John (Ted Levine) is a gruff but lovable detective investigating a death at the Blue Ribbon Laundry: a woman was sucked into a steam ironer and flattened. His brother-in-law Mark (Daniel Matmor) immediately suspects the machine is possessed by a demon, and he’s right. John and Mark discover that the owner, Gartley (Robert Englund), deliberately set about summoning the demon for his own evil purposes. He also has bad intentions for his niece Sherry (Vanessa Pike). John and Mark realize they have to perform an exorcism before the Mangler kills again.
“The Mangler” is not one of King’s best short stories, at least in terms of monsters; the premise is somewhat ludicrous. But the fact that he himself used to work at a place like the Blue Ribbon Laundry while he was getting started as a writer adds a bit of depth. The film expands on the theme of levels of power and class issues, showing Gartley as a tycoon corrupted by greed. The workers are pushed to their limits and only earning minimum wage, while their supervisors don’t care about their safety. Here, the machines are literally oiled with the blood of the workers. However, depth or not, the film is quite silly. For example the scene when the Mangler uproots itself and pursues John and Sherry, which begs the question: what’s so scary about being chased by a laundry press? And also, what’s so great about being the owner of a decrepit laundromat that makes it worth so much sacrifice?
Something I appreciate about the movie is that in the story when Mark asks Sherry if she is a virgin, she calmly replies she’s saving herself for marriage (though to be fair, Mark prefaces the question with a warning of its importance before posing it). Her reaction in the movie is much more satisfying to me; she screams, “Just get out! Get the hell out!” I like most of the changes from the story, but the addition of a crime scene photographer annoys me, since he adds absolutely nothing to the movie; he shows up, takes pictures, and asks John to play cards with him. Later he gives John the key to what Gartley is doing, but that whole scene comes across as laziness on the writers’ part to me—show, don’t tell!
The theme does get a bit heavy-handed, with Gartley shouting, “Work ‘em like there’s no tomorrow!” There’s a ton of one-liners, and it seems like every five minutes someone says, “Take a look at this,” but overall it’s good watchin’. Levine is at his most appealing, and Englund is properly malevolent.