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The Mangler 2

2001. Starring Lance Henriksen, Chelse Swain, Philippe Bergeron, Dexter Bell, Daniella Evangelista, Miles Meadows, Will Sanderson. Directed by Michael Hamilton-Wright (Banana Brothers Entertainment).

Undoubtedly one of the most despised Canadian genre movies cranked out in recent years, Michael Hamilton-Wright's The Mangler 2 is the almost unbearably lifeless sequel to Tobe Hooper's original The Mangler, which was released way back in 1995. That film, based on a Stephen King short story about a possessed laundry folding machine, seriously floundered at the box office amidst rumours of having been shelved for two years.

That fact immediately calls into question why a sequel to The Mangler would ever be considered, let alone six years after the fact. As you might expect, however, this B.C.-shot follow-up has absolutely nothing to do with either the original short story or Hooper's adaptation. Like Hello Mary Lou: Prom Night II, The Mangler 2 was simply released under a franchise umbrella to give the otherwise dire excercise some sort of built-in-appeal to audiences. And believe me, this dreary effort needs all the extra help it can get--The Mangler 2 is a completely witless and fright-free horror film that is marred by incompetent direction, screenwriting and acting.

Updating the first film's source of evil to a malicious computer virus (conspicuously named Mangler2.0), The Mangler 2 stars American import Chelse Swain as Jo Newton, the rebellious, tech-savvy daughter of the CEO of a military equipment manufacturer. Returning to private school from spring break, Jo and a handful of her friends are held responsible for hacking the school's website to post an unflattering animated .gif of the humourless principal (Lance Henriksen) frolicking with a dog. While the rest of the school is off on a field trip, the petulant teens--including square-jawed sports hero Dan (Will Sanderson), stoner Corey (Miles Meadows), ice queen Emily (Daniella Evangelista), and wisecracking African-American Will (Dexter Bell)--must stay behind until one of the fesses up to the deed.

Pissed off at missing what must be a field trip for the ages, Jo heads back to her room and downloads a virus from the internet, utters a sarcastic "Mangler, you're my hero," and proceeds to infect the school's computers with the program. Problem is, the mainframe's been wired into the school's new military-level security system (just installed by her father's company, natch), which takes on a life of its own, attacking the obnoxious teens and a couple of teachers also left behind.

Not only is the virus able to use the school's cameras to spy on the kids, lock security card-accessed doors and display threatening messages across the screen ("You've been mangled!"), it can also apparently control everything from washing machines to wheelchairs(?!) as well as use masses of wires and cables as killer tentacles, as it unleashes a series of uninspired slashings. Their numbers dwindling, the teens manage to rescue school chef Lecours (Philippe Bergeron) from a locked meat freezer, and then run around aimlessly trying to come up with a solution. Jo finally figures out that a computer program used to calculate endless fractal equations could potentially tie up all the system resources, but not before she comes face-to-face with a cyborg-ized Henriksen, who has somehow become part of the computer system himself.

Directing his from his own script, Hamilton-Wright's complete lack of experience behind the camera is painfully evident from the first frame of this extremely cheap, direct-to-video atrocity. Basic point-and-shoot cinematography and amateurishly staged action abound in The Mangler 2, but both are consistently overshadowed by the fact that the film can't generate any momentum at all, consistently squandering all attempts at suspense, and even interest over its too-long 95 minute running time. Inexcusably, all of the kills occur off-screen, and one, involving the retractable bleachers in the school's gymnasium, has been (accidentally?) excised from the DVD release itself.  Without tension, a sense of peril or even gory pay-offs, The Mangler 2 is easily one of the tamest horror films I've ever seen, despite receiving a clearly unjustified R rating from the MPAA.

A lack of blood in a slasher film is probably enough of a deal breaker for most horror fans, but The Mangler 2 has even more disappointments in store. courtesy of Hamilton-Wright's lazy, tin-eared screenplay. Infamously hacked out in just eight days, the script teems with by-the-numbers plotting, wild goose chases and lame dialogue peppered with embarrassing pop culture references--Will is inexplicably informed he is the "weakest link" before biting it early on, and the Mangler actually quotes Spice Girl lyrics to Jo at one point.

It's also questionable whether Hamilton-Wright has ever actually used a computer in his life, since the use of technology in the film is completely outlandish, from readymade viruses downloaded from easily accessible hacker websites to Jo's attempts to cover her handiwork by simply altering an email on the principal's computer--not to mention the control the virus eventually exercises over completely inanimate objects not actually connected to the mainframe--all of which is simply presented at face value, no explanations necessary.

The clichéd, virtually unlikable characters are also laughably underwritten. One-dimensional would be a stretch for some of them, especially Corey and Emily, and the director seems to acknowledge this by draping them in skimpy clothing throughout, after a completely pointless pool party sequence. Jo, the only one graced with any kind of a character development, somehow re-establishes a connection with her father as a result of battling the virus, but it's handled so clumsily and illogically, you'll wonder why Hamilton-Wright even bothered--it's less an arc than a hard left turn. Like Swain, who had previously come off of Sophia Coppola's The Virgin Suicides, the Vancouver-based supporting cast doesn't have much to work with, but they aren't afraid to turn in wooden performances throughout, even flubbing the occasional line. Henriksen, who probably wasn't on set for more than a day or two appears to be reading directly from off-screen cue cards, while Sanderson, now a major fixture in Uwe Boll's pool of acting talent, is especially uncharismatic as Dan, a complete mismatch for mock-goth Jo's love interest.

The only one that seems to have any fun here is longtime Canadian character actor Philippe Bergeron, who hams it up as the private school's cook. Draped in fleurs-de-lis, his character is annoyingly over-the-top and just as cookie-cutter as the rest, sure, but at least he appears to recognize the direness of the script and tries to do something--anything--to liven up the proceedings, chain-smoking and tossing off the occasional "Tabernac." While it's never revealed precisely where he's supposed to be from, the character's farcical portrayal of Quebecois stereotypes makes him an easily identifiable Canadian character in an otherwise Americanized horror film, which is noteworthy in itself. Much like Gordon Tipple's hoser-esque supporting role in the equally pointless Time Runner, it's this little touch that maple syrup that offers a subtle tip-o-the-toque to Canadian viewers, while presumably flying under the radar for international audiences.

While interesting, Bergeron's performance is still enough to make up for the rest of the film, however, which remains a completely tedious addition to the Canadian horror canon. Without any sympathetic characters, suspense, or excitement, and no willingness to offer anything but the most basic, braindead tropes of the genre, it's the viewer who ultimately feels mangled in the end.

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