?” and he was like, “take Lefty & Chop Top from Texas 2 and crank it to eleven”.
To be honest though, apart from the occasional off-kilter camera angle, I felt there was a lack of direction from Hooper, most apparent during the meandering exchanges between Hunton and his worldly brother-in-law Mark (Daniel Matmor). It was like they were improving half of their scenes together with only an end point to guide them. It's bitter sweet because it made for some amusing moments (in a wow-what-is-going-on kind of way), but it's not the most concise way to make a movie.
I had clearly blanked out the climax because I did not recall that it unfortunately goes the route of almost every King adaptation of the nineties, falling back on instantly regrettable visual effects. Mercifully, they were kept to a minimum with the use of shadow and quick cuts though. The Mangler came at the tail end of an era that saw King properties appear at an almost monthly pace and though it's by no means the worst, it was far from its well-oiled namesake.