“The Mangler” is one of those movies that I know is ludicrous and poorly made, but I just can’t resist it once in a while. The story (adapted from a bottom-shelf Stephen King short story) is one of the dumbest imaginable for a horror movie: It’s literally about a haunted laundry presser whose demonic activity also extends to a refrigerator, for some reason. Now, with a story this dumb, you need a solid genre director to deliver a knockout narrative that can undersell the stupid story and concentrate instead on characters, acting, and overall tone and atmosphere. Unfortunately, director Tobe Hooper was one of the most inconsistent genre directors around, capable of delivering knockout classics like “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre” and “The Funhouse,” but also undercooked, amateurish garbage like “Crocodile” and “Invaders from Mars.” “The Mangler” falls somewhere in between: The violent scenes are extremely gory and downright overwhelming, with Hooper pushing the boundaries of his gore effects and how far the MPAA will allow a studio genre movie to go, which establishes an “anything can happen” vibe that’s thrillingly unsettling. Unfortunately, the screenplay is a barely coherent mess, the acting is extremely weak (in particular Ted Levine, who is completely miscast playing a grizzled cop like he’s a recent escapee from a mental institution, and Vanessa Pike, whose central role is marred by her whiny delivery), while scenes unfold with little cohesion or momentum. By the time the laundry presser grows appendages and chases our protagonists down a hallway, you know you’re watching an extremely ridiculous, campy disaster that’s unintentionally riveting specifically for all its faults. So it’s a bad movie but it sure is an entertaining one, and for that reason alone it should be seen by all genre fans at least once.
Rating: ★★★ (out of 5)