On tap today are my reviews for two recent films that Scream Factory is celebrating with new Blu-ray releases: the 2000 sequel Urban Legends: Final Cut and Tobe Hooper’s The Mangler. And rather than waste any time, I’m just going to dive right in instead.
Urban Legends: Final Cut: When Urban Legends: Final Cut was released, I could not have been more excited heading into the theater that opening weekend. Sure, in many cases, horror sequels often end up being an experience of diminishing returns, but considering how strong the concept of the original Urban Legend was, I was just excited to see what other legends would get explored this time around. And, as it turns out, not very many at all. Which only makes up just part of my disappointment when it comes to Urban Legends: Final Cut.
The sequel opens like a cheesy slasher-y version of Final Destination, as a flight filled with attractive people is suddenly in peril while a killer is stalking and killing off passengers and crew members. Admittedly, my biggest takeaway from revisiting this sequence was that it made me wonder just why there haven’t been any great slasher movies set in the sky (it’s a pretty lofty idea, admittedly, so I get why slashers and airborne horror don’t necessarily go hand in hand), but that’s a discussion for another piece.
Anyway, as it turns out, there’s no killer running amok on a plane, but rather, it’s a sequence being shot at Alpine University for film student Toby’s (Anson Mount) final project. Amy Mayfield (Jennifer Morrison) is just one of many film students helping Toby out on his project, but she’s been struggling to figure out just what she should do her final film on—until she finds some inspiration after a chat with AU security guard Reese (a returning Loretta Devine), who tells her about a killer at a university years back that used popular urban legends to kill off some of the student population. Realizing this is the route she wants to go for her senior thesis film, Amy sets out to make her very own horror movie, until she realizes there’s a very real killer running wild on her own campus, and the aspiring filmmaker figures out that art is now imitating life in ways she could have never imagined.
As mentioned, I wasn’t a huge Final Cut fan back when the film was released some 18 years ago, and revisiting it now with this new Blu didn’t do a lot to win me over, either. It’s a film I would categorize as “fine,” but if in the future I’m going to pick an Urban Legend film to watch, my choice will undoubtedly be the first film. I do think that one of the biggest sins that Final Cut commits is the fact that it pretty much drops the concept of killing off characters in the style of popular modern myths, and if they had a good enough reason to stray from that formula, I’d probably be more supportive of that decision, but there really isn’t a strong enough concept at play in Final Cut.
That being said, some of the kills we see here are impressive (the sequence involving one of Amy’s cast members getting filmed as she dies in a very giallo-esque manner is pretty great stuff), but when you remove the conceit of the first movie, you’re just left with yet another slasher. The cast members for Final Cut are all really talented folks (many of whom would go on to do some stellar work onscreen, especially Morrison), but no one here is really given a lot to do with the material, so a lot of the shared chemistry between the characters often falls flat. Final Cut also plays the “Twin Magic” card in its story, where one character is killed and their twin pops up, and while I may have enjoyed that more back when I was a kid watching soap operas, it just feels a little off to do the ol’ switcheroo here. Although I wouldn’t call Final Cut a favorite film of mine, I do think there are a few moments of greatness in the movie, including the bathtub/kidney sequence and the prop gun gag during the finale, as well as the stinger that brings back an OG Urban Legend cast member, complete with some Alfred Hitchcock-inspired music (that moment always makes me smile, and I wish it had gone somewhere beyond just that killer moment). Those things were enough to keep me happy as a fan, even if I felt like the sequel really just lives in the shadow of its predecessor, and never quite hits the high notes like Jamie Blanks’ original Urban Legend.
As far as the bonus features for Urban Legend: Final Cut are concerned, we get a making-of featurette where you can tell a lot of the folks who had worked on the first Urban Legend are very aware of the shortcomings of the sequel, but they still put their all into celebrating the film just the same. This segment also ends really abruptly, so it was a bit jarring at the end, because it didn’t quite feel like the story of Final Cut was done being told. There’s also a commentary with director John Ottman that seems like it’s from a previous release (upon some digging, I can confirm that it is), and it’s an interesting listening experience to hear his discussion of the film (especially because he comes from the world of movie music), which helped soften my stance on the sequel (I went from thinking it was terrible to it now being a serviceable entry, so there’s that).
Also included is a standalone interview with the lovely Jessica Cauffiel (who was fun in both Valentine and the Legally Blonde series), who talks about her dad’s roots in writing true crime and how she, as a comedic actress, hadn’t realized the overlap between horror and comedy, and how much fun she had playing up her own wacky sensibilities in Final Cut and the aforementioned Valentine.
I don’t know if I’d necessarily recommend Urban Legends: Final Cut as a blind buy release for fans, but if you do enjoy this sequel, then it’s well worth adding it to your Blu-ray collection.
Movie Score: 3/5, Disc Score: 3.5/5
The Mangler: Well, not to be a total Debbie Downer with these reviews, but The Mangler is another film that I saw in theaters and wasn’t a fan of at all. Going in, that hook of Tobe Hooper taking on a Stephen King story with Robert Englund front and center was so damn exciting to me, but I remember leaving the theater afterwards feeling pretty glum because the adaptation just felt like one big, hot mess of a movie. But when it comes to movies made about killer laundry presses, The Mangler is definitely the best of the bunch, so that’s something to celebrate. Upon revisiting The Mangler for the first time since I saw it theatrically, I did enjoy it more this time around, despite its (very) rough edges, so I am glad that I had this opportunity to see this one again with new eyes.
“Sacrifices, George. We all have to make them.” The setting of The Mangler is Gartley’s Blue Ribbon Laundry in Riker’s Valley, Maine, which is owned by the dastardly Bill Gartley (Englund), who is more concerned with profits than he is with the well-being of his employees or anyone else. It’s Gartley’s own “beloved” niece Sherry, played by Vanessa Pike, who triggers the awakening of The Mangler, as a minor accident involving the young woman while working in the hellacious conditions alongside the rest of her fellow laundry co-workers is what triggers the machine’s bloodlust. From there, the laundry press begins amassing a huge body count, maiming and killing anyone who happens to make physical contact with the contraption. As the victims begin to pile up in the otherwise idyllic community, it’s up to local police officer John Hunton (Ted Levine) to try and stop The Mangler before its demonic influence becomes all-consuming and destroys everything and everyone around it.
Hooper, who is no stranger to adapting King’s material (his Salem’s Lot miniseries is my second favorite project of his career), takes on an ambitious story here with The Mangler, and I think that might be the movie’s biggest issue—this is just a tough story to tell via a visual medium like film without it ever seeming silly. Something like Christine works so well because a car is something that can move and adapt to different scenarios; a two-ton laundry press is just a stagnant villain to try and get audiences to invest in, and admittedly, the concept as it's presented here has never fully won me over (like, just burn the building down and move on already). I do applaud Hooper going for the gusto the way that he does in The Mangler, but if I’m being perfectly honest, the story is handled with all the subtlety of a Mack truck driving through a china shop. It’s clunky, and tonally, the film never quite finds its footing—even strong performances from the likes of legendary actors Englund and Levine can’t quite save the movie from itself (at one point, there’s a scene involving doves flittering about out of nowhere, which had me wondering if John Woo had stumbled onto set that day).
But as someone who holds Howling II in high regard, I do realize that one person’s trash is another person’s treasure, so I really tried to watch The Mangler with an open mind for this go-around, and I did find some stuff about the film that I enjoyed. I think the almost otherworldly gothic design of the press itself (created by Hooper’s son), is really awesome and its imposing stature adds a lot to the atmosphere of the film. David Miller does the special effects on Englund’s character, Gartley, and the results are pretty great, with the makeup accentuating the actor’s unforgettable natural visage. There are also some other impressive FX gags in the film, and I think this film might feature the first time we’ve witnessed the exorcism of a machine in cinema, which makes it noteworthy for that alone. Plus, the final moments of The Mangler are wickedly bleak and fun, which were one of the few times in the movie where I felt like I was truly watching a Tobe Hooper movie.
As far as all the bells and whistles of this Blu-ray release are concerned, I know the version of The Mangler included here is uncut, but considering the last time I watched the film was over 20 years ago, I’m not the best judge of what the differences are in this version versus what I saw theatrically (I do feel like they hung a lot longer on the distorted corpse of Mrs. Frawley in this one versus what I remember from decades ago). There’s a commentary track featuring co-writer Stephen David Brooks, who was one of the writers tasked with adapting King’s original short story. He does a great job with making his case for the film, and shares some great anecdotes about Hooper and some of the struggles they faced with The Mangler. I wish that Englund had been included in the track because I would have loved to hear his input alongside Brooks.
Thankfully, there is a mini-doc that is focused squarely on Englund himself, which makes for a nice inclusion because no one can spin a yarn in Hollywood quite like Robert can, and he goes deep with his discussions in the "Hell’s Bells" featurette. He talks about how, in his mind, he saw Gartley as this amalgam of a character from The Lady from Shanghai and Harry Truman. Englund also shares that the film had to be shot in South Africa because a producer on The Mangler was also doing a Michael Jackson tour at the time, but it got cancelled because of the controversy surrounding the pop singer in the mid-1990s. So, he had to settle debts for the tour cancellation, which also hit the budget for The Mangler, and his way of bringing business back into the region was by hosting the production there.
Robert also discussed the look of his character and the painful makeup process, which was very unlike any experiences he ever had as Freddy. Englund very lovingly pays tribute to Tobe, too, which was something I really appreciated, because even if I don’t flat out love The Mangler, you can at least sense that Hooper was trying his hardest on the film, but I don’t think the material gave him everything he needed to successfully direct the project. The Blu-ray also hosts some wonderful behind-the-scenes footage, and I think anyone who calls themselves a fan of Tobe Hooper would enjoy watching the Master of Horror in action on the set (it’s also so strange to see Levine just being a normal chucklehound of a guy, too, especially considering some of the memorable villains he’s portrayed over the years).
Movie Score: 2.5/5, Disc Score: 3.5/5