Who knew you could squeeze so much out of so little? Take the Stephen King short story “The Mangler”, about a possessed laundry presser with a taste for human blood. As with most of King’s short stories, “The Mangler” was made into a big-budget feature length film in 1995 with genre vet Tobe Hooper directing. Although a critical failure, the film proved profitable (one supposes) enough to warrant a direct-to-video sequel in 2001. Unfortunately “The Mangler 2”, about a computer virus gone amok, had nothing to do with the original, and was thusly derided by those who saw it. 2005 brings us “The Mangler Reborn”, a noticeably low-budget (it practically screams, “We have no money!” from frame one) attempt to jumpstart the flailing franchise for reasons only the filmmakers could possibly fathom.
“The Mangler Reborn” follows the “Highlander” rule by tossing out the first sequel and continuing on as if it’s the first sequel to the 1995 original. After its infamous killing spree, the killer laundry machine is purchased at auction by repairman Hadley (Weston Blakesley), who quickly becomes possessed and kills his wife. Some time later, Hadley is now abducting young women for the Mangler to chew on. One such victim is Jaime (Aimee Brooks), who is taken back to Hadley’s house, where the Mangler “lives”. But while Hadley was away, father and son thieves Rick (Reggie Bannister) and Mike (Scott Spieser) are doing some breaking and entering, and it just so happens that their latest target is Hadley’s house of horrors. Shoulda stuck with killer orbs in the “Phantasm” movies, Reggie!
“The Mangler Reborn” is, simply put, quite bad. Until its final 20 minutes, when co-writers/directors Matt Cunningham and Erik Gardner cranks out the gore and buckets of blood, the film is a terrible chore to sit through. The pacing is tedious, the acting amateurish, and the location simply stunning in its dank awfulness. The film is essentially set in one location (with minor ventures beyond), a two-story house that gives movie set designing a bad name. Made for a ridiculously low budget, especially considering the film’s predecessors, one wonders how much the franchise name was sold for in the first place. Could it have been more than a buck and change?
As with most low-budget films, “Mangler Reborn” suffers horribly from poor pacing, where scenes are allowed to sit and wallow without noticeable progression. Hadley’s attack on Jaime at her house takes forever, including a suspense-free sequence where Jaime hides under the bed because apparently opening the bedroom window and jumping out while Hadley is still in the kitchen, and would take about 1 minute to walk to the bedroom and kick it in, was too much trouble for her. Later, Rick spends 5 minutes sitting in his car chatting it up with his unshaven son before walking around the outside of Hadley’s house, then finally going in, only to walk around for another 5 minutes doing nothing. It’s sequences like these that makes “The Mangler Reborn’s” 80 minutes seem like an eternity inside the Mangler.
Without putting too fine a point on it, the script borders on incompetence, especially in the early goings. I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that Cunningham and Gardner filmed a treatment and not a full script. Hadley’s method of kidnapping women for the Mangler is laughable — he essentially sneaks up on them, beats them over the head with a mallet, wraps their bleeding bodies in a white sheet, then carries the blood-stained sheets from his van (parked in the driveway of his house!) into his house of horrors, where he locks them up in rooms until he’s ready to let the Mangler eat them. And of course Rick’s situation isn’t helped by the fact that he’s easily the world’s worst thief, and (literally) can’t pick a lock to save his life.
The original was a fine example of why Stephen King short stories shouldn’t be made into movies by anyone whose name isn’t Frank Darabont. “The Mangler Reborn” is a terrible sequel with a few redeeming values, one of which is the bloody Third Act, where Cunningham and Gardner seem to show some actual talent. The Mangler’s “feeding times” are shot with obvious enthusiasm, and the machine’s killing instruments are surprisingly fearsome. Unfortunately, getting to that final 20 minutes where the film earns its bones will be a major battle for most viewers. Simply put, this is a 20-minute movie (the final 20 minutes) stretched out into 80 minutes.
For fine entertainment, I recommend visiting “The Mangler Reborn’s” IMDB.com listing (here), where a number of visitors offer up some belly laughs as they dissect what makes “The Mangler Reborn” rubbish. It really is the voice of the masses; and in this case, it’s also a million miles more entertaining than what Matt Cunningham and Erik Gardner have wrought upon the horror scene.
Matt Cunningham, Erik Gardner (director) / Matt Cunningham, Erik Gardner (screenplay), Stephen King (characters)
CAST: Aimee Brooks …. Jaime
Reggie Bannister …. Rick
Weston Blakesley …. Hadley
Scott Speiser …. Mike
Juliana Dever …. Louise Watson
Renee Dorian …. Gwen