In the horror genre there’s a very distinct line between gore and camp that just isn’t the easiest to straddle.
The Mangler from director Tobe Hooper that was adapted from a short story by Stephen King really is this unique blend of gore, hardcore scares and that occasional dash of campy wit which doesn’t always make for the best movie, but it does make one that you can’t look away from.
Based on King’s short story; John Hunton (Ted Levine) is a grizzled and surly cop who gets called into to investigate a series of grisly accidents at an industrial laundry facility. While first dismissing it all as coincidence, he can only look in the other direction for so long as he uncovers a deadly town secret that has been hidden for years… a destructive entity that wants to destroy everything in its path. As time is running out and a young girl’s life hangs in the balance, he rushes back only to find the industrial press; nick named ‘The Mangler’ is possessed with a demonic beast that he has to destroy both inside and out before it’s too late!
While we certainly can’t say with a straight face that The Mangler is a ‘good’ movie by any stretch; it does have this compelling quality that draws you into the balance of camp, gore and thrills.
A lifer of the genre, Tobe Hooper here puts together a lean and mean effort that actually feels like an extended episode of the Twilight Zone where you never get to leave the house. He crafts it all with a very cold stone, dark feel to it all. Really almost gothic at times but as he sprinkles in the over the top moments of gore he tries to not only shock but disarm us so we don’t take the ride we’re about to go on all that seriously.
The script from Hooper, Stephen Brooks and Peter Welbeck admittedly has some clunker dialogue in it but that’s OK. The slightly awkward and even goofy moments take us out of the moment and serve as a reminder that this isn’t really a straight narrative, even for a horror movie. It’s more like a fable or a parable that just happens to be dripping in blood and bits of people who get caught up in the path of The Mangler, and having the wicked set piece of the laundry factory where most of the action happens with all practical effects and no CGI just makes this feel like it was dropped in from Hollywood’s yesteryear. In many ways, The Mangler is exactly that, taking the sensibilities of the classic Universal Hollywood monsters and their darkly gothic and involved sets, but griming it up with some 80’s and 90’s sensibilities and a fair bit of blood splatter and gnarly death. It also captures the tone of Stephen King’s work that always feels like a morality play then just a piece of horror happening in real life.
Ted Levine basically plays the whole movie as aggravated and pissed off, which actually works pretty well for his character and still riding a fair strong high after his work in Silence of the Lambs on four years earlier. While he’s mostly been a character actor throughout his career, he works here as a gruff budget type of leading man. Robert Englund gets decked out to the nines in a nearly full prosthetic makeup to play the villainous Bill Gartley and his classic fashion he ramps it up to the hilt, being menacing but kind of campy at the same time which really goes to the core of why most of his character work outside of Freddie Kruger have always had both of these elements to them. Daniel Matmor also played his role well as Mark, in side kick to Levine’s character as his nonsense gruff character gets led down the rabbit hold of suspecting that a laundry press is inhabited by a demon.
Now in stores and available on Blu-Ray thanks to Scream Factory, this really looks and sounds a lot better than it has any business doing and is now only available in the unrated cut.
Running off of a fresh 2K scan from the original camera negative, the film itself looks pretty damn good. Its shot in a very grim style, but the colours throughout are crisp and balanced and is a very clear upgrade from the previous DVD version which if memory serves came in the old keep case but still had a DTS 5.1 track which plays well here with the improved scan of the film.
Special features include a 22 minute interview with Actor Robert Englund which is just lengthy enough to allow for some genuine insight and nuance into his experiences while shooting the film with Ted Levine and director Tobe Hooper.
There’s a feature length audio commentary track with co-writer Stephen David Brooks which is interesting enough but ends up being a little dry at times.
There’s also the original theatrical trailer, TV spot and some behind the scenes footage that looks like it was shot on either VHS or Super 8, it’s interesting but doesn’t really provide any extra commentary into the production of the film.
This is a weird one, because depending on who you ask, The Mangler sits in that category between good… and “So Bad It’s Good” but given all the practical sets and the real blend of styles on display from these horror masters, The Mangler earns it’s way to being ‘Shelf’ worthy but particularly for those deep cut horror fans who appreciate the unique tone of the film. To the common eye, this movie is terrible but The Mangler has so much more going on for it that this new Blu-Ray helps to bring to light.