New Line // 1995 // 115 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Judge David Johnson // August 24th, 2004
Fox presents: When Appliances Attack!
This movie is about:
a) The touching story of Pete "The Mangler" Krikulwewskifi, the small-town football player who believed in himself, and grew to be the greatest defensive tackle Idaho ever produced.
b) The rise of the unique, but popular sport that combines mahjong with competitive fishing.
c) A sinister laundry-folding machine that eats people.
If you guessed "c," then you're right! Blue Ribbon Laundry is a massive industrial laundering factory, where legions of young women toil in the steam-drenched air, ironing, washing, and folding laundry. But the big money-maker for the company, lorded over by the creepy Bill Gartley (Robert Englund, Freddy Vs. Jason), is "The Mangler," a colossal automated press-and-fold contraption that may or may not have been forged in the fires of Mount Doom.
Menacing gears turn, belts squeak, and its gaping metal mouth clamps down on clothing, before sucking it into its dark bowels. When young Sherry, new to the job, almost gets inhaled into the machine after a collision with some movers hauling an ice-box, things start getting wacky. Could The Mangler have tried to mangle her? Not content with just a tease, The Mangler goes for the whole enchilada when it sucks in an oblivious worker who didn't know enough to keep her hands out of the frickin' machine. In an explosion of gore, she gets chomped and spit out.
In steps, the down-and-out cop Johnny Hunton (Ted Levine, The Silence of the Lambs) is sent to investigate the mysterious happenings at Blue Ribbon. He's a washed-up detective who commands little respect from anyone, and is in fact just biding time until his retirement.
At first believing there is a rational explanation for the behavior of the machine, he starts to sing a different number when he witness for the first time a demon-possessed ice box. Intent on battling the supernatural force that occupies The Mangler, he enlists the help of his hippie, mystic friend Mark, and together the two do battle with the forces of evil -- both mortal and immortal.
This Tobe Hooper-helmed film features a lot of gore, a solid, creepy atmosphere, some wonky special effects, all set against a really dumb premise. Based upon a short story by Stephen King -- which I read some time ago, but recall enough to know that the movie bears little resemblance to King's piece, which had been, in essence, a creature feature -- The Mangler builds its suspense by slowly revealing a conspiracy that doesn't really pay off at the end.
Give Hooper his due however; he knows how to layer on the gore. When people get chewed by the machine, blood flies and bones get crushed, and when we finally get a look at the finished product, the mutilated corpses are pretty goopy. There is a sequence at the end of the film, in particular, where some poor schmo bites it in blood-drenched, bone-crunching, fluid-spewing detail. At that aspect, The Mangler delivers its titular promise -- folks get themselves mangled something fierce.
What the movie suffers from primarily is this: a mythos was built around a friggin' laundry machine. Versus a pursing homicidal maniac or a flock of fleet-of-foot zombies or a cannibalistic family from Texas, a huge machine that sits immobile (for the most part wink wink) just doesn't seem very fearsome. The production design folks did a nifty job of crafting the machine to look as sinister as possible, but in the end, it's...well, just a big-ass metal object that doesn't move.
Also, logical flaws hound the film. When John finally realizes that there might be demonic powers at work, he and his buddy have a quick talk about exorcism rites. But the two confess that they don't know any priests and promptly decide to take on the self-confessed ridiculously dangerous duty themselves. What, you can't got to you local parish and just ask for some aid?!
GOOD GUYS DESPERATE FOR HELP: Excuse me, Father So-and-So?
FATHER SO-AND-SO: Yes. How may I help you?
GOOD GUYS DESPERATE FOR HELP: Father, we've discovered a malicious demonic presences has infested a laundry machine and it's killed many people, and we fear that if this evil continues on, more innocents will die, but we're a couple of idiots, and the exorcism rites are not to be toyed with, and if we screwed up, well, frankly, that could be the end of the world, and if you could help us that would be fantastic, and we'll even donate some items to your annual rummage sale.
FATHER SO-AND-SO: I'm sorry but you'll have to fill out this formal "Exorcism Request Form." You'll hear from us in six to twelve weeks. Thanks.
The acting ranges from way over-the-top to stilted, with honorable mention going to Englund for hamming it up as the villain (no, he's never done that before). Levine is okay, providing the film with a shady, unique anti-hero, despite the fact he pretty much sleazes around the whole time.
But taken as a whole, neat-o elements aside, the film under-performs.
The disc treatment, however, is tight. New Line continues to impress me with its commitment to issuing technically strong discs. The widescreen transfer looks great, and aside from a few spots of graininess here and there, the cut is very sharp, particularly noteworthy as the movie takes place predominantly in the dark. The film also carries two 5.1 digital mixes -- Dolby and DTS -- and while it was too front-loaded for my tastes, there were points throughout the film where the discrete channels were pushed. And the LFE will shake your pancreas.
As for bonuses, the cupboards are fairly bare; aside from some previews and DVD-ROM weblinks, the only offering of note is a side-by-side comparison of some of the bloodier sequences in the theatrical and alternate versions. It's not much, but we'll take it.
Essentially a bloated episode of Tales From the Crypt, The Mangler delivers the gibs, but not the goods.
The accused is to be imprisoned in the Federal Lockup for the Criminally Insane Appliances, where it shall serve its sentence with the likes of that crazy fridge from Ghostbusters.
Review content copyright © 2004 David Johnson; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2014 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
Studio: New Line
* 1.85:1 Anamorphic
* DTS 5.1 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround (English)
Running Time: 115 Minutes
Release Year: 1995
MPAA Rating: Rated R
* Alternate Version Comparison
* DVD-ROM Content