Friday, May 06, 2011

Stephen King Month: The Mangler (1995)

Here once again is a case of a Stephen King short story that did not deserve to be a feature film (let alone one that spawned two essentially unrelated sequels). The movie version of The Mangler actually follows the plot of the story fairly closely, although it has to add a lot of extraneous nonsense to make it to feature length, and the already silly story isn't enhanced by the addition of a totally ridiculous mythology. Reading the story, you can just barely imagine the creepiness of a possessed industrial laundry-folding machine, although I remember thinking it was pretty dumb even when I was 13 or 14 or so when I first read it. But watching the events unfold onscreen, with questionable acting and second-rate special effects, there's no avoiding the absurdity. Nothing in The Mangler is scary, although it's campy enough to at least encourage some intentional laughs (there's no way that the line "It folded her like a sheet!" could be taken seriously).

The Mangler is just another step in director Tobe Hooper's long slide into direct-to-video hackery, and there's virtually no sign of the master of terror who made The Texas Chain Saw Massacre 20 years earlier. Hooper ropes in fellow horror icon/shameless sell-out Robert Englund to play the deformed head of the laundry, a character invented for the movie and imbued with evil grotuesquerie as part of a sort of cult that worships the demon that possesses the laundry-folding machine (no, really). Ted Levine matches Englund's hamminess as the police officer who becomes obsessed with defeating the mangler, delivering lines like the aforementioned sheet-folding one with a demented level of commitment.

The campiness carries the movie along for a little while, and Englund is amusing when he's onscreen, which is not as often as his top billing would indicate. But it really overstays its welcome, and the longer Levine spends investigating the incredibly stupid back story, the harder it is to give the movie the benefit of the doubt. Hooper doesn't commit fully enough to the humor to make The Mangler the kind of gory black comedy it could have been, and the horror is pretty feeble. The already thin concept stretches to the breaking point, and then way too far beyond it.

How far to Castle Rock: Although the movie takes place (of course) in small-town Maine, Castle Rock doesn't warrant a mention.

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