July 3, 2013

Castle Rock Cash-In presents... The Mangler 2

This is a tie-in to Angelle Tusa's Castle Rock Companion series, which explores the cinematic adaptations of the works of Stephen King. Her review of The Mangler can be found here.

The Royal Collegiate College is a top-of-the-line institution that caters to the pampered youth and bountiful wallets of high society. Due to the wealth of their parents, and the often rebellious and entitled attitude of the kids, the gruff, no-nonsense Headmaster Bradeen (Lance Henriksen) has installed a military-grade surveillance system with an A.I. that not only keeps the largely automated facility running smooth, but monitors all students and teachers to keep their activity appropriate and in line.

When someone hacks the front page of the school website to show Bradeen making out with a dog, he holds back the five house prefects from a field trip (which accounts for the remainder of the student body's absence from the film), and further tells them they'll be prevented from attending graduation ceremonies until they weed out who among them was responsible for the desecration.

Somehow, the prefects consist of: Studly McRichjock Dan Channa (Will Sanderson, who'd later become one of Uwe Boll's go-to actors); Emily Stone (Daniella Evangelista), the hottest girl in the school who constantly violates dress codes to emphasize how hot she is; the token pair of stoners, plucky white guy Corey (Miles Meadows) and token black guy Will (Dexter Bell); and our lead, Jo Newton (Chelse Swain), the rebellious goth hacker currently under lock and key because she tried to crash the network of her father's corporation just to get him to pay attention to her. Dan has a thing for Jo, everyone has a thing for Emily, Emily is developing a thing for Corey, and Will can consistently be relied upon for his skills at cockblocking the lot of them.

Jo doesn't take too kindly to Bradeen's punishment, nor the rest of the prefects thinking she was the one who defaced the front page (it was Corey), so she goes to one of her hacker websites where she finds the Mangler Virus, which she uploads into the school's computer system. The Mangler (who often proudly stamps "You've Been Mangled" on monitors) is of course a sentient force bent on destruction, so it's not only after our group of prefects, but what little of the hapless staff is left on campus.

This movie blows. It's the one and only feature directed by Michael Hamilton-Wright, and I can see why. There's poor editing choices, and everything is shot in a very flat and basic style. It's not clumsy, but nor is it particularly skilled. The kills in the movie are especially awful as, aside from a guy being boiled by sprinkler water (his makeup hidden by steam), a woman getting her head pulled through a laundry roller (nice callback to the first, though the makeup is hidden off screen), or a dude on an electric fence (we actually see makeup, but it's pretty bad), most of the attacks from this automated computer system are literally a stiff pole of cables reaching in from off screen like a broomstick wrapped in wires, and grabbing an axe or some pruning sheers or somebody's neck and killing them like a typical slasher. It's so blatantly bad as to almost be infuriating at how lazy it is.

I mean, we have a modestly decent bit of a guy in a wheelchair (the gym coach who has a porn addiction) who gets to the handicapped lift at the head of a staircase. It throws him down the stairs. He lands painfully, but is still alive. Then his chair rolls down after him. Realistically, it's not that heavy an object and he just catches it and sets it aside. This is fine. He's a guy paralyzed from the waist down, his foot is wedged in bars lining the stairs, so you'd think the way to logically finish this scene would be to start the lift and have it come down into him, right? No, the cabled up broomstick comes into frame, wraps around a fire axe, and hacks into him off screen.

Hamilton-Wright also wrote the screenplay, and aside from a few thrillers early in his career, he's mostly gone on to write comedies - his two most recent being The Dogfather, about two goons trying to retrieve a Mafia don's prized ring which has been swallowed by a bulldog, and And Now a Word From Our Sponsor, where an ad exec can suddenly only speak in ad slogans. Since he has absolutely zero skill at horror, he tries to cheek up the dialogue a lot, but most of it has the quality of this nugget:

"Well, at least Bradeen scored us dinner, right?"

"Last real food until Chef Lick-Me takes over our intestines."

"I swear I saw an eyeball in one of his soups once."

"Did you know that if you swallow somebody's eyeball, you see everything they've seen in their entire life?"

"... Lookin' forward to some Hugh Hefner eyeball soup!"

"Oh, brother."

"Where do you come up with this stuff, Will?"

"Ever read the fine print on car leases?"

Everyone just stares. Will smiles and nods.

The cast isn't awful, but neither are they worthy of praise. Most of our lead players fall into the bland likeability we usually get in slashers, but they're still stuck with groaner material. The least watchable of the lead group is, of course, the one most prominently featured, as Chelse Swain takes the annoyingly prickly character of Jo and nails it by consistently making her annoying and prickly. For some reason, the director fell in love with Phillipe Bergeron, who plays the school's bitter French chef Lecours, because he not only survives his initial encounter with the computer, but continues on and actually survives the entire film as the comic relief. Bergeron's not a bad actor, but he can't save this grating material, so he's become yet another anchor weighing us down as we trudge through this muck.

And as for Lance... Lance is one of those actors who can nail a role when he brings his A-game (which I've seen him do for worse shit than this) and is as dead and flat as a petrified trilobite when he doesn't. Well, I hope you like paleontology, because the latter is what we get here, as he's so bad that there's points where he visibly forgets his line and checks a cue card, and then I'm guessing refused a second take so he could get out of there quicker.

And then he pops up again in the end as Mangler Bradeen, where the computer has shoved wires in his head and he's swinging around on a harness. This is where it's so bad that it's actually a bit entertaining, as Lance stops giving a further shit and just camps it to high heaven to keep himself amused. There's a further twist where the Mangler then wants to have sex with Jo so she can spread Mangler babies around the world, and this not only doesn't make sense (unless you've seen Demon Seed) but comes so far out of left field as to actually make the film somewhat interesting. Alas, it's too little too late, and she uses the program she mumbled out of trite chaos theory dialogue, lots of things go up in sparks, the day is saved, but the Mangler gets one last laugh as it texts her PDA. Oh noes!

This movie is a complete waste of everyone's time. The cast is likeable enough that I feel bad they wasted a few weeks of their careers. The director wasted time with a debut that didn't pan out into future helming work. As a writer, I'm sure The Dogfather was a much worthier effort for him. And the one shining star of the film, the catchy trance score by DJ Ferocious Le Fonque (backed by some good pop rock songs by a band named sunlikestar), is far better than this film deserved, and has an energy and a flow that the film completely fails in its attempts to make use of. Sadly, there was no soundtrack CD, as I'd actually like to own a copy.

I should also point out that most DVD releases of the film have a coding error that skips over a few minutes of footage about an hour and 10 minutes in. We go from one scene, then jar into the next as we skip over the death of Corey (apparently eaten by automated bleachers in the gym), as well as the start of Emily's tearful mourning for him where she also reveals she's been repeatedly molested and raped by Bradeen (which doesn't play AT ALL into anything else in the movie). As the DVD is out of print with no new editions likely anytime soon, the only way to see the film without losing this footage is through the VHS or its occasional appearance on Fearnet On Demand.

But, really, it's not worth this effort. This is a crap film that has jack all to do with the first Mangler movie, nor anything else Stephen King wrote, and on its own is just a tired slasher and a very lazy exploration of its central premise. Skip it.

Oh, wait, why does the sign say Royal Collegiate College when this is clearly supposed to be a high school, and the characters are regularly referred to as teenagers and... you know what, fuck it. It's not worth it.

Go screw yourself with a broomstick wrapped in cables, Mangler 2.

Castle Rock series index.


Angie Tusa said...

"I don't want to use the setting of a laundromat again, that would be too boring. What can I do to make it better? Possessed machines.. ah, it's a computer virus, of course!"

Such wonderful thought and effort put into making this sequel.

You had told me it was pretty insane, and you weren't kidding. If those kids are the prefects, can you imagine just how delinquent the rest of the school kids must be? They should have just made the setting a correctional facility. Yeesh.

NoelCT said...

I'd have to listen to the commentary to confirm (I really don't wanna), but the use of "Mangler" is so peripheral that I wouldn't be surprised if this was an unrelated script that was lightly retooled into being a sequel.

Setting it at a correctional facility would have actually made a hell of a lot more sense.

And yes, here's proof that, occasionally, I don't like the films other people don't like, too. :)

Bryant Burnette said...

Oh, you should listen to the commentary, definitely. One of its participants is Philippe Bergeron, who has just TONS of interesting and insightful things to say.

No, not really. I mean, yes, he IS on it; but mostly, he's just as annoying on the commentary as he is in the movie, which is saying something.

Awful movie. Poor, poor Lance Henriksen.