Adapting a beloved text into a film or television series is a daunting task. In addition to pleasing die-hard fans, producers must also take into consideration those who have never encountered the property before. Some adaptations are good, some are better than the source material, and some are so god-awful that fans try to forget they ever existed. (Looking at you there, Tank Girl.) Let’s take a look at what works, what doesn’t, and just how one adaptation made it from page to screen. (Previously: The Lawnmower Man)
The Source Material
Stephen King’s The Mangler is ridiculous. The original short story was first published in 1972 and has since been included in author’s collection of macabre horror stories Night Shift. In The Mangler, a detective is dispatched to an industrial laundry facility when an employee gets killed in a horrible accident. Officer Hunton is a character who has seen it all until signs begin pointing to supernatural occurrences that may hold the key to what’s going on with this deadly ironing and folding machine.
The story that King came up with here must have come from an idea that generated from the question, “What would happen if the dry-cleaning and pressing machines killed someone.” This is a tale of a demon possessed, factory-grade laundromat. The idea alone is absurd, but what King did here was he took an easily accessible hook and mixed in occult themes and buckets of blood and gore. The characters in this tale get killed in very disturbing ways, and the film realizes that to a great extent.
The film version of The Mangler is terrible and amazing. Not many films really hold up as being genuinely awful and insanely watchable, but Tobe Hooper’s attempt at realizing Stephen King’s strange and bizarre story is a hyper-violent, dark comedy cult classic. Ted Levine plays Officer John Hutton as a worn out cop who is quick to lose his temper and lash out. He is a troubled and thinly worn character, and Levine brings the role to life through intense emoting and hilariously crass dialogue.
New Line Cinema released the film in 1995 to a weak reception and critics panned The Mangler for its poor performances, weak narrative and poorly realized special effects. The worst part about this movie is the rough visual effects that made the final moments of the film laughable, but aside from a few weak moments of CGI, this King film is one of the best of the worst in the catalog. The horror is taken seriously, but thanks to the lead performances, The Mangler is just as fun as any Troll 2.
Robert Englund is absolutely one of the reasons why The Mangler is a must see. His performance as the owner of Gartley’s Blur Ribbon Laundry is manic and insane. He takes a character that would seem almost stale on paper and turns out a fascinating and creepy portrayal of a man who has lost his mind, body and soul. Bill Gartley is in league with the devil and has signed a contract to ensure his success. He’s a mixture of Darth Vader meets Frankenstein, and may be Englund’s most twisted role.
Gartley’s facility washes, steams and presses laundry at a frantic rate and is run like a women’s prison sweat shop. When an elderly worker gets sucked into the folding machine, Officer Hutton gets involved and his brother-in-law helps him uncover the mystery of why people are dying. There are a handful of plot points in the film that do not appear in the book that flesh out the characters. Gartley is more important in the film, Hutton’s brother was originally just a friend and college professor and the bit about a demon possessed refrigerator has a way bigger ending in the movie.
The Mangler originally ended with an exorcism gone wrong followed by an escape and a cliffhanger. Hunton sees his friend die when the machine becomes animated like some kind of dinosaur as described by King in the story. He is chased down and we never know what happens. The film ends similarly, but when the character Mark dies after the failed exorcism, a chase ensues that sees Hunton and love interest Sherry barely escape with their lives.
The death scenes in The Mangler are graphic and gory, and the scene when Robert Englund’s Gartley gets folded up by the machine is excessive and shocking. As a film, this adaptation suffers from a somewhat weak screenplay and poor supporting performances, but the movie as a whole is highly entertaining for fans of amazingly bad horror movies that are fun to watch with friends. You won’t find a better Stephen King story about a killer laundry machine, guaranteed.