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Literature / The Mangler

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"The Mangler" is a short story by Stephen King. It was first published in Cavalier magazine in 1972, and it was included in the Night Shift collection in 1978. It tells a story of a demon-possessed industrial laundry pressing machine which is killing people.

The short story has the examples of:

  • Attack of the Killer Whatever:
    • This time a rampaging laundromat pressing machine.
    • A state inspector tells Hunton an eerie story about a discarded refrigerator with its door still attached which apparently "ate" some birds, a dog, and a young boy.
  • Bolivian Army Ending: The story ends with the mangler breaking free of its factory moorings and going on an apparently unstoppable rampage.
  • Contrived Coincidence: The series of events that causes the mangler to get possessed in the first place. A bat getting caught inside it? Plausible. A young virginal girl getting her finger cut on it? Quite realistic. A container of Jell-O (because gelatin is made from horses' hooves) falling in? Possible, but extremely unlikely in that locale. Heart medication which just so happens to contain belladonna falling in? Um... The unlikeliness of the events is lampshaded, with Jackson bringing up the Infinite Monkey Theorem.
  • Demonic Possession: Unique in that the possessed item is inadvertently a washing machine.
  • Dramatic Irony: One of the mangler's first victims is the lady whose heart medication containing belladonna fell into it. The narrative makes a point of mentioning that she could have told/warned Jackson and Hunton of this... if she were still alive.
  • Eye of Newt: Possible ingredients for a demon summoning include virgin's blood, a bat, horse's hooves, graveyard dirt, and belladonna/the hand of glorynote .
  • Finagle's Law: When Jackson and Hunton are planning the exorcism, Jackson explains that demons who have been summoned with the hand of glory are much harder to kill. Since the hand of glory doesn't grow anywhere in the surrounding region, they both assume that this particular demon was summoned without it. Consequently, they expect an easy exorcism, and arm themselves accordingly. They don't even bother taking any extra precautions, just in case they're wrong. Boy, does that turn out to be a big mistake...
  • From Bad to Worse: The horribly botched exorcism results in the mangler uprooting itself from the very foundations, escaping from the factory, and going on a rampage.
  • The Ghost: Mr. Gartley, the owner of the factory. He's referred to as a cheapskate who skimps on safety measures, but beyond that we don't learn much about him. In the film he's upgraded to the primary antagonist besides the Mangler itself.
  • Hand of Glory: Discussed as a very bad item to have in your black-magic box of goodies.
  • Haunted Technology: An unlikely set of circumstances causes an industrial laundry machine to become possessed, and an attempt to exorcise it misses a variable affecting the creature, turning it into a mobile killing machine.
  • Homicide Machines: A demonically possessed steam press.
  • It Won't Turn Off: When the mangler catches the arm of Stanner, the laundry foreman, Diment, the maintenance man, turns it off. It doesn't stop. Diment removes the fuses; everything turns off except the mangler. Diment is eventually forced to hack Stanner's arm off with a fire axe.
  • Life-or-Limb Decision: Stanner, the laundry foreman, has his hand caught by the eponymous machine and is slowly pulled in. Diment, the maintenance man, discovers that the machine cannot be turned off, so he lops Stanner's arm off with a fire axe.
  • Locked into Strangeness: Hunton's hair turns entirely white after the failed exorcism.
  • No OSHA Compliance: The laundry press is an extremely old and dangerous piece of equipment to begin with, with only rudimentary safeguards to prevent injury, which Hunton comments on multiple times. He doesn't find it hard to believe that the initial accidents are due solely to the company cutting corners, even if a few details don't add up. Adding a supernatural curse into the mix, well, that's just asking for trouble.
  • Not Enough to Bury: One of the workers gets caught in the folder apparatus of the haunted laundry machine. The result is not described in the narration, but in the words of a traumatized witness, "they took her away in a basket".
  • Post-Modern Magik: The premise is that a demon possessed a washing machine because all the ingredients necessary for its summoning ritual accidentally got run through it in the wash.
  • Virgin Power: A dark subversion. One of the ingredients for summoning a demon is virgin's blood, which got into the mangler when Sherry Ouelette, a young worker who was a virgin cut her hand on one of its clamps.
  • Vomiting Cop: Officer Hunton throws up (for the first time in his fourteen years as a cop) in the beginning after seeing the remains of a woman caught in the machine.
  • Washy Watchy: In one scene, two characters talk about the mangler while watching a washing machine spin their clothes around.