Castor’s Underrated Hallow’s Eve Gems – The Mangler (1995)

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Ted Levine needs a salt scrub and herbal skin treatment after seeing his pasty, perspiring complexion here. From the speed-ramping scene of him nearly colliding into a moving van to his ingestion of antacids (and booze), Officer Hunton (Levine) is a surly prick from the start. Yet it is refreshing to see such a loutish main character who is basically moonlighting in police work for the pension after twenty years instead of a good Samaritan.

He isn’t remotely tongue-in-cheek unlike Robert Englund who comically exclaims “hell’s bells” when a factory worker is pulverized by a laundry press machine. Englund’s preposterously hyperbolic overacting is exactly the peptonized element that the film requires. He shuffles around on crutches with a monocle, a throat kazoo and shrieks from atop his catwalk perch at his menial employees.

The film is littered with remarkably gnarled splatter. Truth be told, a demon-possessed piece of technology isn’t particularly terrifying but the set decoration of the Blue Ribbon laundry is stupendously gothic and the camera angles are claustrophobic as Bill Gartley is circling his virginal female prey. Hunton even derisively cackles at Mark (Daniel Matmor) when he broaches the ancient-curse theory as if he were preemptively lampooning the premise before the critics feasted upon it.

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As a layer of film noir, Jeremy Crutchley is inexplicably immured under age prosthetics as JJJ Pictureman who is like the warning soothsayer from the Universal Studios horror anthology (“That was the first ghost I have ever seen.”). It is heavily insinuated that Pictureman could be a ubiquitous emissary of the devil or an angel of death but Hooper is partially vague about it since Crutchley is also in a dual role as the gleeful mortician.

As a devilishly macabre black comedy on the tier of Hooper’s The Texas Chainsaw Massacre Part II, The Mangler is a choleric, enjoyably parapsychic and self-pasquinading guilty pleasure. Not every film must adhere to the laws of internal logic when campy entertainment value outranks it at every turn.

The special effects of a portable mangler once it unshackles itself from its moorings are very scalene indeed (in some shots, it is atrociously superimposed). From the wellspring of Stephen King’s anti-industrialization novella, Hooper openly cachinnates at King’s cocaine-infused, absurdist conventions that benign household items like ice boxes can be conduits for evil.

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