FEBRUARY 28, 2008
3rd time’s the charm, I guess. Well, sort of.
While hardly a good movie, Mangler Reborn managed to do something that neither of the previous films in the series ever could: be professionally made, and even watchable. Thankfully ignoring the nonsensical storyline of the 2nd film, this one quickly acknowledges the existence of the first (and never mentions it again) and tells its own story. Luckily, the influences for this film seem to be Little Shop Of Horrors and maybe People Under The Stairs, and not the other Mangler movies.
Yes, like Stairs, this film takes place almost entirely in a single house in Los Angeles. Some folks (a father and son burglar team!) break in but can’t get out, find a girl trapped in there with them, and bad shit goes down. The bad shit is where the Little Shop allusion comes from – the villain of the film isn’t so much the machine, but a guy who is possessed by it (sure, why not) and feeds random folks to it. It also apparently gives him the power of invincibility, which is never quite explained (it results in a truly stupid and strangely inert epilogue), but again, why not? I’d rather watch any one plot element in this film than see the damn thing run down the street, or string poor Lance Henriksen up by cables and make him recite rap lyrics.
Unfortunately, the film’s low budget ultimately cripples the pace, as the lack of locations (and the fact that it’s not exactly a sprawling mansion) results in a movie that has a lot of padding; they could have easily cut about ten minutes out of the running time. Writer/directors Matt Cunningham and Eric Gardner will tell you they are building suspense, and to their credit, some of the film DOES have a bit of tension (particularly a scene when our would be heroine re-enacts the laundry chute scene from Halloween 5), but for every good suspense sequence, there’s yet another scene of someone walking as slowly as they possibly can around the hallways and bedrooms that the previous character(s) already walked through. It’s like watching one of those real estate walkthrough videos, only in 2.35:1 scope and occasional gore.
Speaking of the ratio – how sad is this? Since literally EVERY movie I have watched this week has been either full frame or non-anamorphic (a trend that will continue with tomorrow’s movie), when I first began watching this film I thought for sure that the 2.35 image I was seeing was incorrect, and used the “zoom” function on my TV to “fix” it, displaying a 1.78:1 image to fit my HDTV. But during the credits I noticed that the sides were being cut off, so I checked, and sure enough – it was a legitimate scope image! Granted, this sort of thing goes unnoticed by many, but trust me – there are so few horror movies (particularly DTV ones) that are shot with a wide lens, it’s like an instant stamp of “The filmmakers actually gave a shit”, so kudos.
Listening to the commentary track certainly confirmed this. While they seem to think the film works as a whole better than it actually does, it’s easy to see (hear?) that they were hardly just phoning in their work here, and despite the fact that they were making a 3rd film in a series absolutely no one liked, they put far more effort into making the film than anyone expected (certainly surprised me, I was expecting “worst of the week” levels here, and sadly it’s probably the week’s best*.), so I laud them for that. I also like that they put Jeff Burr, the patron saint of horror sequels, in a small role as, and this HAS to be a vague wink at the source material, “Lawnmower Man”.
With some tighter editing (or maybe just a plot complication or two), and maybe some more convincing violence (whenever the possessed guy hits someone with his hammer or whatever, it looks and sounds like he’s merely tapping them on the shoulder), this could have been a really solid little movie. The gore is fantastic, the acting is decent (Reggie Bannister plays the Marion Crane role), and the technical aspects are quite impressive. The opening credits sequence is also pretty well done, though it features a pet peeve of mine (obviously fake “headlines” mixed in with real newspapers), and the score (by the same guys who did the incredible Session 9) is again, much better than one would expect. And since it was released a few years ago, before Lionsgate up and forgot about putting any sort of effort into their DVD releases, it has a fantastic transfer (the menu is a bit nonsensical though, as scene selection and Spanish subtitles are hidden in the “Special Features” submenu). I am curious what these guys (this is also the 3rd movie this week to have two directors!) can do with more money and an original, non-completely stupid concept.
What say you?
*I need to find better movies.