Rikers Valley, “the industrial heart of Maine,” and at the heart of the town is Gartley’s Blue Ribbon Laundry, providing employment and clean linen to the surrounding neighbourhoods and businesses; at the centre of that long-established operation is the mangler, a cast iron Hadley-Watson monstrosity which cranks and clanks and churns out pressed white sheets and steam, swallowing anything which passes into it, laundry and limbs alike.
An accident occurs, not the first, elderly Mrs Frawley having spilled her antacid pills on the intake and trying to retrieve them without stopping the feed belt of the mangler and so incurring the wrath of ill-tempered foreman George Stanner. Officer John Hunton is called to attend as the crushed remains of her body is removed and blood mopped up, but with a single sentence Judge Bishop closes the inquest before any witness is even questioned, the Gartley legacy always protected.
All the dirty laundry of Rikers Valley having passed through his gates for decades, William Gartley (A Nightmare on Elm Street‘s Robert Englund, unmistakable behind the heavy prosthetics used to age him for the role of “Uncle Bill”) has as much of a hold on the wealthy landowners of the town as his employees, a thorn in the side of widower John Hunton (Dig Two Graves’ Ted Levine) who is determined to uncover the truth of the town and the machine, running out of patience with a town where the law is bought and paid for.
Based on Stephen King’s short story of the same name first published in 1972 and later collected in his 1978 anthology Night Shift, The Mangler was directed by Tobe Hooper, no stranger to King having adapted ‘Salem’s Lot for television in 1979, an increasingly over-the-top tale of exploitation and the sacrifice of the cowed working classes to serve the wealthy first released in 1995 and now presented in a 2K restoration on Blu-ray by Arrow Films.
Perhaps trying too hard in the early sweatshop scenes and the angsty performances trying to compensate for underwritten parts, the film is technically impressive in both the bloody excess of the kills and the titular mechanism, menacing and monstrous, less so in Englund’s facial appliances which are done no favours by the high definition presentation – as with Guy Pearce in Prometheus, why not simply cast a performer of the appropriate age? – and becomes gleefully outrageous as it judders past mere health and safety violations to the subterranean layers of industrial hell.
With the standard wealth of features associated with Arrow, in addition to the three commentaries Guy Adams explores the mechanical demons of King from Christine to Cell and beyond, Scout Tafoya considers the career of Hooper, and the always entertaining and personable Englund is interviewed offering recollections of the South African shoot and makeup process (“It took longer than Freddy!”) and fond memories of his friend Tobe Hooper.