Mangler (The) (Blu-ray) [Blu-ray]
Blu-ray B - United Kingdom - Arrow Video
Review written by and copyright: Paul Lewis (18th January 2022).
The Film

The Mangler (Tobe Hooper, 1995)

Adapted from a short story (of the same title) from Stephen King’s first anthology collection Night Shift (1978), The Mangler was made during an oft-derided period in the career of its director, Tobe Hooper. The popularity amongst horror fans of Hooper’s second feature, The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974), always proved difficult for the director to match: the dark humour of Hooper’s own sequel, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 (1986; and please see our review of Arrow Video’s Blu-ray release of that film here), divided audiences who often failed to see how blackly comic the first Texas Chain Saw Massacre was, and the rest of Hooper’s filmography oscillates – in terms of the responses of critics – between sideways acceptance and outright hostility. In retrospect, it seems that many of Hooper’s post-Texas Chain Saw Massacre films were given short shrift by both fans and critics, and often lambasted simply because they weren’t a rehash of that most ground-breaking of American horror films.

Frequently, the criticisms levelled against Hooper’s 1980s and 1990s films revolved around the manner in which they featured exaggerated performances and a tone that verges on histrionics. Certainly, these qualities – and a concomitant focus on framings that resembled gaudy comic book panels – had been evident in Hooper’s work since his 1976 film Eaten Alive (aka Death Trap; again, please see our review of Arrow Video’s Blu-ray release of that picture here), which foregrounded an acknowledged influence on Hooper’s work in the form of EC’s horror comics. (The Texas Chain Saw Massacre also carried these elements, though admittedly the dark humour and comic book stylings were perhaps buried for many viewers beneath the immediacy of that movie’s verité-style photography and editing.) Unashamedly showcasing these characteristics of Hooper’s post-Texas Chain Saw Massacre work, The Mangler received a particularly memorable drubbing. It’s all too easy, with retrospect, to look back and say that aspects of a film’s reception were unwarranted; but in the case of The Mangler, the savagery with which the film was denounced by both fans and the critical establishment seemed deeply uncalled-for. Nevertheless, the picture’s building popularity on home video formats facilitated the production of a couple of sequels, The Mangler 2 (Michael Hamilton Wright, 2002), and The Mangler Reborn (Matt Cunningham & Erik Gardner, 2005). The second of these sequels was a significant improvement over The Mangler 2, which perhaps truly deserved the savage reception that Hooper’s original The Mangler had received.

The Mangler focuses on Gartley’s Blue Ribbon Laundry. Situated in Rikers Valley, Gartley’s Blue Ribbon Laundry is presided over by its ageing owner, Bill Gartley (Robert Englund). Gartley lords over his female workers sadistically, offering jobs to those desperate for employment in exchange for sexual favours.

Pride of place in the laundry is given to the mangler, a huge machine which irons and folds clothing. When Sherry Ouelette (Vanessa Pike), Gartley’s teenage niece, cuts her hand on the machine, something within it comes to life; shortly afterwards, the elderly Mrs Frawley (Vera Blacker) finds herself caught in the machine and dragged into the mangler. She is killed in a spectacularly gruesome manner. Is this death simply an industrial accident, or is there something more malevolent at play?

Frawley’s gruesome death is investigated by detective John Hunton (Ted Levine), who is accompanied by the elderly, cancer-ridden police photographer (Jeremy Crutchley). Hunton is a widower, and when having dinner with his eccentric, introverted brother-in-law Mark (Daniel Matmor), Hunton tells Mark of the incident at the laundry. A parapsychologist, Mark begins to wonder whether more sinister is at work in the library, and eventually concludes that the mangler is possessed by some sort of demonic force. Though Hunton initially scoffs at this idea, he eventually comes around to Mark’s way of thinking after an encounter with a refrigerator which, taken from the laundry, displays a similarly demonic capacity – leading to the death of a young boy, Hunton’s neighbour, who becomes trapped within it.

Mark and Hunton reach the conclusion that the mangler must be exorcised. However, Gartley is busy making plans to sacrifice his niece, Sherry, to the machine as part of a blood pact he and other powerful men within Rikers Valley have made with whatever is possessing the mangler. This agreement stretches back centuries, the sacrificing of young virgins to the mangler ensuring that these families retain their power and wealth.

The early/mid 90s was a rich period in terms of cinematic adaptations of Stephen King’s works: from the lurid (Graveyard Shift; Ralph S Singleton, 1990) to the respectable (Taylor Hackford’s Dolores Claiborne, 1995). Situated amidst this, Hooper’s adaptation of The Mangler emphasises the short story’s theme of an inanimate object that has been possessed by some form of supernatural evil. This motif is something which appears in a number of other novels and stories by Stephen King: both Christine and Maximum Overdrive, which also explore this thematic territory, have been adapted to the screen, with varying levels of success.

Hooper’s approach to The Mangler is, like many of the director’s films, avowedly political. Hooper’s work is nothing if not subversive; his scathing critique of the ‘nuclear’ family and corporate/industrial interference in the private lives of citizens, Spontaneous Combustion, is a film that seems particularly in need of reappraisal. The Mangler features some wild anachronisms which reinforce the political bent of Hooper’s approach to the material: Gartley’s laundry, and the organisation of labour within it, seems to have been beamed in from the late-Nineteenth or early-Twentieth Centuries, with Gartley’s management of this space mirroring that of the cruel industrialists/employers of much Victorian fiction – like Bounderby in Dickens’ Hard Times, or perhaps Ebenezer Scrooge himself. ‘Get ‘em back to work’, Gartley growls unsympathetically after Sherry cuts her hand on the mangler, ‘Work ‘em like there’s no tomorrow’. One can imagine the early-Twentieth Century activist photographer Lewis Hine creeping around the empty spaces of the laundry with his plate camera, capturing images of unethical labour practices in the hope of inspiring new legislation to protect manual workers. (In fact, the police photographer within the film – played by Jeremy Crutchley, who like Englund is aged for the screen via a wonderful stretch and stipple makeup application – captures images of the crime scenes using an unwieldy, Weegee-like 1930s/1940s-era Speed Graphic.) Nevertheless, the narrative clearly takes place within the present day. The unethical labour conditions so prevalent in the early industrial era are, Hooper seems to be saying, still with us: revisiting the film in the current climate, it’s safe to say that if the economic inequalities so evident within the Covid years have taught us anything, it’s that shit eternally rolls downhill, and that despite being rebranded as ‘keyworkers’, manual labourers are still at the bottom of the pile. There’s perhaps a thesis to be written in terms of the cultural connotations of the grisly fascination with industrial accidents – in which low-paid workers are devoured by the machines they operate for the benefit of more privileged employers and customers – which in the digital era has been exhibited online via sites such as Rotten, Ogrish, and LiveLeak. Such imagery is perhaps the most apt visual metaphor for the meatgrinder that is the workplace, and Hooper’s The Mangler is filled with grisly depictions of industrial accidents (which were curtailed for the film’s US ‘R’ rated release).

Gartley’s power resides in the blood sacrifices he has made to the machine (the machine of industry, or of capitalism, perhaps), as does the power of the other members of Rikers Valley’s ruling class. All of these have sacrificed a virginal female relative – a daughter, or a niece – to the mangler on the eve of the young woman’s sixteenth birthday. Notably, the employees of the laundry are, aside from a few mechanics, wholly female, and so Gartley’s cruel treatment of his employees is skewed by both economic class and gender inequalities. When Mrs Frawley is killed by the mangler, Gartley unsympathetically commands his workforce to return to work almost immediately, referring to Gartley as a ‘Stupid old bitch’: his ‘blue collar’ employees are clearly expendable, and not worth shedding a tear for – particularly if that tear is shed whilst on the clock. Elsewhere, Gartley reverts to ‘like it or lump it’ cliches and egotistical self-praise in explaining his worldview: persuading his new employee, Lin Sue (Lisa Morris), to fuck him, he tells her ‘Chaos abounds, my dear. You’ve better get used to it [….] Still, life must be better here than on the streets: here, the predators are few; the benefits are many. For I am a generous man!’

Robert Englund took the role in The Mangler after completing Wes Craven’s New Nightmare (1994). Hooper called Englund and asked if he’d be interested in taking a lead role in an adaptation of a Stephen King short story (Englund, 220). Eager to work on something adapted from King’s work and also keen to work with Hooper, Englund jumped at the chance. However, production was shifted from Toronto, Canada, to South Africa (ibid.). David Miller, who had worked with Englund on the makeup for Freddie Krueger from the first Nightmare on Elm Street (Wes Craven, 1984), was in charge of Englund’s makeup, transforming the actor into the aged Bill Gartley. In terms of his performance, Englund took inspiration from the character played by Everett Sloane in Orson Welles’ The Lady from Shanghai (1946) (Englund, 219-220). In that picture, Sloane’s character – the husband of the film’s femme fatale, played by Rita Hayworth – is a disabled survivor of polio who walks with dual crutches and wears leg braces.

Gartley is the very image of sleazy, patriarchal authority; and today, he could easily be made into a poster boy for the #MeToo movement. With his dual leg braces, crutches, eyepatch and electrolarynx, he is almost machine himself: in fact, at one point, he delights in saying that ‘There’s a little bit of me in that machine, and a little bit of the machine in me’. Later in the narrative, we discover that Gartley’s many disabilities are the result of an encounter with the mangler. This encounter presumably occurred around the time of Gartley’s sacrifice of his daughter on the eve of her sixteenth birthday: Gartley and his social equals within the community are content to sacrifice their virginal womenfolk in exchange for social status, wealth, and power. The sacrifice of young women enables and sustains the hierarchies that exist within the town. ‘The one thing worse than the devil within, is the devil without’, Gartley says at one point. Rewatching The Mangler almost thirty years after its initial release, one wonders at what precise point in recent history a denouncement of corrupt authority, and the manner in which the powerful conspire in order to maintain systems of inequality, transitioned from being a position espoused by countercultural figures such as Hooper or John Carpenter (in They Live, for example), into a worldview associated in the US with the stigmatised ‘alt right’.

The Mangler’s US home video release foregrounded the status of Hooper as a horror-auteur by touting an unrated ‘director’s cut’, which included 30 seconds of violent footage removed from the ‘R’ rated US theatrical release. (All UK releases – from the 1995 cinema release, through the VHS release, and the 2003 Pathe DVD – have been of the unrated version of the film, without interference by the BBFC.)


Presented in 1080p using the AVC codec, The Mangler fills approximately 33Gb of space on a dual-layered Blu-ray disc. The presentation is in the film’s original aspect ratio of 1.78:1, and The Mangler is here presented in its uncut version (commensurate with what in America has been released in an unrated form), with a running time of 106:16 mins.

The 35mm photography of The Mangler fares well in this release. The film features a colour palette that is often vivid, with primary coloured gels used on lights, resulting in bold blues and reds, in particular. Colours are communicated in this presentation with clarity and consistency. The film’s photography also features much low-light photography on what seems to be fairly ‘fast’ 35mm stock, resulting in a dense (and organic) grainfield in certain low-light scenes, particularly those taking place within the laundry. The presentation is billed as being taken from a new 2k restoration; I would hazard a guess that this restoration is based on a scan of an interpositive, judging by the coarseness of the grain structure and the contrast levels. These contrast levels are pleasing, with a good balance being struck between the toe and the shoulder; though at times, there is a sharp drop into the toe of the exposure, resulting in some crushed shadow detail. Blacks occasionally tend towards a slightly faded dark gray, and scenes featuring low-light photography foreground the fluctuations in the density of the emulsions which are noticeable from time to time. The effects work mixes makeup effects, miniatures, and composited stop-motion animation; the optically-printed/composited material, naturally, fares more badly – in terms of detail and contrast levels – than the footage surrounding it. The encode to disc carries the transfer very well, ensuring that the grain structure remains organic and film-like.

In sum, this is a very pleasingly film-like presentation of The Mangler, with the caveat that the source material doesn’t seem to be in the absolute best state. Certainly, it’s a huge improvement on the film’s variant DVD releases.

NB. Some full-sized screengrabs are included at the bottom of review. Please click on them to enlarge them.


The disc presents the viewer with the option of watching the film with either a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track, or a LPCM 2.0 track. Both of these tracks feature a rich, deep soundscape, with excellent range. Dialogue is sometimes a little clumsy, and at least some of the film seems to be post-synced – or at least, features some heavy postprocessing in the sound presentation. Optional English subtitles for the Hard of Hearing are provided, and these are free from errors and accurate in transcribing the film’s dialogue.


The disc includes the following contextual material:
- Audio commentary by Alexandra Heller-Nicholas and Josh Nelson. These two Australian critics talk about The Mangler and its reputation, suggesting that it was massively undervalued (Heller-Nicholas says the film ‘has had a lot of shit thrown at it over the years’). They also wonder about the question of authorship: is the film Hooper’s or King’s, they ask? Both commentators argue that Hooper has a defined style and worldview, particularly in terms of how his films paint capitalism. (As an aside, I remember being shot down during a seminar at university during the 1990s for suggesting that Texas Chain Saw Massacre is a savage denouncement of the notion of technological and industrial ‘advancement’, by a lecturer who regarded that film as ‘just’ a horror picture; so I can fully get on board with what Heller-Nicholas and Nelson are saying here.) They also highlight Hooper’s ongoing vein of dark humour, which is something that for a long time was sidelined in discussions of the director’s work. (It’s great to hear Heller-Nicholas sing the praises of both Lifeforce and Spontaneous Combustion.) This is a fun, and informative, commentary track that is grounded in an enthusiastic appreciation of Hooper’s cinema.

- Audio commentary by Matty Budrewicz and Dave Wain. Budrewicz and Wain, whose online home is The Schlock Pit, open their commentary track by talking about the critical drubbing that The Mangler received at the time of its initial release. The pair are in good humour throughout the commentary track, with Budrewicz stating that The Mangler is one of his favourite films – and spending some time trying to rationalise this for the listeners. (For the record, Matty, as a near-lifelong Hooper fan, I can fully sympathise with this statement; though my favourite of his films is probably Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2.) Budrewicz acknowledges that the film has its flaws, ‘but there’s a lot of beautiful stuff in here’. ‘Listenable’ is a curious adjective, but if ever a commentary track deserved that label, it’s this one.

- Audio commentary by Stephen David Brooks and Nathanael Thompson. Brooks (who worked on the film as a writer, second unit director, and on the visual effects) talks about his work on the film, with critic Nathaniel Thompson. Brooks and Hooper had worked together on Spontaneous Combustion previously, and was asked by Hooper to write a pitch for an adaptation of King’s story. This evolved into the finished film. Brooks offers a wealth of behind-the-scenes information about the preproduction and production of the film, including that the machine – which was built from scratch for the production – ‘actually worked’. It didn’t ‘quite fold properly’ but that was about it. As a fan of Hooper’s cinema, and an adherent to the view that The Mangler was unjustly maligned (at least, since I first saw the film on its UK VHS release), the information that Brooks offers about the making of this film is much appreciated. Again, this is a commentary track that is deeply, deeply, ‘listenable’ (see above).

- ‘Nature Builds No Machines’ (15:04). Scout Tafoya, an American filmmaker and blogger who has written a book about Hooper, offers a video essay looking at The Mangler’s position within its directors filmography. Tafoya makes an interesting comparison between Hooper and Welles, suggesting both filmmakers’ careers were stifled by the popularity of an early film within their oeuvre – Welles’ Citizen Kane, of course, and Hooper’s Texas Chain Saw Massacre. Tafoya makes an equally interesting claim that Hooper’s cinema make overt reference to the films of Maya Deren, Michael Powell, and Max Ophuls: this is not completely unlikely, but on occasion Tafoya seems to force this point (eg, suggesting that the appearance of Gartley – shambling on double crutches and leg braces – alludes to Michael Powell’s The Queen’s Guards, when Englund has gone on the record to state that his performance was influenced by Everett Sloane’s in The Lady from Shanghai). Tafoya compares Hooper’s mangler to the merry-go-round in Max Ophuls’ La Ronde – as films about machines – though the idea of heavy industrial machines ‘eating’ the proletariat extends into Victorian fiction. Tafoya makes an interesting analogy between the flesh-devouring mangler and the ‘machine’ of cinema in which Hooper became enmeshed.

- ‘Honey… This Machine Just Called Me an Asshole’ (17:55). In this second video essay on the disc, writer Guy Adams reflects on Stephen King’s fascination with machines, situating The Mangler alongside the likes of Christine and Maximum Overdrive. Adams extends this to consider some of the other horror films which feature inanimate objects that come to life and threaten human characters – such as Nicholas Jacob’s The Refigerator (1991). Adams’ narration is witty, and in line with the fiction he writes.

- ‘Gartley’s Gambit’ (22:41). Robert Englund talks about his work on The Mangler. He suggests that the film is underrated amongst Stephen King adaptation, but its reputation seems to be on the ascent. Englund says that when he first read the script, he struggled to ‘see’ Gartley ‘in my mind’s eye’, and talks about how he was inspired by Everett Sloane’s character in The Lady from Shanghai, along with ‘a little of Harry Truman’ in terms of his delivery of lines. The leg braces, which were Englund’s idea, resulted in ‘bruises and stabs all up and down my legs’, but nevertheless gave the character a robotic, threatening way of moving – with the clatter they make enhanced on the soundtrack in postproduction. Englund also talks at length about the stippling and stretching involved in the makeup process for Gartley. Englund is always a delight to listen to, and this interview is no exception.

- ‘Behind the Scenes’ (12:43). This is a compilation of footage shot on video during the production of the film.

- Trailer (1:25).

- TV Spot (0:34).


Tobe Hooper’s The Mangler is riddled with the excesses of this era within its director’s career. These are excesses that alienate some viewers, and they include the EC comic book-like compositions, the outrageous performances (particularly that of Englund as Bill Gartley), the leaps of narrative logic, the in-your-face countercultural message of the piece (that the powerful sustain their privilege through the blood of those beneath them). There are some oddities and frustrating elements: for example, the prints made by the photographer in his darkroom are clearly 35mm blow-ups and not prints made from a large format negative; and Mark’s off-key misrepresentation of James Frazer’s discussion of the Hand of Glory, in The Golden Bough, fudges the issue. But then again, the film isn’t mean to be an accurate depiction of the work of a reportage photographer, or a didactic piece about alternative religions – despite Mark’s protestations that ‘“supernatural” is a really misleading term, man’, within the context of a suggestion that what is claimed to be ‘supernatural’ is simply that which has not yet been explained coherently.

What this writer admires the most about Hooper’s work is its ‘like it or lump it’ ethos: Hooper seems unafraid of alienating viewers. After encountering The Mangler via its UK VHS release, I strongly felt that the film was – like a number of Hooper’s other films of this era – hugely underappreciated. Thankfully, Arrow have remedied the neglect with which The Mangler has been met in the years since its original release, with a special edition Blu-ray release that is exemplary. The release features a pleasingly film-like presentation of the uncut, unrated cut of The Mangler, which is accompanied by some excellent and broad-ranging contextual material: in particular, three superb audio commentaries, with some overlap, but enough of a distinctive approach in their content to make each of them supremely listenable. For fans of Hooper’s work or 90s horror in general, Arrows release of The Mangler is strongly recommended.

Englund, Robert, 2009: Hollywood Monster: A Walk Down Elm Street with the Man of Your Dreams. Pocket Books

Please click on the screengrabs below to enlarge them.


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