The Mangler, in Gartley's Blue Ribbon Laundry service, is a laundry press owned by Bill Gartley (Englund). The trouble starts when Gartley's niece, Sherry (Pike), accidentally cuts herself on a lever connected to the machine and splashes blood on the Mangler's tread while trying to avoid being crushed by an old ice box some movers are clumsily carrying past. Sparks and light streams occur when both the blood and the ice box come into close contact with the Mangler. Later, Mrs. Frawley, an elderly worker, struggling to open a bottle of antacids, spills them on the moving tread. When she attempts to collect them, the safety shield inexplicably lifts up and traps her hand inside, followed by her entire body getting pulled into the machine, crushed and folded like a sheet.
Police officer John Hunton (Levine), with the help of his demonologist brother-in-law Mark (Matmor), investigates the incident and the ones that soon follow. As the plot progresses, Mark tries to convince Hunton that the machine may be possessed, especially after seeing the possessed ice box, and the only way to stop the deaths is to exorcise the machine to dispel whatever demon is inhabiting it. They also come to learn Gartley and the town elders have all sacrificed their virginal daughters to the machine on their 16th birthdays in exchange for wealth and power, with Gartley planning to do the same to Sherry to complete his end of the bargain.
With the help of Sherry, the two men attempt to exorcise the demon – which also kills Gartley, his lover and protégé Lin Sue and the laundry's foreman Stanner – by reciting a prayer and administering holy water. The machine gives one last groan and shuts down. As the three sigh with relief, Hunton takes some antacids, admitting to Mark that they belonged to Mrs. Frawley. Mark suddenly realises that the key ingredient in the antacids is deadly nightshade, also called "the Hand of Glory" as outlined in his occult book. Since the machine was accidentally fed the same antacids, Mark realises that not only was the exorcism useless, as the demon is still alive, it is now stronger than ever. The machine bursts to life and now appears to have a mind of its own, shedding off pieces of metal and rising up in the manner of a wild beast. The three run through the warehouse as they are chased by the now-mobile Mangler. The Mangler tears Mark apart, killing him, while John and Sherry descend a flight of stairs, where Sherry attempts to give herself to the Mangler to stop it, only to be stopped by John. In their hurry to escape, they fall through a large manhole into the sewer below, the machine struggling to get to them. Suddenly, something falls from the machine into the water and a mechanical wail ensues. The machine draws back and becomes still, and John and Sherry escape.
While waiting to hear news on Sherry, John receives a letter from his departed friend and confidant, photographer J.J.J. Pictureman (Crutchley), who warns him not to trust anyone in the town missing a body part as they are possessed by the Mangler. Time passes and John goes to check up on her. However, to great dismay, he discovers the machine has returned to its place on the floor and resumed its duties as a speed ironer and Sherry, now missing her ring finger from her encounter with the Mangler, has taken her uncle's place as the new tyrannical owner of the Blue Ribbon Laundry. He throws the flowers he brought her away and leaves the factory for good.Robert Englund as William 'Bill' Gartley
Daniel Matmor as Mark Jackson
Ted Levine as Officer John Hunton
Vanessa Pike as Sherry Ouelette
Jeremy Crutchley as JJJ Pictureman / Mortician
Lisa Morris as Lin Sue
Demetre Phillips as George Stanner
The Mangler was released in the US on 3 March 1995. New Line Home Entertainment released it on DVD on 17 August 2004.
In its first week, it underperformed and took in $1.1M on 800 screens at the US box office. It also failed in the European box office.
The Mangler received a negative critical reception. On film review aggregator website Rotten Tomatoes, the film holds a 27% approval rating based on 11 reviews. Richard Harrington of The Washington Post wrote, "The Mangler is ludicrous from start to finish: its plot lines dangle, its effects fail to dazzle and the acting and directing are uniformly bad. [...] even the least demanding of genre fans will be hard-pressed to tremble in its presence". Marc Savlov of The Austin Chronicle wrote, "perhaps it's time for Tobe Hooper to hang up his light meter. After a string of disappointments culminating in this silly waste of time, it's hard to care if horror's golden boy carries on or not." Godfrey Cheshire of Variety called its villain a "silly contrivance" and described the acting and story as lackluster. Stephen Holden of The New York Times called it "a potpourri of supernatural cliches and warmed-over Stephen King notions about corruption randomly stuck together with fill-in-the-blanks dialogue." David Kronke of the Los Angeles Times wrote, "Consider, for a second, what you might honestly expect from a movie called The Mangler. Well, it doesn't even aim that high." Steven Rea of The Philadelphia Inquirer called it a "plodding and virtually plotless" film that should have been played for laughs. Stephen Hunter of The Baltimore Sun stated the film recycles common Stephen King themes, but the film's novelty makes it enjoyable for horror fans.
The Mangler fared somewhat better with modern critics. Bloody Disgusting rated it 3/5 stars and wrote that the film "is not good by any objective standards, but it's a fun little gory time-killer with a possessed refrigerator and an evil laundry press. That can't be all bad." Jon Condit of Dread Central rated it 3.5/5 stars and wrote, "The Mangler is a true test for the guilty pleasure connoisseur. Bad in every respect, there are definitely worse ways to blow two hours of your time (this film's sequel comes to mind); it's just a shame Hooper was implicated in it." Mike Long of DVD Talk rated it 0.5/5 stars and wrote, "There have been many bad, throw-away projects based on material from Stephen King, but The Mangler has to be one of the worst. The movie's laughable premise is only brought down by the inept filmmaking on display here." David Johnson of DVD Verdict wrote that the film "features a lot of gore, a solid, creepy atmosphere, some wonky special effects, all set against a really dumb premise."