Release Date(s)1995 (December 11, 2018)
Studio(s)Distant Horizon/New Line Cinema/Warner Bros. (Shout!/Scream Factory)
- Film/Program Grade: B-
- Video Grade: A
- Audio Grade: A-
- Extras Grade: C
Tobe Hooper’s The Mangler has had a varied history, mostly a disreputable one. Released one year before Wes Craven’s Scream revitalized the horror genre, it was a darkly comic take on a piece of Stephen King material that, for all intents and purposes, was not received well by horror fans, let alone critics. However, as is per usual with popular genre directors whose work sometimes goes unappreciated upon its initial release, it managed to build a small following.
After an accident occurs at Gartley’s Blue Ribbon Laundry, killing one of the workers in an oversized laundry press nicknamed the Mangler, an investigation is soon underway by the disgruntled but concerned detective John Hunton (Ted Levine). Leary of how and why the Mangler continues to pass safety inspections under the watchful eye of the laundry’s elderly and crippled owner Bill Gartley (Robert Englund), Hunton seeks the help of his former brother-in-law Mark (Daniel Matmor), a demonologist who concludes that the machine is somehow possessed by evil. Concerned for the safety of Gartley’s niece Sherry (Vanessa Pike), the two attempt to stop both Gartley and the Mangler before more victims wind up folded and pressed.
The positives for The Mangler are fairly straightforward. While the horror elements are evident, including seeing a couple of people actually put through the machine in spectacularly bloody fashion, the black humor of it all tends to go by unnoticed. It’s also well-shot, with Hooper employing a lot of free-flowing camera work. As the film was produced in South Africa, it also has a lot of fresh faces in it, which gives the story more of a grounded feel outside of the fantastical elements.
And then there’s Robert Englund, who seems like he’s having a blast as Bill Gartley in heavy make-up and prosthetics, complete with a contact lens in one eye, multiple scars, white hair, and leg braces. His character is particularly odious, but also a bit of a mustache-twirler, which makes him more amusing than despicable in the long run.
On the other hand, there are several things going against the film as well. For starters, Ted Levine hasn’t quite shaken his Buffalo Bill persona. Outside of a few scenes that seem to be either beyond him or just poorly-executed, he does a decent job and at least looks the part. It’s also a pity that the CGI rendered for the Mangler in the final showdown doesn’t hold up. Thankfully, there’s very little of it and it’s mostly kept in the shadows, but it’s so cartoon-ish that it takes you out of it whenever it’s on screen.
The basic plot of The Mangler is fairly typical for Stephen King adaptation material in the 1990s. I actually used to get it and Graveyard Shift mixed up in my mind as they’re kind of similar. It’s also obvious why the film has had such a poor reputation over the years, but at the same time, it has enough enjoyable elements that it can’t be disregarded completely.
Scream Factory brings The Mangler to Blu-ray for the time in its Unrated version. This “new 2018 high definition transfer was created in 2K resolution at Warner Bros. Motion Picture Imaging on the Lasergraphics Director scanner from an archival interpositive.” Suffice it to say, it has never looked this good on home video. It has a solid organic appearance with well-resolved grain and excellent contrast. Blacks are deep and the varied color palette is often bold. Even crimson-soaked moments are crisper and goopier than ever before. The CGI and some of the matte work doesn’t stand up to the clarity, but it’s an otherwise stable, problem-free presentation.
The audio is presented in English 5.1 and 2.0 DTS-HD with optional subtitles in English SDH. The 2.0 is more reflective of how most folks have seen the film over the years on home video, but the 5.1 adds some nice ambient activity to the rear speakers. There’s good spacing and some occasional low frequency moments to give it added dimension. The dialogue is mostly clean and clear outside of Ted Levine’s sometimes garbled lines, but the overall quality of the soundtrack is strong.
This release also sports a few extras. It’s a shame that the late Tobe Hooper couldn’t be involved with them, but we do get a nice audio commentary with co-screenwriter Stephen David Brooks, moderated by Nathaniel Thompson, who goes into detail about working with Hooper and the challenges of making the film; Gartley’s Gambit with Robert Englund, a 23-minute interview with the actor who gives us the fine points of working with Hooper, his make-up, and his relationship with the man who applied it in South Africa; 13 minutes of random behind-the-scenes footage; the original theatrical trailer; and a TV spot.
In essence, The Mangler is much more fun than people give it credit for. It’s obvious that Tobe Hooper was going for gallows humor, in a way that’s almost always overlooked in his work (which includes The Texas Chain Saw Massacre). The Mangler’s tongue seems to be placed mostly in its cheek, and with ok performances, wonderful cinematography, and a couple of rather gory deaths, it makes for a mostly enjoyable horror film overall.
– Tim Salmons