MANDY (2018) – For anyone who was alive back then, 1983 was apparently different than you remember. Panos Cosmatos directed and co-wrote this blood-soaked, trippy combination of Hellraiser, Father’s Day, Werewolves on Wheels and Thou Shalt Not Kill … Except.
Balladeer’s Blog readers who remember how much I enjoyed Cosmatos’ previous film Beyond the Black Rainbow will not be surprised to find that I love this prime example of a “love it or hate it” movie. Despite the story’s 1983 setting, Mandy is not quite as slavish a faux-80s piece as Beyond the Black Rainbow. This psychedelic work mixes in plenty of stylistic touches that are beyond anything a 1980s flick would have served up.
The soundtrack by the late Johann Johannsson is so effective it practically deserves a co-director credit. Meanwhile, serving as something of a humanoid special effect is madman-in-residence Nicolas Cage, who stars as Red Miller.
Red is a lumberjack, and he’s okay (Had to be said). He lives in a cabin in the idyllic forests of the Shadow Mountains with his true love, Mandy. The title character is played by Andrea Riseborough, who gives off a kind of creepy Sissy Spaceck/ Shelley Duvall vibe.
For some odd reason Mandy is considered thoroughly desirable by Brother Jeremiah Sand (Linus Roache), the leader of a pseudo-Christian cult that is also part Manson Family. Just as Charles Manson claimed inspiration from the Beatles, Jeremiah has been influenced by the most demonic musicians of them all – the Carpenters.
In addition to that, Jeremiah has the same monomaniacal hatred of fat people as 1983 David Letterman did, and he willingly sacrifices an obese cult member in his horny pursuit of Mandy. The tubby tribute is offered up to be killed by a gang of motorcycle-riding monstrosities summoned by Jeremiah’s right-hand man Brother Swan.
Those monstrosities are bikers who have been transformed into inhuman creatures by consuming enormous amounts of a psychedelic drug specially prepared by a figure called the Chemist. After feasting on the blood of the hapless yet husky member of Jeremiah’s cult, the Cenobite-looking monsters invade Red and Mandy’s cabin at the behest of the villain.
They turn Mandy over to the cult and leave Red outside the cabin tied up with barbed wire before riding off. As the night rolls on, the cultists get Mandy high on some of the mind-altering drugs they themselves consume. The crowning touch of those psychotropic substances comes in the form of a sting from a very strange bird-sized insect kept in a jar of fluid.
Arguments have raged online over whether the insect is meant to be a large Japanese Wasp or a Tarantula Hawk-Wasp. My only reaction to that debate is to ask why the hell no college sports teams go by the cool name the Tarantula Hawk-Wasps.
When Mandy is set up to be ravished by Jeremiah he disrobes in grand fashion, apparently expecting the lady to be awestruck by his nakedness. The spaced-out Mandy is so high she commits the faux pas of laughing at the cult leader’s meager endowment, humiliating him and rendering him unable to perform.
The enraged Jeremiah has Mandy rolled up in a blanket and burned alive right in front of the helpless Red. The cultists then drive off in their bus, leaving Cage’s character to keep suffering and presumably die.
By dawn Red has freed himself from the barbed wire bonds and crawls to the charred remains of his lady love before dragging himself into the cabin they used to share.
Nicolas Cage, who almost ALWAYS acts like he’s a grief-crazed man longing for bloody revenge on the psychos who just burned his woman alive before his very eyes FINALLY gets to really act out that unlikely scenario. It’s the perfect marriage of actor and role. Especially since Cage is pantsless and in the bathroom during this riveting turn. Only once per century does a tableau like this present itself.
The rest of the film deals with Red’s revenge spree after – at mid-movie – the title Mandy at last appears on screen. A wild-eyed Cage sets out looking for the biker-creatures and their cultist masters armed with a crossbow and a battle-axe.
(Director Cosmatos frequently sprinkles in dark humor and meta-references throughout the film but he showed masterful restraint here by not having Red say “Groovy” after rounding up his arsenal.)
Cage’s Red Miller grows crazier and more bloodthirsty as his killing spree goes on. Many critics bash the over-the-top bloodletting and creative kills but this is that rare type of movie where no act of violence seems gratuitous or too extreme. Not even the dick-measuring contest with chainsaws.
To me the only sour note from this orgy of splattered blood, brains and genitals comes from the way Red first destroys the hard-to-kill biker creatures, making for a bit of a letdown when he tackles the less-deadly cultists.
And speaking of genitals, when our hero battles one of the biker monsters the creature is watching a porno movie. In his excitement he gets an erection, revealing his metallic, pointed, razor-sharp penis, with which he attacks Nicolas Cage. This scene lets Mandy join movies like Tetsuo, Welcome Home Brother Charles, Porno Holocaust and The Amazing Transplant in the thoroughly bizarre sub-genre of “killer penis” movies.
I won’t spoil the perversely satisfying deaths that Red conjures up for each of the cultists, finishing off with the detestable Jeremiah himself.
Just like in Beyond the Black Rainbow, Cosmatos’ direction is often equal parts Stanley Kubrick and John Carpenter. The images from this film stay with you and turn up in your thoughts at the most unexpected moments.
I’d like to see a Bollywood director bring this approach to a blood-soaked movie version of the tale of Parusu-Rama (Axe-Wielding Rama) slaughtering the Kshatriya warrior caste. Hell, the odd musical numbers alone would make it worth watching.
Mandy is a terrific genre-bender which more than stands out in the sea of unimaginative reboots and sequels that flood the cinemas now. Just don’t expect traditional storytelling in this visually arresting gem.
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