A worker in the Blue Ribbon Laundry Service company gets trapped inside a laundry press and is literally flattened. Grumpy police detective John Hunton takes up the case. During his investigation he receives hints that a demon may have been involved in the killings. He becomes entangled in a life-threatening plot involving political corruption, antacids, and the strange dynamics between the obnoxious owner of the Blue Ribbon company, Bill Gartley, and his niece Sherry.
Tope Hooper can be considered as one of the founding fathers of modern horror cinema and achieved critical success with The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and Poltergeist. Practically anything else he made during his long career did not fare as well critically and/or commercially, including The Mangler. Directed and co-written by Hooper, the movie plot is based on an early short story by Stephen King. The premise of a demonically possessed laundry press is indeed a bit ludicrous. Stephen King’s 1983 novel Christine about a possessed car was a big hit, though, and the movie adaption that was released in the same year fared well commercially, too. There is no bullet-proof argument why a possessed car should be less ridiculous than a possessed laundry press, but Hooper’s take on animate objects on a killing spree came a lot later, 12 years after Christine was released. The Mangler will certainly not be remembered as a classic entry to the horror genre, but it has enough to offer to make it worth a watch.
One of the most interesting aspects of The Mangler is that Hooper sets it up as a fable on capitalist ideology. The exhausted female workers spend their working hours in an ugly, noisy factory filled with steam and intimidating machinery. A truly hellish place in Hooper’s vision. The demonic link between the laundry company owner and his mechanical assets, as well as the literal squeezing of employees, are obvious but effective metaphors on capitalist culture. Hooper was not the first one to weave criticism of our current economic system into a horror movie plot, of course. He succeeded well I would say, and his take on it is certainly a unique one.
About half an hour into the movie, the social commentary undertones are gradually reduced, and the plot takes a slightly more conventional route. Hooper manages to keep things suspenseful and entertaining throughout, however. There is one particularly well-done sequence that stands out, which involves a possessed refrigerator and an exorcism with a sledge hammer. It is easy to dismiss this scene as a laughable attempt to put inappropriate comic relief into the movie. The sequence is actually filled with a lot of tension and dry humor and can be considered a parody of the demonic possession trope. Apart from the refrigerator scene, there is plenty of other instances of irony and wacky dialogues in The Mangler to create a slightly off-beat vibe that runs through the whole movie.
The Mangler is not a gore-fest, but it has a couple of kill scenes with grossly mangled and mutilated bodies on display that probably will please gore hounds. As for the cast, Ted Levine gives an enthusiastic and very physical performance for his character, police officer John Hunton. His counterpart, evil business owner Bill Gartley, is portrayed by Robert Englund with his typical overacting. His role is a fitting caricature of the greedy and ruthless entrepreneur stereotype, so it fits well into the overall scope of the movie.
The Mangler is a fine piece of horror by Tobe Hooper, which takes a ridiculous premise and turns it into an entertaining ride with plenty of social commentary and ironic takes on familiar horror tropes.