A frequent pastime of mine as a teenager was to go to my local Mom-and-Pop video rental and get literally every horror movie I could get my hands on, no matter how terrible. Sometimes I’d pick them purely because they sounded awful, like Serial Killing 4 Dummys or Dead Birds. Other times, an interesting cover or tagline would jump out at me—The Mangler was one such movie, putting it right at the top. Directed and produced by Tobe Hooper (The Texas Chain Saw Massacre), star of ‘A Nightmare on Elm Street’ Robert Englund, based on a short story by Stephen King. What could go wrong with that triple threat?
Well, it’s about a possessed laundry press, so…there’s that. But there’s something that, to me, is even stranger—it spawned two more movies that are just baffling, but I still kinda like them. So today let’s take a look at The Mangler and its sequels.
It’s a big, sweaty laundry business and everyone seems fittingly miserable. Steam and giant machines roaring to life as they stamp sheets flat, women carrying bundles to and fro. Sherry accidentally gets cut after bumping into two guys carrying an icebox and spills blood on the laundry press, setting off a chain of events that no one could expect. There’s a weird spark of electricity as the press seems to consume her blood, gain strength and sentience from it. Gartley (Englund) the big boss is a caricature of a ruthless businessman. Always smoking cigars, missing an eye, looks like he had a tracheostomy, wears leg braces, and is always banging his crutches to make his point known. He’s also Sherry’s uncle. After yelling at everyone to get back to work, poor Mrs. Frawley drops some medication in the machine and is pulled in, blood spraying everywhere. Her screaming and pleading for help while people desperately pull on her legs to get her out is awful. What a horrible way to go.
We’re introduced to Office Hunton (who I always forget is played by Buffalo Bill himself, Ted Lavine), and the part after might be my favorite scene. There’s some great buildup here as Hunton pulls up to the building, women huddled together, crying and yelling. He asks the foreman to show him what happened, to which he responds, “Do I have to? It makes me sick to look at her.” He slowly makes his way to the other end of the machine, and we see his face pale. A camera flashes and we get a glimpse—a pile of red flesh, all remnants of the human form gone. Frawley’s body has been crushed down to nothing. Hunton instantly vomits. Honestly, same bro.
Hunton’s brother-in-law Mark is a demonologist (how convenient!) and suggests the mangler has been possessed by a demon once the blood of a virgin (Sherry) had been spilled on it. He laughs at this and how obviously ludicrous it is, but Mark tells him to just humor him. What’s the worst that could happen? Well…okay, Mark, you got me there. He becomes fully convinced after a child freezes to death from being stuck in the same icebox from earlier and a giant swirling tornado comes out the top.
Sneaking back into the building, he inspects the machine and then leans against it while lighting a cigarette. Didn’t we just conclude NOT to do this?! He almost gets sucked in but blasts his coat to shreds with his gun to rip it and break free. It’s revealed that all the rich people in town sacrifice their daughters (or niece in Gartley’s case) to the mangler in return for power. I don’t super feel bad when Gartley gets folded into a human box, but the practical effects in this shot are great! Hunton and Mark show up with some bibles and scream at the machine unless it shuts down. Except, oops—I think we accidentally made it stronger? It tears loose from its holds and literally chases them around which is frankly hilarious. It blows up and all appears well. Sherry is taken to the hospital for her injuries.
It ends with Sherry becoming the new boss of the business, who has started to take on the mannerisms of her uncle. “Watch out for people with missing parts. There’s a bit of them in the machine…and a bit of the demon in them.” Ooo, spooky.
The Mangler 2
With a direct sequel name, you’d expect this to be about the laundry press still, yes? Nope, now it’s an evil computer virus. This movie is extremely early 00’s, with nu-metal, cool hacking skills, and the FASHION. We’ve also got the horror stereotype friends: The jock, the overly sexualized girl, the token black character, the stoner, and the Final Girl.
Our setting is a super high tech boarding school where the computer runs everything. Lance Henriksen perfectly plays the Headmaster who’s all about rules and lays down the punishment which of course only applies to our main gang of teens—stay in the school over Spring Break and make sure the new computer system runs correctly. (Apparently, Malcolm McDowell was originally cast to play the Headmaster! Would that have made this any better? Hard to say.)
This definitely sounds like something you should not trust rowdy kids with, but it’s movie logic. Super grumpy about this, Jo goes on a “Hacker Girl” website (really) and downloads The Mangler virus to the school’s computer system. I have so many questions that will never be answered about how this laundry press demon got turned into a program in the first place. Is the virus program a demon? That’s a pretty good disguise and an easy way to mess up people’s lives, doing demon-y things. Is it just a coincidence it’s called The Mangler? I’m thinking too much about this. I doubt even the filmmakers thought about it.
The majority of the movie follows the kids wandering around the school while the Mangler picks them off one by one. The effects feel so lazy and cheap, I kind of love them. Oh my god, a wire is moving and knocks over the fire ax! The lock to the freezer is broken and the chef is trapped inside! The nu-metal is replaced with generic early 2000s techno because of course it is.
I’m going to be real with you—this movie is not good. In all honesty, it’s mostly terrible. It’s kind of charming in a way though too, hitting all those nostalgic beats for me and bringing me back to the tiny video rental and sitting way too close to my TV with a built-in VCR. It’s like a greasy pizza, you know it’s not good for you, but what are you gonna do, NOT eat it? It’s the same with movies—sometimes you just gotta watch a bad one. A lot of people compare this to Lawnmower Man, with similarly bad CGI and not really having anything to do with the original story. It really feels like Stephen King adaptations are either masterpieces or junk.
The only other thing of note is that the Mangler takes over the Headmaster’s body, but it looks so bad. There are some dollar store Tetsuo the Iron Man wires coming out of his face and back and they augment his voice to sound a bit more robotic. Jo tricks him and installs a program that kills the man-computer system hybrid and they leave the school and this mess of a movie forever.
The Mangler Reborn
Reborn starts us off with the shlubby repairman Hadley and his wife are arguing over dinner. You haven’t worked in a week! You’re obsessed with that…that machine! He storms off to work on fixing it, while ambient tones and whispering get louder and louder. He gets a small cut and the blood is absorbed, awakening the beast yet again. Then it eats him. What should be the end for this man is kind of beginning. He takes on this Jason-esque walk and quiet and dedicates himself to feeding people into the machine, or else his body will rot. This is supposed to be the laundry press from the first movie, but I have several problems with that. It’s much too small to be the same machine—Hadley puts it in an upstairs bedroom. Did he lug it up there himself? Why not put it in the garage? Their house is massive, surely there’s another place he can put this thing. What is he going to do with it when it’s fixed?
As with many low-budget horror films like this, it seems like as long as you have one recognizable star in the cast it’s bound to work, right? In the case of Mangler Reborn, it’s Reggie Bannister—aka Reggie the ice cream man from Phantasm. He and his son Mikey are burglars, pretending to be delivery drivers to break into houses. Except oh no—they broke into the Mangler house! And now they’re trapped!
If The Mangler 2 is like pizza, Mangler Reborn is like old leftovers. There are hints of what it once was, but it’s too far gone to be still called “The Mangler”. Just throw it out. The acting is comically bad. “I can’t get caught breaking and entering! They’ll send me back to the can!” Mikey says at one point. There are some deaths, some blood spray, but it’s all just kind of boring. Even the reveal that Hadley is kind of turning into a machine isn’t enough to save this one. Is he the MAN-gler now? (I’ll see myself out.) I’d only suggest it if you are hellbent on saying you’ve watched all the Mangler movies. We can be a club or something!
While I can’t really recommend the latter 2 films, it was kind of fun to look back on them. For some reason, they’ve stuck with me. Maybe it’s just the idea of a person being folded up. In which case, if you want to see that, just check out the first one. It all goes downhill from there.