What in the hell did I just watch? I somehow escaped the clutches of The Mangler for over two decades, but my love of Shout! Factory had me blindly selecting the title from the screener pool for review. I assumed the movie was about a serial killer, but I was wrong - sort of. As I blindly screened the film, I discovered this is an adaptation of a Stephen King short story about a possessed laundry-folding machine. Yes, you read that right. A possessed laundry-folding machine. The movie is all kinds of awful, and features tremendously dreadful performances by Robert Englund (A Nightmare on Elm Street) and Tedd Levine (The Silence of the Lambs). The movie is almost bad enough to be great fun, but, at 106 minutes, it's more of a slog than a drinking game. Another exhibit in the "Tobe Hooper got lucky with The Texas Chain Saw Massacre" trial, The Mangler is a terrible mid-90s horror flick.
How do I even describe the plot of The Mangler? Well, Englund plays Bill Gartley, the sadistic owner of an industrial laundry factory that works his crew, mostly women, into the ground. Gartley's niece, Sherry (Vanessa Pike), cuts herself on the factory's industrial iron and splashes blood onto the machine at the exact moment a group of workmen drop an old icebox nearby. A wild transfer of energy occurs, and... well, who gives a shit actually. So the machine is possessed by a demon and it will occasionally murder some factory workers to satiate its bloodlust. Levine plays a walking DWI/Detective John Hunton, who is an incompetent asshole that should be nowhere near a murder investigation. His annoying hippie brother-in-law Mark (Daniel Matmor) learns of the suspicious deaths and tells Hunton there may be an evil energy inhabiting the machine, because that's the most logical conclusion. Gartley stands by and does nothing except scream at his workers and try to bone his protégée Lin Sue (Lisa Morris), and of course is in on the conspiracy.
This kind of ridiculous plot might work in a short story, but it will only work in a film that does not take itself too seriously. Unfortunately, Hooper and co-writer Stephen David Brooks, who doesn't even attach his real name to the credits, play the majority of the film straight. The plot centers around a murderous iron for fuck's sake, what is serious about this material? Levine is a good actor, but not here. The only thing I kept thinking about during the entire running time was when he would proposition the iron with a firm "I'd fuck me" since he speaks exactly like Buffalo Bill in The Silence of the Lambs here.
There are moments of squishy gore and some god-awful CGI in the climax as the machine becomes a Transformer and chases Hunton and Sherry down a random spiral staircase into Mordor. This has got to be one of the least competently produced and compiled theatrical films of all time, which I could get behind if only it was fun. I was rooting for the iron and icebox to kill everyone so the credits would roll. This is a master class on how not to write dialogue, plot a horror film and portray any character on screen.
This 1.85:1/1080p/AVC-encoded image comes from a new 2K scan of the elements, and is fairly impressive. This is a crappy looking film, but that is no fault of the transfer. Grain is filmic and natural, fine-object details and texture are readily apparent, and skin tones and black levels are natural. Colors are nicely saturated, the image is reasonably deep and I noticed no digital hiccups.
The 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack replicates the atrocious dialogue with ease and is reasonably immersive. Action and ambient effects, like the near-constant clanging of factory machinery, surround the viewer, and all elements are layered appropriately. A 2.0 DTS-HD Master Audio mix is also included, as are English SDH subtitles.
PACKAGING AND EXTRAS:
This single-disc release is packed in a standard case and features two-sided artwork. Extras include a new Audio Commentary by Co-Writer Stephen David Brooks, who chats with film critic Nathaniel Thompson and is good-natured about the whole thing; Gartley's Gambit with Robert Englund (22:40/HD) offers remarks from the always enjoyable Englund; Behind-the-Scenes Footage (12:42/HD) is a reel of on-set footage; and things wrap up with the Theatrical Trailer (1:26/HD) and a TV Spot (1:26/HD).
Oh, Tobe Hooper, what did you do? This disastrous adaptation of a Stephen King short story is awful, and it takes itself too seriously to be awful in an entertaining way. I admire Shout! for releasing genre films with great discs like this, but this one is a dud. Skip It.