ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED IN THE GEORGIA STRAIGHT, APRIL 6, 1995
By Steve Newton
The fear of being mangled by machinery is a powerful one, indeed. Of course, not everyone suffers the daily risk of being sucked into a threshing machine, but the potential for physical harm is always there. Say the electric lawn mower gets clogged with a clump of grass and you pluck it away without actually unplugging the cord: if the mower’s on/off switch happens to slip at that exact moment, you can cancel those guitar lessons.
Then there’s that trusty old standby, the car crash. Even if you’ve managed to avoid accidents all your life, one shrill squeal of brakes can be enough to send creepy shudders racing up your back.
Stephen King knows how machines scare people, as he first proved back in 1973 with the short story “Trucks”. A precursor to the automotive carnage of his famous novel Christine, the 16-page “Trucks” was a sharp little switchblade of a story about a group of people trapped in a truck stop by a horde of large, driverless, malevolent vehicles.
Unfortunately for King, he made his disastrous directorial debut with a feature film based on that tidy tale, and Maximum Overdrive has been widely acknowledged as the worst King-derived entry ever. Now it’s getting some competition with The Mangler, another shockingly awful adaptation from King’s Night Shift collection.
Directed by Tobe Hooper—who made The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and Poltergeist and oughta know better—this 90-minute embarrassment concerns the gory exploits of a monstrous speed ironer/folder used at a run-down small-town laundry lorded over by crippled/demented/just-plain-nasty owner William Gartley (Freddy Krueger actor Robert Englund). When 16-year-old worker Sherry Oulette (30ish-looking Vanessa Pike) cuts her hand and drips virgin blood on the machine, it quickly acquires a taste for the red stuff and starts turning the cast into Beef-o-ghetti.
Brain-dead local cop John Hunton—Ted Levine, who was effective as the transsexual serial killer in The Silence of the Lambs but here comes off as a poor man’s James Remar—teams up with his psychic brother-in-law (the bland Daniel Matmor) to “exorcise” the demonic equipment, leading to one of the silliest, most laughable climaxes in horror history.
I’ve been more frightened by the prospect of folding my own laundry than by anything The Mangler offers up.