One day Stephen King had an idea. He would write about a killer laundry press. Well, let’s face it, King is such a prolific author that it was inevitable he’d be writing about such things at some point.
This story was made into a film, The Mangler. It was directed by Tobe Hooper. To put it mildly, it is not remembered as fondly as The Texas Chainsaw Massacre is.
The Mangler 2 has absolutely nothing whatsoever to do with laundry presses, Stephen King or Tobe Hooper. Or graduation days, for that matter. This ‘sequel’ only has that name because it wants to coast along on the popularity of the first film… and I thought that sort of marketing had died out with the Italians in the 1980’s. Of course, you just know that the twits who thought that was a good idea would provide a film to match, and they do not disappoint. The Mangler 2 is dreadful, but I actually ended up wishing it had been made by Claudio Fragasso. It would have been just as bad – maybe even worse – but it would have been more fun. The actual culprit to blame is Michael Hamilton Wright, the director/screenwriter. If Mr Hamilton Wright has a signature theme, it appears to be that things happen in his films just because he wants them to, internal logic be damned. The script was probably written some five minutes before he arrived on set.
Jo Newton is a pupil at the Canadian boarding school Royal Collegiate College, a school obviously designed for those with little imagination. Jo is the daughter of a computer industry billionaire, and she has issues with Daddy. At the start of the film we watch her infiltrate her father’s office complex to put a virus into the computer system. Since we have no idea what crimes Daddy is supposed to have committed, we first see her as a whiny, spoilt brat. Her punishment is to… er, it’s to go back to school. As punishments go, Daddy comes off as insanely laidback rather than a familial tyrant.
Back at school, spring break has just ended and the pupils –some of whom are played by actors who are obviously too old to be convincing teenagers – have just come back. Things have changed a little. The school is now fitted with the N2K, Daddy Newton’s gift to his alma mater for a test run before the software goes to the military. The N2K is a computer system that controls absolutely everything – fridges, washing machines, doors, fire sprinklers, security cameras and so on.
On-site IT support? What on-site IT support? The pupils are back for the first time, the system still has a couple of issues, and we see no technicians at any stage at all in the school. Wait, it gets better…
Because of the computer work that still needs to be carried out, the pupils are all immediately carted off on a geography field trip. The five school prefects are kept behind, in order to find out who hacked into the school website to make crude jokes about the headmaster, Mr Bradeen. How will they find the culprit when every other pupil has left school for the field trip? Good question. When one prefect brings it up, Bradeen’s answer is ‘You’re the prefects. You figure it out.’ Thanks for the support, sir!
(Bradeen is played by Lance Henriksen, and he looks mightily pissed off whenever he’s on screen. This is actually in character, but I’d like to think it’s the actor’s entirely justified reaction to being in the film. You can almost hear Henriksen thinking ‘I’ve worked with James Cameron and Wes Craven. What the hell am I doing here?’)
Four of the prefects have dinner in the otherwise deserted canteen, and all of them are drinking PEPSI. The camera keeps their prominent cans of PEPSI in shot whenever possible, and I believe that as a consequence there is a now unemployed Product Placement Manager who weeps into his Kleenex whenever the issue is raised.
I suppose I’d better introduce the group, better known as the cannon fodder. They are, alas, all annoying dimwits – we are told that RCC is the best school in the country, and I now fear for the Canadian education system. Emily is the not-enough-clothes one, Will is the black one, Corey is the most annoying one, and Dan is the ‘sensitive’ one. Dan is played by Will Sanderson, who went on to appear in several Uwe Boll films including House of the Dead. It’s official: Sanderson’s agent is, without a doubt, the worst in the business.
The final prefect is Jo. I’m sure we can all agree that given her history of law-breaking and pointless rebellion, she’d be perfect as a prefect in the best school in the country. She comes along, still whiny as ever, and the students all snipe at each other for no reason. Meanwhile the audience starts wondering when the hell they’re going to die. Less than thirty minutes into a ninety minute film and we just want everyone dead.
Jo storms off to sulk in her room and decides to download a virus onto the school’s computer system. This virus is the Mangler virus, which means that Jo will be directly responsible for the deaths of eight people. If you think she’ll ever get blamed for this, or have to face up to her guilt, I can only say that you haven’t seen enough of these kinds of films.
I sort of envy you.
The N2K, which as I’ve said is being beta-tested for military use, has no anti-virus protection whatsoever. The school mechanic is the first to find this out when the Mangler virus kills him by – by –
You know and I know what’s meant to happen when a supercomputer goes nuts. In 2001 HAL remote controls a piece of machinery to kill one of the astronauts. When the scenario arose in The X Files people were electrocuted and killed in a lift controlled by the computer. The point is the computer wasn’t actually doing anything strange. HAL could control the machinery whether it was insane or not. The X Files computer already controlled the lift; it just decided to use it as a convenient way of killing someone.
In contrast, the Mangler virus makes a bunch of immobile cables wrap together before making them levitate and kill the mechanic with a pair of gardening shears. It’s novel, it’s surprising, and it’s also very boring. Any old serial killer can use gardening shears – what’s the point of introducing a mad supercomputer if it’s not going to do anything any differently?
By the way, gorehounds should note that you’re not going to find much in the way of grue here. (Check out Nelson Goodman instead, and bonus points to you if you get that joke…)
The students are at the swimming pool. Some of them are smoking drugs directly in front of the security cameras. Jo comes back and announces what she’s done, saying that it won’t be traced back to her. However, since she downloaded the virus when ONLY FIVE FLIPPING STUDENTS WERE IN THE SCHOOL it makes the pool of suspects a bit small. The Fatuous Five decide the only course of action is to break into Bradeen’s office and hack into his computer, making it look like someone had sent him an infected email.
Of course, their every move will be recorded by the security cameras, and I can’t see Bradeen being happy when he watches the footage, but if we worried about intelligence we’d be here all night, so let’s move on.
A wheelchair-bound teacher is killed with an axe, but he watches porn so it’s okay. Horror movie morality and all that. For the same reason the school secretary dies, because she’s an alcoholic. (She gets scalped when her hair is caught in an electronic mangle. I kid you not.) Bradeen, being a petty despot, obviously doesn’t make the end credits either. As for the cook, he’s locked in a deep freezer that for some reason requires swipe card access, but as he’s the comic relief he can’t die.
There are no other adults in the school, so that leaves our gormless group of teenagers in the firing line. Will, being black, is the first of them to die. (The film appears to believe that it’s being progressive because strictly speaking Will is not the first victim. However since he’s the first main character to die this is less than convincing. Night of the Living Dead this ain’t.) He’s killed when he’s trapped in a room when the fire sprinkler goes off, spraying scalding hot water onto him. I don’t know why he doesn’t crawl under the desk nearby, but hey, you have to get a body count somehow. I also don’t know why the sprinkler system’s wired up to the school’s boiler.
Corey dies when he crawls under the retractable audience seating in the basketball court. Guess what happens. He does this for no sensible reason, but hey, you have to get a body count somehow.
Emily dies when she is strangled with a computer cable. It’s exceedingly lame, but hey, you have to get a body count somehow.
Dan is the Love Interest, but alas for his life span, he becomes redundant when Jo’s ‘wise-but-hunky’ bodyguard comes calling. This renders Dan expendable, and he dies less than five minutes after the bodyguard turns up. His death involves the school’s electrified fence, which Mr Bradeen earlier informed us is capable of knocking out a three hundred pound gorilla. You don’t even need to touch it to get a shock, you only have to get close.
No, I’ve no idea why a school would have such a fence. Anyway, Dan ends up dying because whilst Jo is yelling at him to get away from the fence, he stands there for no reason until he gets fried. Hey, you have to get a body count somehow.
The climax is between HAL’s idiot brother and Whiny Girl. It generates less tension and thrills than a milk float race. It also features the sentient virus quoting lyrics from a Spice Girls song. Afterwards we have an improbable reconciliation between Whiny Girl and Daddy, and a kicker ending that we really don’t care about.
The Mangler 2 is either one of the most lazy or the most carefully constructed films of 2001. I suppose that if you worked really hard you could come up with a script calculated to appeal to absolutely nobody. The gorehounds will be bored, it’s over an hour before any of the main characters die, the characters aren’t actually characters, the script is devoid of logic, the school is the worst-run in cinematic history, nothing about the N2K computer makes sense and the film is pretty tedious to sit through. If it was carefully constructed, I don’t see how Michael Hamilton Wright could have done better.
But who am I kidding? Hamilton Wright just didn’t care. Which means that neither does the audience.