[Stephen King Day] The Mangler (1995)

Director: Tobe Hooper

Cast: Robert Englund, Ted Levine, Daniel Matmor

Screenplay: Tobe Hooper, Stephen David Brooks, Harry Alan Towers

106 mins. Rated R for gory horror violence and language.

 

I always had a fondness for the adaptation of Stephen King’s The Mangler, a strange film about a possessed laundry-folding machine, so I took a chance to revisit the film this year in honor of Stephen King’s birthday. In hindsight, I wish I had kept this one buried in my memory.

The laundry press at Gartley’s Blue Ribbon Laundry service has been acting funky. First of all, a woman named Sherry, niece to owner Bill Gartley (Robert Englund, A Nightmare on Elm Street, Nightworld: Door of Hell), cuts her finger on a lever, and later that same day, the machine goes haywire and traps Mrs. Frawley, an older worker, in its safety shield, dragging her through the machine, crushing her body in the process. John Hunton (Ted Levine, The Silence of the Lambs, Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom) and his brother-in-law Mark (Daniel Matmor, Hit It, A Dark Truth) are on the case, investigating the accident, but what they discover is more horrifying than any normal work-related problem. The laundry press is possessed by a demon, and it’s out for more blood.

The Mangler is not a good movie, and at 106 minutes, it’s quite a slog of a movie. This was one difficult sit-through that I did not remember or expect. I recall more recently reading the short story from King, and the added mythology and plot in this adaptation don’t add much of merit to the film. In fact, having really liked King’s story, which, like so many, offered an EC comics or Twilight Zone-style to them, would have made a great movie in the right hands, but it seems now that Tobe Hooper (The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Poltergeist) was not the right person for this job. There’s so many strange changes made to the story that benefit neither the adaptation nor the overall feeling and tone of the movie.

Robert Englund is horribly miscast, appearing almost like a version of Freddy Krueger that had survived to old age. He brings a nose-twisting grossness and annoyance to Gartley, but then you have Levine, who struggles with some of the more cringe-worthy dialogue here (he starts swearing at a possessed ice box as one point in an absurdly laughable moment taking itself too seriously).

There are several times in the film that something interesting comes up, and it almost seems that Hooper is righting the ship, only for it to devolve into a wholly unlikable mess. I really liked the setting mostly being placed at the Blue Ribbon Laundry, and I think the setting is hyper-unclean in a way that I would have been able to believe. I really like the production design and the overall look of the laundry press. I even kind of the dug the finale, though it has aged very poorly, but even after all that, the film sort of limbers on past the point of my minor enjoyment.

The Mangler was advertised as the product of King, Hooper, and Englund, three horror geniuses, but I doubt anyone involved in this film would have been happy to have their name associated in such a way, especially King, who wrote a solid if somewhat absurd short story but had no hand in the film. This is one of those adaptations I would caution even King fans to shy away from. You have better things to be doing…like the laundry, for example.

 

1.5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

 

For my review of Tobe Hooper’s Eaten Alive, click here.

For my review of Tobe Hooper’s Salem’s Lot, click here.

For my review of Tobe Hooper’s Poltergeist, click here.

For my review of Tobe Hooper and John Carpenter’s Body Bags, click here.

[Stephen King Day] The Shining (1997)

Director: Mick Garris

Cast: Rebecca De Mornay, Steven Weber, Wil Horneff, Melvin Van Peebles, Courtland Mead

Screenplay: Stephen King

273 mins. Not Rated.

 

Yep, it’s Stephen King’s birthday again, and today we are going to talk about The Shining. No, that Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining. No, the other one. Yes, there was another one, this time directed by King regular Mick Garris (Critters 2, Bag of Bones).

Jack Torrance (Steven Weber, Batman vs Two-Face, TV’s Wings) has just been given the job of caretaker at The Overlook Hotel during its winter hiatus. He is planning on spending the winter the famous hotel, keeping it safe and secure until the snow melts. Joining him for the season is wife Wendy (Rebecca De Mornay, The Hand That Rocks the Cradle, I Am Wrath) and son Danny (Courtland Mead, Little Rascals, Recess: All Growed Down). When the snow starts in, Jack begins to unravel the mystery of The Overlook’s past, from murders to mafia ties, and as he does so, he begins to be tormented by his alcoholic past as he himself unravels. Son Danny begins to see horrors of his own due to a special gift that he shares with the head cook of The Overlook, Dick Halloran (Melvin Van Peebles, Sweet Sweetback’s Baadasssss Song, Peeples). Halloran tells Danny to ignore these visions, that none of them can hurt him, but Danny begins to learn that there are things at The Overlook very capable of hurting him and his family.

The Shining is by no means a perfect film. Some of the pacing is off, the visual effects are often laughably bad (even though the practical effects work well enough), and there’s a cheapness to the film that permeates the sets. De Mornay and Weber are quite good in their roles, but the young Courtland Mead just cannot do justice to the Danny Torrance character from the book. Van Peebles is also horribly miscast and just doesn’t fit the Dick Halloran character at all.

On the other side of that coin, The Shining is an incredible adaptation of Stephen King’s source novel. I hate to compare this to the other adaptation from Stanley Kubrick, but this film captures King’s novel, while Kubrick’s film is a terrible adaptation that makes for a terrific movie, and in that way, I like them both for what they offer, but being such a fan of King’s book, I find myself pulled more to this version of the story, purely for what it offers me. I’m definitely in the minority here, but I prefer the 1997 miniseries, even if I acknowledge it as a lesser film in many ways.

Overall, 1997 version of King’s tale is heavily flawed from a technical standpoint, but it is truer to the King novel. I love this version but I can understand why it has disappeared from the memory of many others due to its comparison to the 1980 film.

 

3.5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

 

For more Almighty Goatman,

[Stephen King Day] Salem’s Lot (1979)

Director: Tobe Hooper

Cast: David Soul, James Mason, Lance Kerwin, Bonnie Bedelia, Lew Ayres

Screenplay: Paul Monash

184 mins. Rated PG.

 

Today, we look at the second official adaptation of Stephen King’s work in Salem’s Lot, from director Tobe Hooper (The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Poltergeist). Salem’s Lot premiered in a 2-part miniseries back in the late 1970s, and I watched the complete cut of the film in order to best collect my thoughts. Let me be clear, this review is for the 184-minute cut of the film as opposed to the shortened European cut released to cinemas after its US release.

Salem’s Lot is the story of Ben Mears (David Soul, Filth, TV’s Starsky and Hutch), successful novelist, who returns to his hometown of Jerusalem’s Lot in Maine to write a book on the Marsten House, a creepy old house on the hilltop at the edge of town. Mears discovers that the house has already been rented out to Richard K. Straker (James Mason, North by Northwest, Lolita), a mysterious new resident who is planning on opening an antiques store in town with his absent partner, Kurt Barlow. After moving into a boarding house, Mears quickly becomes acquainted with the townspeople, especially the attractive Susan Norton (Bonnie Bedelia, Die Hard, TV’s Parenthood). Mears also strikes up a friendship with a former teacher, Jason Burke (Lew Ayres, All Quiet on the Western Front, Battle for the Planet of the Apes). But all is not well in Salem’s Lot. People start going missing while others come down with a mysterious illness. Mears and company suspect the true cause is something far more horrific when victims appear with two puncture wounds on their necks and the truth behind the small town makes itself known.

Now, I thoroughly enjoyed the original Stephen King novel on which this movie is based, and while I enjoyed the adaptation, you can easily tell the budget is not where it should be. This being fairly early in Tobe Hooper’s career, it is pretty obvious that he doesn’t have the tools in place to make this film what it needs to be. I liked David Soul’s portrayal of Ben Mears, and the chemistry with Bonnie Bedelia’s Susan Norton works well enough. I even enjoyed James Mason’s take on Straker. Fred Willard even appears in a small role as the slimy real estate agent who resides in Salem’s Lot.

The losses in the film comes from the tone and the excitement. Hooper seems to be checking off important scenes that build narrative but the actual fear and horror are so few and far between that the film just doesn’t have that…uh, bite.

There’s also a decision in the design of our main vampire (okay, he’s on the cover, deal with it) as a Nosferatu-type misses the mark of the character and becomes fairly flat and without villainy. He’s creepy to be true, but it seeks to remind viewers that this has been done before, and better.

Salem’s Lot appears to appeal to fans of the source novel in more ways that a general audience, but it is missing that classic Stephen King feeling in favor of exposition overload. It’s just missing that fear and horror, so much so that the PG rating becomes a slap in the face. This is one I would only recommend to fans of the novel. All others need not apply.

 

2.5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

 

For my review of Tobe Hooper’s Poltergeist, click here.

 

 

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[Stephen King Day] Carrie (1976)

carrie1976a
Director: Brian DePalma
Cast: Sissy Spacek, Piper Laurie, Amy Irving, John Travolta
Screenplay: Lawrence D. Cohen
98 mins. Rated R.

  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Actress in a Leading Role [Sissy Spacek]
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Actress in a Supporting Role [Piper Laurie]

 

Because today is Stephen King’s Birthday today, I thought we would pick at King’s film adaptations today in an attempt to find the ones worthy of his stamp.

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Upon finishing the unpublished manuscript that would become Carrie, Stephen King promptly threw it away. It was his wife who pulled it from the wastebasket, read it, and pushed him to finish it, and its a good thing she did. Stephen King may not have had the type of following he has today without the breakout novel Carrie, and director Brian DePalma (Scarface, Passion), who put the book to film along with screenwriter Lawrence D. Cohen (It, The Tommyknockers), can also thank the book for pushing his career even further. So how does it stack up 40 years later?

Carrie White (Sissy Spacek, TV’s Bloodline, The Straight Story) is just about the most unpopular girl in high school, due in no small part to her awkwardness and her mother’s religious fanatascism. When Carrie gets her first period, the other girls mock and torture her, reducing her to a shaken puddle of fear. Sue Snell (Amy Irving, Hide and Seek, Tuck Everlasting) wants to make it up to Carrie and give her the prom she never would have gotten. Chris Hargensen, however, has other plans in mind for Carrie White, but nobody expects what will happen next.

I’m going to reiterate what the Academy believed: Sissy Spacek and Piper Laurie (The Hustler, Hesher) deserved recognition for their work here. Firstly, Spacek’s in-depth portrayal of Carrie White, a girl suffering from the tyranny of her mother’s delusions, a girl perhaps not as pretty as the other girls in school, is incredible. Spacek went full method actress in the role, and memorized passages of the Bible while keeping her distance from the other actresses. She took the opportunity to do all her own stunts as often as possible (the few stunts there were). Laurie, too, initally believed the film to be a dark comedy and, upon learning otherwise, kept the same over-the-top approach to Margaret White, dealing an unbelievably complex and troubled woman protecting her daughter from the sins of the world.

Brian DePalma’s tone for the film rides of the line of teen drama and suspense while exuding horrific moments of shock that ratchet the tension up with each passing display of Carrie’s unique power. His decision to play with multiple angles for the film’s climactic sequences was brilliant, displaying an unnerving eruption of death and destruction. The screenplay from Cohen assists in always keeping the audience guessing, though it does spend a lot more time than it needs to in Act 2 building the story.

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It is due to the fact that everyone involved was at the top of their game that make this horror film what it is: an undeniable masterpiece of terror. With King at the source, DePalma behind the camera, and the amazing cast in front that elevates Carrie above the average genre piece.

4.5/5
-Kyle A. Goethe

 

For my review of Brian DePalma’s Mission: Impossible, click here.

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