The Mangler Further Mangled Tobe Hooper’s Already Mangled Career
Main Cast: Robert Englund and Ted Levine
Director: Tobe Hooper
I know Stephen King’s short story “The Mangler” is not a good story, but I’ve always liked it. There’s a structure and a logic to it that I always appreciated. So when I found out there was going to be a movie adaptation, I was pleased. Then I saw it. You’ve got a story by King, and script and direction from Tobe Hooper, the movie stars Robert England (A Nightmare on Elm Street) and Ted Levine (The Silence of the Lambs), and yet it’s still a shit show from start to finish.
Robert Englund plays Bill Gartly who runs the local industrial laundry. When one of the folding machines eats one of the employees, he seems less bothered than you would like to think your boss would be if the machine you work 12 hours a day suddenly ate you. Then again, I’ve worked for some pretty heartless pricks and I can totally see a few of them in the Gartly role.
Ted Levine plays officer John Hunton who investigates the recent death by laundry machine and after discussing the business with his brother-in-law Mark (played by Daniel Matmor, Night Terrors), the eventually decide the machine is possessed and needs to be exorcised.
It turns out Gartly and a few other high-level officials in town are in league with the devil and every so often a sacrifice is necessary to maintain their influence and quality of life.
But John and Mark are the good guys who insist evil must be banished and lives saved. So they perform their exorcism and for a moment everything seems cool. Until the Mangler comes fully to life, breaks free of the laundry room floor and chases them. Yes, it is as stupid as it sounds.
I wish I could say this movie is played for laughs and that it’s as ridiculous as it is on purpose, but I really don’t believe that’s the case. Something tells me the people involved really thought they were making a horror film. I mean, they completed it, edited it, mixed it, and released it, so SOMEONE SOMEWHERE looked at it and said, “Yep. Ship it.”
To his credit, I’ve also heard Tobe Hooper (The Texas Chain Saw Massacre) left the project before completion and the producer, Anant Singh, took over. Don’t know why, don’t know how much of the finished product is Hooper, and I don’t really care. This thing, if shot as a serious attempt at a horror movie, was bound to fail no matter WHO was in the director’s chair. It’s about a possessed laundry machine that eats people. You spray paint a line around the thing and make sure not to cross it, problem solved.
Robert Englund as the evil Gartly gives everything he has to his performance, and that’s too bad because what comes onscreen is an evil caricature of an evil cartoon character. Again, if it was played for laughs, cool, but it’s not.
Ted Levine plays John Hunton like he’s always on the verge of either a mental breakdown or a heart attack. Even an early scene where he’s sorting his mail, you expect at any second he’s going to start gnashing his teeth and pulling his hair in rage.
And that’s it for recognizable faces. My guess, everyone else who “starred” in this movie, thinking a horror movie from Stephen King and Tobe Hooper was going to jumpstart their career found out quick just how hit and miss King adaptations are and that Hooper’s known for ONE movie in his entire career–I’m not counting Poltergeist for obvious reasons. Hell, his previous King adaptation, ‘Salem’s Lot, isn’t even regarded as being that good, and that was taken from a great book. What the hell made anyone think he could tackle adapting a story as silly as “The Mangler”?
This movie is in NO way required viewing unless you are absolutely committed to seeing EVERYTHING put down on film from the works of Stephen King. If you’re just casually browsing the catalog, skip this one. Don’t even give it a second thought. Terrible terrible stuff.
However, there is something to take away from this movie if you’re looking. Remember those heartless prick bosses I mentioned earlier? The takeaway from The Mangler is the struggle between the tired, sweaty working class and the cool, clean, suit-wearing management in the factories of even modern America, over two decades after this move was made. Not a lot has changed.
Production employees are still OVER worked and UNDER valued by a management system that focuses on only ONE thing: production. Even when it’s not needed. I’ve heard of factories that wound up closing down for a week or two, laying off it’s employees for that time, simply because they over-produced and had too much stock on hand. And that’s the thought process with a LOT of today’s management: we’re ahead of schedule, cool, let’s keep going. Don’t have the orders for the extra stock? Who cares, that’s the sales staff’s job, I just produce.
So while I hate to admit it, The Mangler does has something valuable at its core. Only it’s taken those stakes to much higher and ridiculous levels. The factory in this movie doesn’t close down due to overproduction, instead it feeds its working class to THE MACHINE in a very literal sense so the BOSS can keep living the lifestyle he’s grown accustomed to. And the workers of course keep working because, hell, they need the work.
So maybe that’s why I don’t like this movie; maybe it hits too close to home … nah, it’s just a shitty movie.
King on Film
1976-1992 (Carrie to Children of the Corn II: The Final Sacrifice)
The Dark Half (1993)
The Tommy knockers (1993)
Needful Things (1993)
The Stand (1994)
The Shawshank Redemption (1994)
Children of the Corn III: Urban Harvest (1995)
C. Dennis Moore is the author of over 60 published short stories and novellas in the speculative fiction genre. Most recent appearances were in the Dark Highlands 2, What Fears Become, Dead Bait 3 and Dark Highways anthologies. His novels are Revelations, and the Angel Hill stories, The Man in the Window, The Third Floor, The Ghosts of Mertland and The Flip. He is writing another Angel Hill novel called Return to Angel Hill with co-author David Bain.