The Archivist #51: Thrills and Chills [THE FAN, THE MANGLER]


The Archivist
Welcome to the Archive. As home video formats have evolved over the years, a multitude of films have found themselves in danger of being forgotten forever due to their niche appeal. Thankfully, Warner Bros. established the Archive Collection, a Manufacture-On-Demand DVD operation devoted to some of the more idiosyncratic pieces of cinema ever made. Since its debut, the Archive’s brand has expanded to include a streaming service, revivals of out-of-print DVDs, and Blu-ray discs (which, unlike the DVDs, are factory pressed rather than burned).

Being big fans of the label, we established a column devoted to these unusual gems. Thus “The Archivist” was born — a semi-monthly look at some of the best, boldest and most batshit motion pictures the Shield has to offer. Some of these will be recent additions to the collection, while others will be titles that have been available for awhile. With thousands of films procurable on Warner Archive (and more being added every month), there’s no possible way we’ll get to all of them. But trust me when we say we’re sure going to try.

It’s October and we’re only a few days away from the best day of the year for horror fans like me. I’ve been celebrating all month, which of course includes choosing a couple of interesting Warner Archive selections with the holiday in mind. When making my selections, two titles that I’d never seen jumped out to me: The Fan and The Mangler. I went in 100% blind to both films, reading no reviews about the films nor looking at even an IMDB page. The two films are vastly different from each other and also very unique, in general.

So, let’s jump in… chronologically, because it seems as good a strategy as any.

The Fan (1981)

I initially believed this to be a remake of the insane German stalked flick, Der Fan, before realizing that this film was actually released a year prior to that one. While the premise isn’t all that different, the two films don’t appear to be related (nor is the 1996 film also entitled The Fan, starring DeNiro and Snipes, for that matter).

This 1981 horror/thriller directed by television director and producer, Edward Bianchi (Deadwood, Mad Men, The Get Down), stars Lauren Bacall, Michael Biehn, James Garner, and Maureen Stapleton, with Bacall and Biehn in the lead roles. Bacall plays Sally Ross, a film star. Michael Biehn’s Douglas Breen is an obsessive mega-fan who decides he must meet Sally and consummate their “love”. This is the conceit for this dark tale of a deranged fan stalking the object of his obsession.

As the story unfolds, Douglas’s obsession turns deadly and he murders people in his way, even leaving a letter in Sally’s apartment that reads:

Dearest bitch, I’ve exhausted myself trying to think of the perfect way to kill you. See how accessible you are? How would you like to be fucked with a meat cleaver?

The performances in the film are very strong and the tension is palpable. While reviews of the film were generally negative and Bacall herself claimed that the finished product was not what she signed on for, there remains an audience for the film. The darkness and gore gives it the horror flair that keeps horrorhounds interested enough to refuse to simple throw this one away.

Personally speaking, I thought it was a solid film showing the type of madness that is present in our obsessions. Not to mention, this film came out just after John Lennon was murdered by an obsessed fan, so the topic matter feels especially poignant.

The Mangler (1995)

Based on a Stephen King short story, Tobe Hooper’s The Mangler stars the ever creepy Robert Englund and a much less creepy Ted “Buffalo Bill” Levine in a film that is equal parts supernatural thriller, pseudo-slasher, and neo-noir mystery. Despite this seemingly odd genre-mashup, the film works pretty well.

It plays like a decent quality B-movie more than the studio film it is, but I’m pretty sure Hooper and crew are well aware of the schlocky quality of the film. It’s hard not to be campy with the plot revolving around a demonic laundry press with an appetite for human flesh. When a drop of blood hits the “mouth” of the machine, “The Mangler” awakens; and, despite never speaking a word, the machine seems to exude an Audrey 2 type of presence. It’s an obvious comedic premise and there are most certainly a few hearty laughs, but the actors mostly play their parts entirely straight, if not just a little grandiose in tone.

An odd pairing with The Fan, it certainly does lighten the mood. However, it’s not pure schlock. Ted Levine’s Officer John Hunton is the star of the show, a very convincing cop playing gumshoe. His performance keeps the film’s ridiculous premise in check. When Hunton enlists his brother-in-law to help perform an exorcism on the machine, it’s compelling, despite being utterly ludicrous. The finished product is honestly a blast.

Bloody Disgusting said of this film that it “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.” Those two sentences are all the review this horror flick needs… or deserves.

If the two films, this is the one worthy of rewatches. Is it better? No. However, it’s really fun and has the type of cult feel that should reward repeat viewings. So, while neither of these films is a horror homerun, both are pretty worthy little gems for a horror completist or anyone looking for a an obscure watch on a rainy Sunday afternoon.

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the author

Justin Harlan mostly watches kids movies because he has two toddlers who hog the Roku remote. When they go to sleep he occasionally has time to watch films that he wants to. His taste is often questionable according to Liam, but he's still good people.