7 September 2008 | Jonny_Numb
A 3.0? Really? Have horror fans suddenly come down with a case of collective amnesia in the facts in the case of Tobe Hooper? The same director whose signature traits include a smattering of extreme gore garnished with dark humor? The man who made one of the most influential, landmark films of the 1970s ("The Texas Chainsaw Massacre")? I mean, granted, Hooper's career has been frustratingly inconsistent overall, but "The Mangler"--easily one of his most maligned works--is an unsung gem that suggests his tongue was planted firmly in cheek, but nobody really noticed. While the concept alone has "disaster" written all over it (a feature-film rendering of a Stephen King short story), what Hooper does with (and to) "The Mangler" is, really, what should have been done with "Graveyard Shift": he tears into the story with the veracity of a mental patient chewing the head off a rag-doll, elevating the absurdist elements to their breaking point, filling the film with (un)intentional humor to counteract the bloodletting, and fleshing out the characters and concept into a satisfying marriage of B-movie bliss. The plot? It's all about an anachronistic laundry facility where an ugly beast of a steam press starts folding the employees into bloody pulp; a pill-popping, chain-smoking local cop (Ted Levine) and his wiccan brother-in-law (Daniel Matmor) suspect foul play on the part of the disabled owner (Robert Englund, once again under a heavy latex mask), but the real reason is much more sinister (Hooper does succeed in making a compelling argument for the ridiculous explanation). While I haven't read King's short story, I will say that the script (by Hooper, Stephen Brooks, and Peter Welbeck) efficiently captures the quirky, small-town mannerisms of his characters, juxtaposed against evil spawned out of the banal territory of Everyday Life. While Hooper is unable to sustain the tricky balance between terror and dark humor that has made "Texas Chainsaw" so endearing, he ultimately transforms "The Mangler" into a sturdy, clean-burning B movie, buoyed by fantastic performances by Englund and especially Levine (who seems to be operating under the influence of a perpetual hangover).