Throughout the 1980s and into the 90s, Hollywood felt that they could sell any product which had Stephen King's name attached to it. As we progress into the new millennium, King has cut back on his writing, which is probably a bad thing, and the number of Stephen King movies being released has slowed as well, which is probably a good thing, as many of them were quite bad. Some of these films attempted to squeeze a gargantuan King novel into two hours, totally losing the feel of the books. But, some, like The Mangler, went in the opposite direction and tried to stretch a one-note short-story into a feature length film. The result is a hapless mess of a movie.
The Mangler is set in an industrial laundry run by an evil old man named William Gartley (Robert Englund). Although his legs are in braces and he walks with crutches, Gartley oversees all of the work in the laundry from the catwalks high above the giant machines. One such machine is a large power-folder known as "The Mangler". Right after young Sherry (Vanessa Pike) cuts her hand, bleeding all over the machine, an old ice-box hits "The Mangler", causing an electrical surge. Apparently, this combination of electricity and blood brings the machine to life, causing it to draw in and crush a hapless worker. Officer John Hunton (Ted Levine) is called in to investigate the scene and is frustrated when a crooked inspector (who was most likely paid by Gartley) deems the machine safe. Not surprisingly, more accidents happen with "The Mangler". After hearing about the machine, Hunton's neighbor, Mark (Daniel Matmor), attempts to convince John that the machine may be haunted or possessed. Hunton is skeptical at first, but after he begins to investigate Gartley and the town's history, he begins to realize that something evil is taking place at the laundry and he's the only one that can stop it.
Stephen King has acknowledged that he wrote the short story "The Mangler" based on his own experience working in an industrial laundry. And it's very easy to picture King standing in front of those enormous machines and imagining what would happen if one became sentient. However, that idea is difficult to convey to a reader and the story "The Mangler" comes off more like camp than horror. (Although the final image will stay with the reader.) And if The Mangler is any indication, it's even harder to make an evil laundry machine believable, scary, or even interesting in a movie.
The good news is that The Mangler's ludicrous plot is the least of its worries, as there are many, many things wrong with this film from director Tobe Hooper, which simply lends further evidence to the theory that The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and 'Salem's Lot may have been flukes. Let's start with the muddled, disjointed script which throws in characters and subplots seemingly at random, and can't decide if it wants to be about "The Mangler", Hunton, Mark, Gartley, Sherry, the ice-box (I'm not kidding), other assorted characters, or the town. This approach means that we learn little to nothing about anyone and most of the character's actions or motivations make little sense to the viewer. The dialogue is ridiculous and Levine's deep voice make him difficult to understand at times. (They should've called this "The Mumbler".) Hooper attempts to lend some visual style to the film, but it's clear that he's focused on the crane shot which glides up to Gartley hobbling along the catwalk, as this shot is repeated over and over in the film. Save for the first kill, the movie holds little suspense. The finale makes little sense and one will come away from the film not only mad, but confused as well. And then, there's that ice-box. Yes, there is a scene where Ted Levine gets into a fight with the ice-box. Is that the low point of the film? That's really in the eye of the beholder. What I can tell you that The Mangler is a terrible movie which makes Graveyard Shift look like Silver Bullet.
The Mangler martinizes its way onto DVD courtesy of New Line Home Entertainment. The film has been letterboxed at 1.85:1 and the transfer is enhanced for 16 x 9 TVs. Given the fact that the transfer is anamorphic, one would have to assume that the is a new transfer, but it certainly doesn't look like it. The image is somewhat sharp, but it's quite grainy as well. The film contains many nighttime scenes, and there are several times on this transfer when the image is too dark to see the action clearly. Having said that, some of the daytime scenes are very clear and have nice depth. There is some noticeable artifacting to the image, and some slight edge-enhancement as well. All-in-all, this transfer is only a slight step above VHS.
The audio on The Mangler DVD only fares slightly better than the video. The DVD contains both a Dolby Digital 5.1 track, as well as a DTS 5.1 track. Both tracks provide a nice use of surround sound and good examples of bass response. The sounds in the laundry provide ample opportunities for rear channel action as well as subwoofer participation. The problem with both tracks is that the dialogue is muffled. The problem is more noticeable on the Dolby track than the DTS track. At times, it was impossible to understand what some of the characters were saying. Then again, I'm not sure that I was missing much.
The Mangler had previously been released to video in an unrated form, but the cut on this DVD is the R-rated theatrical version. The DVD contains an "Alternate Edit Companion" which contains three scenes from the film and is comprised of 5 1/2 minutes of footage. This segment offers a top-and-bottom split-screen comparison of the theatrical cut and the uncut versions. I found this view to be headache inducing. And to make matters worse, the differences between the two cuts amounts to mere seconds that one must slow down to even see. The only extra on the DVD is the theatrical trailer for The Mangler, which is letterboxed at 1.85:1 and is 16 x 9. There are also bonus trailers for The Hidden and Critters, both of which are 1.85:1 and 16 x 9.
After watching The Mangler, I'm now looking at my dryer in a whole new light. Not because I'm afraid of it, but because I know that, if left alone, it could make a better movie than The Mangler. There have been many bad, throw-away projects based on material from Stephen King, but The Mangler has to be one of the worst. The movie's laughable premise is only brought down by the inept filmmaking on display here.