Right off the bat, I’m glad to see that this film wants to be a proper sequel, unlike the sequel in name only that we got from the Mangler 2. The problem is, I’m not convinced that the filmmakers ever saw the actual original film. I’m not sure what kind of device they think the Mangler is (other than being referred to as “an antique”) but for this film, they have transformed it into a big boxy conveyor belt with stabby CGI knives that pounce on you from above. This isn’t a laundry device, it’s just a killing machine…and it wants blood.
The video quality is better than consumer grade, but not as high as I’d expect from professional production. It feels like an Asylum movie and I was actually a bit surprised to discover it wasn’t one. The addition of Reggie Bannister is a definite plus though, making sure that the movie still had some horror star cred, just like it’s predecessors.
We start off with a man, Hadley, and his wife arguing. She wants him to get a job and stop tinkering with that machine in the attic. It ends predictably and we pretty much know the score before the title credits roll.
Hadley does service on washing machines and uses that as an excuse to kidnap victims for the Mangler. We get a brief sequence of him abducting ingénue Jaime and then switch over to Reggie Bannister and his son Mike, casing Hadley’s house. They’re thieves and have been planning to knock over the place for a while. Reggie sneaks in, but to his surprise he doesn’t have to pick the lock – the door is open. Inside, the windows are bricked up behind tacky curtains and Reg discovers that the locks are actually on the inside of the doors. He’s going to have to pick his way OUT, not in.
Things get weirder when he discovers a drawer full of old wallets – all of which have money in them. He suspects the mark may be a thief himself and after grabbing the cash figures it’s time to start getting out. Back in the van, Mike is getting worried and nags Reg over his wallkie talkie to get movie. Reg is almost to the stairs when he sees the bloody handprints on the wall and hears the whimpers of a woman locked in the bedroom across the hall. He decides he’s going to do the right thing “For once in my life!” and grabs his lock pick tools to try and free her. It’s too late, Hadley arrives home, with Jaimie in a sack slung over his shoulder.
Things go poorly for Reg and Mike sneaks in after him. The girl that Reg tried to free gets fed to the machine, but Mike does better than his father, getting Jaimie out before buying it himself. Turns out that Jaimie is the actual main character here. I wasn’t sure, because she vanished for a good 20 -30 minute stretch in the middle of the film while we focus on Reggie.
Bannister for his part, is well used in this film. While he couldn’t have worked more than a couple of days on set, his scenes are shot judiciously, mostly alone. There’s shots of him talking on the Walkie, or hiding in the closet – stuff where you can insert the other actors later without immediately worrying about shooting their coverage when time’s at a premium. As a result, Reg has a significant amount of screen time here. It’s more than a cameo, but less than a full supporting role. If there a weakness, it may be that he’s too likable. Bannister is obviously trying to play a sort of scummy deadbeat dad type. Perhaps I just have too close an association with him from other movies, but you take one look at that skullet ponytail that only Reggie Bannister can pull off, and you just feel like he’s you cool uncle. He’s impossible not to root for.
The house too, is a little underdeveloped. There’s some good ideas here – the house is a trap. Once you’re in, you can’t get out. But it needs to be better highlighted and the spook factor increased. The entire place is lit in a flat white light. Some gloom here to really creep up the look as well as some grime to add more repulsion would go a long way towards making this a truly scary set. The bricked up windows are treated as an afterthought. People come in, glance behind the curtins and then move on. Treated as a revelation, with proper lighting this could have been unnerving. As it is, it’s just…odd.
All in all, the greatest sin here is that it feels cheap. The movie has good intentions, but it’s ambition outweighs it’s reach and the entire affair comes off as a misfire. It’s worth watching as a companion if you really love the Mangler, but the film could have been so much more.
The Mangler part 2 begins with an intruder in a large office building, clad in black and a ski mask obviously up to no good… They carry a CD-ROM – it was right around 2000 so I suppose this is meant to look high tech. The computer itself doesn’t even have the drive built-in, she slides it into an external and uploads a virus.This sets off the alarms in the building and she’s quickly captured by security. It turns out the Intruder is the daughter of the company president and he’s about to ship her back off to her awful Prep School.
We get shots of kids in uniform – Prep School tie and skirts, wandering a stone campus overlaid by early 2000s pop punk
The headmaster is a haggard-looking Lance Henriksen (in a role originally meant for Malcolm McDowell), who controls the school through computers and mechanization, provided by the father you saw in the pre-credits sequence. A field trip has been scheduled to conveniently empty the school of all but our main cast.
They are tasked with trying to figure out who tampered with school website – a prank to embarrass the Headmaster. If they fail there will be no senior activities including prom… oh, so we have our premise. Jo, our outcast hacker girl from the beginning is the Chief suspect. Whether she did it or not, she’s going to be blamed anyhow – so she decides on some mischief of her own.While browsing the dark web (did they even have a dark web in 2002?) she discovers a virus called “The Mangler” when she downloads to deploy at the school. It immediately overcomes the server and takes over every camera in the school.
The janitor is the first one to get it, murdered by a pair of hedge clippers attached to wires that have grown out of the wall. This is one impressive virus…
Over at the pool, our left behind kids throw a luau party. This provides us with some long overdue getting-to-know-you schtick as well as stripping the main cast down into swimsuits to satisfy the purely voyeuristic requirements. Jo announces here that she’s impacted the computer system with The Mangler and expects the school to be shut down within the next day. They realize the virus can be traced back to them, since they’re the only ones left at school and go off to try and figure out a way to hide that fact.
Elsewhere, The Mangler takes out the crippled gym teacher by using the wheelchair lift the throw him down the stairs and then wrapping one of its prehensile wires around an axe to go after him. It’s also after the school chef trapping him in the freezer and turining up the cold. This is definitely the kind of action I was more expecting from this film rather than disembodied wires wreaking havoc.
Two of the kids get stoned and head to the kitchen. Ominous wires follow them. Meanwhile one of the other teachers gets ready to do laundry, but she’s brought her flask – time to let her hair down and cop a snootful. Of course, being drunk with a basket full of thongs, in a prep school haunted by a evil computer virus definitely gets you a big case of death by washing machine.
Back in the kitchen, the stoners discover the chef, frozen in the walk-in, and manage to rescue him. He explains to them he’s certain that it’s the computer behind everything, and man is that computer angry! I’m kind of rooting for the grumpy old dude, at this point he seems like the only character in this movie with any sense.
The Mangler is starting to get bolder. It taunts its next victim on a computer chat before releasing acid through the fire sprinklers. The gang knows they’re in trouble now, and they meet up with the chef to try and figure out how to get out of the school. Sinister prehensile wires snake their way towards them, blocking the door. Meanwhile, the cameras watch their every move. They make a break for the roof, where there are no cameras. At least, they think there’s no cameras up there. Turns out there’s plenty of cameras to spy on them on the roof and this is just an elaborate scheme to pad the runtime.
The stalking continues with one of them crushed in between the remote control bleachers. This murder keeps The Mangler occupied long enough for the rest of our group to escape outside. They clear the building, but are still trapped on the campus by electric fences that surround the grounds. Their only hope of escaping for good is to shut down the server hosting a Mangler, so back to the dorms they go.
While Jo attempts to figure out a way to shut down program, The Mangler reaches out to contact her through her computer. It tries to convince her to join it rather than fight, but shes seen too many people die already. It’s at that moment that the Headmaster shows up, none too pleased about what’s going on. One of the kids clocks him and once again the chase is on. It’s okay, The Mangler isn’t paying attention to them , it has the principal to deal with. Wires wrap around Lance and drag the body away.
As they pass through the computer lab, the webcams on top of the monitors turn to follow their every move while the screens pulse red with the words “you’ve been mangled”. They pass through the bloody laundry room and a wire slides out from the ceiling, yanking one of the kids away. Finally back outside they ram a car through the electrical fence, shorting it out oh, but not for long. The Mangler claims its next victim – well, at least the chef got out. He tosses Jo his knife and she heads back into the school, determined to end this.
Inside, a deep electronic voice announces “I’m in the basement Jo.” She makes her way down into the depths of the school unchallenged. All around her, wires cover the walls and the floors and the stairs. The Mangler has taken over, full force. Electronic music scores her descent.
Down in The Mangler’s lair it has wired up Lance Henriksen and is using him as an avatar. Jo finds herself face to face with the living embodiment of the virus. It’s a great visual and this should be the crown jewel of the movie, except he’s wearing sunglasses because the Matrix was cool and literally quotes the Spice Girls. Jo tricks the avatar into downloading a program that will ultimately crash it, and while the application dismantles the virus she goes to work on the body with the knife.
Ultimately, this is a sequel in name only. After the box office failure of the original Mangler film 7 years prior, this one attempted a structure that was much closer to the fashion of this era. Using the scream model, they cast a bunch of young attractive 18 year olds from the local CW shows, and attempted a reasonably bloodless cyber-thriller. While it’s got some interesting moments and at least one good set-piece at the end, it’s largely unremarkable and it’s treatment of technology is infuriatingly fictional. The movie could stand alone outside the franchise and works if you’re a fan of stuff like Hackers or Arcade or The 13th floor, but feels completely out of place as a part of this series.
The Mangler is one of those movies that I think everybody knew existed, after all, New Line pictures was slapping the trailer for this film on every video tape they had in the mid-90s. The advertising hook was brilliant – a movie from writer Stephen King, directed by horror master Tobe Hooper, starring Robert England. It’s a creepy story about a series of accidents centered around a Laundromat in rural Maine. King himself had a great deal of experience with the machine they call the Mangler – he writes about it extensively in his book “On Writing” and his time working at the laundry as a young man that seems to have inspired this concept.
It opens with great atmosphere – the huge boxy machine melds steam punk and sinister intentions, yet it’s a perfectly rational piece of equipment. It’s lovely, all grease and brass – they have dirtied it up a bit to give us a grim repulsion and yet it doesn’t look like something just designed to be evil.
Robert England on the catwalk however, he definitely looks like he was designed just to be sinister. The old age make up looks rubbery but fits the character – like a grumpy J. Jonah Jamison archtype.
Of course we know that the machine is the real monster here, and it’s hunger begins when one of the young ladies working it accidentally cut herself. The blood stirs it’s desire.
It’s actually quite interesting watching the machine – how just a subtle movement conveys hunger – conveys evil. You can almost see the machine wanting to chomp onto the workers hands, and blood spatter is a sinister foreshadowing. When the dire machine sucks in its first victim, the blood spray is gratuitous– covering the other women and coating the laundry red. It’s brilliantly framed and shot though it’s not actually scary per se.
The women up in the laundry are still covered in blood when sheriff Ted Lavigne arrives. His weak stomach keeps him from doing much in the way of investigation, but it doesn’t really matter – it’s an open and shut case. Industrial accident, nothing more, right?
Detective Ted relates the story of what happened to a friend that night – we get quick flashes of gore here, adding to the horror of what happened to this point, and giving us a better look at some of the details of this massive speed ironing machine. Lavigne‘s friend is a parapsychologist-a horror movie set up if I ever saw one! While he’s hanging out with his friend, the steam hose breaks and burns several workers. Detective Ted runs out to the hospital to check on them and investigate further. His parapsychologist friend Mark suspects that the machine might be possessed or haunted in some way, but Ted isn’t having any of it. Mark press on, and while back at the laundry – the mangler is hungry.
Detective Ted continues his investigation, interviewing the first witness and then coming across a discarded refrigerator from the laundry. It seems that the evil can travel. The fridge is a killer as well – not for long though, as Ted attacks it with a hammer and demonic energy pours out in brilliant blue electricity. It’s enough to convince Detective Ted that psychic Mark might just be onto something.
A trip to the morgue doesn’t turn up anything new so Detective Ted heads over to the laundry to get a better look at the mangler. The machine grabs his jacket and tries to pull him in, he escapes, and then it’s upstairs to confront Robert England. It’s an explosive confrontation which helps me to understand just how important a figure England is to this town – the biggest business owner, the biggest employer, the very lifeblood of this small hamlet. Lavigne is angry though, no longer caring about his pension, no longer caring about his position – all he wants to do is shut the laundry down. England won’t be intimidated and sends him on his way, after all, it’s time to make some calls… After he gets Detective Ted thrown off the case, England returns upstairs and and reveals the backstory to a young ingenue.
Back at Home, Psychic Mark has figured out the best way to exercise the Demons from the machine. What they don’t know is the foreman of the laundry has also had enough of the accidents and is ready to dismantle the speed iron. The Mangler however, won’t go so easily. He survives been crushed only by taking an axe and chopping off his arm. The eyewitness runs off and we all know England can’t have that. Besides, she is the last one in town that needs to be sacrificed to The Mangler and Detective Ted has just discovered the pattern.
We all have to make sacrifices. It’s a race back to the laundry to save the victim and expel the Demon.
The ending is absolutely bananas… It’s 1995 so the CG isn’t great, but they’re wise enough to keep it hidden as much as possible. Overall, The Mangler is a fun film – better than it gets credit for, though perhaps coming up short of being a classic. The filmmakers proceed with an interesting aesthetic, mixing styles and looks to keep it timeless – old-fashioned suits and cameras, modern cars and hair, it’s hard to place exactly when this is supposed to happen and that’s to it’s advantage. Robert England, trapped in leg braces and arm canes is in his element – all of these devices give him stuff to play with and ways to ham up the performance. More than any other time in his career, he comes off as an old-fashioned Vincent Price sort, a truly maniacal figure. It’s a brilliant choice, considering the somewhat old-fashioned look and tone of his character. Of course he is here mostly for the name value – the part almost seems written for him. He doesn’t drive most of the action, but the movie wouldn’t be remotely the same without him.
I think it’s understandable why the film didn’t catch on. It’s less complex than what you would expect from a Stephen King film, and yet doesn’t particularly feel like a Tobe Hooper movie. It never entirely figures out what it wants to be – a monster movie, a detective thriller, or a pure Faustian bargain. In an era where horror was about to be dominated by the Scream slasher model and Japanese horror remakes, The Mangler was doomed to be overlooked.