There are a lot of Stephen King stories, and many of them have ended up being adapted for film and television over the years. There are certain stories that were so big and popular that they’ve become films that are equally as well known. Everyone knows that King’s work is behind films like The Shining, The Green Mile, and Carrie. But if I were to tell you that there was a film based on a short story of his about a laundry mangler that was possessed and was killing people you might not believe me. But it’s very real, and it’s actually rather good.
The Mangler comes from a short story in the anthology collection Night Shift, and tells the story of a machine in the Gartley’s Blue Ribbon Laundry service that causes an accident one shift, that sees one of the workers crushed to death. This in itself isn’t too unusual. Whilst accidents are rare, they do happen, and the site is quickly signed off as being safe, much to the joy of the boss, Bill Gartley, played by Robert Englund in full leg braces, age make-up, and with a performance that has him chewing the scenery.
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However, local cop John Hunton (Ted Levine) feels like something isn’t right, and when more accidents begin to happen he suspects that there’s more going on that people want to admit. With the help of his demonologist brother-in-law Mark (Daniel Matmor) Hunton comes to believe that the mangler might have been used for dark rituals to bring Gartley long life and wealth, and that the machine has now become possessed by evil spirits that will stop at nothing to cause more death and mutilation.
On the surface, The Mangler sounds like a very silly movie. A possessed laundry mangler killing people isn’t something that you’d think could carry a film, and it’s not really that big of a threat; just don’t go near the mangler. However, the film is surprisingly good, and I think a large part of that is down to the cast and crew.
First of all, as already stated, the film is based on a King story, so it’s got pedigree there. Its been adapted and directed by Tobe Hooper, a name that horror fans will instantly recognise as the creator and director of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, a film that’s widely regarded as one of the best horror films of all time. The cast has Robert Englund, an actor with instant recognition thanks to playing horror icon Freddy Krueger, who he would play across eight films, as well as Ted Levine, who is probably most famous for playing Buffalo Bill in The Silence of the Lambs, but has an extensive career of great roles. The film has pedigree, and thanks to the fact that the people making it clearly know what they’re doing, it elevates the film well beyond the schlocky concept and makes it genuinely enjoyable.
Levine is an absolute delight to watch as he stumbles from scene to scene as a tired and weary cop who just wants a quiet day but ends up seeing mangled bodies, and listening to people telling him the supernatural is involved. Quite reasonably, he sees much of what’s going on as being complete bullshit. He thinks demons and spirits are ridiculous, and watching him slowly come round, until he fully believes there’s a conspiracy to use dark magic to make certain people in the town rich, is quite enjoyable. Speaking about making people rich, the fact that the film has a wonderfully anti-capitalist message is a delightful surprise too. It literally tells a story about how the machines of industry are being fed the blood and flesh of the workers to make the bosses money – which is not something you’d expect to find in a film like this.
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Thanks to the new release from Arrow Video these are themes that get explored in some of the extensive extras that come along with the new 2K restoration. The film comes with three audio commentaries. One by co-writer Stephen David Brooks offers insight into the creation of the film, and how you go from a King short story to a full film; alongside two brand new commentaries from film critics and historians such as Alexandra Heller-Nicholas, Josh Nelson, Matty Budrewicz and Dave Wain. The disc also comes with behind the scenes footage, an interview with Robert Englund, and a couple of video essays that cover Tobe Hooper’s work, as well as the work of Stephen King. All that and more, and you also get a collector’s booklet filled with new writing.
The Mangler is very much a film with hidden depths; a film that takes the ridiculous and makes it feel plausible and engaging, if only for a couple of hours. It’s the kind of film that people looking for something a bit different should definitely take the time to check out. Like Rubber or Maximum Overdrive, its a film that you kind of need to see to believe.
The Mangler is out on Blu-ray on 10th January from Arrow Video.