The Mangler (Tobe Hooper, 1995, South Africa/UK)

By the early 1990s, Stephen King was going through something of a renaissance. A lull in the late 80s gave way to two successes in 1990 - Rob Reiner's critically and commercially successful adaptation Misery, and the hugely successful ABC miniseries version of IT. The early 90s saw several adaptations of King's short stories, including some quite early ones. "The Manger" is one of King's earliest short stories (1972), and like the very similar "Graveyard Shift" it involves a factory in Maine where inanimate objects are coming to life and killing people. In this case, it is an industrial size laundry machine called a mangler.

Billed as a meeting of three members of horror royalty (director Tobe Hooper, star Robert Englund, and writer Stephen King), and starring Ted Levine (Silence of the Lambs), The Mangler was released theatrically on 800 screens in 1995. How anybody thought this premise was scary is very strange. Apparently Hooper was very invested in this short story, but it's not clear why. If the film is played straight, it doesn't work. And yet it seems to be playing things straight - aside from Englund's performance as the maniacal owner of the industrial laundry.

If the film is intended to be a comedy or an Upton Sinclair-type satire of working conditions, it also doesn't work. The setting of the film feels straight out of the 1800s, despite taking place in 1995. While there is a considerable about of gore in the film, the film - at 106 minutes - feels stretched far beyond the meager boundaries of the original story. Yet The Mangler is so bizarre that it is worth watching at least as a curio - how this film was deemed theatrical is something I will never understand. And not only that, but the film spawned two sequels.



Popular Posts