Mandy – A Phantasmagoric Horror Masterpiece

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Panos Cosmatos creates love letters to cinema. His films are packed with references, flagrant horror conventions and meticulous pairings of sound and imagery to invoke a plethora of emotions, generally soaked in an 80’s styled neon-nightmare of color. The 2018 Horror movieMandy is no exception.

If this style was wholly evident in his 2010 directorial debut Beyond The Black Rainbow then it applies doubly for his following film, 2018’s phantasmagoric horror film masterpiece Mandy. By the time of his sophomore effort, Mandy, Cosmatos had truly found his feet. After witnessing the trailer for Mandy I couldn’t have been more sold. It seemed to scream:  “Yep, this is everything you’ve ever wanted from a film. Look, there’s even a chainsaw fight!”

Armed with a similar scale of plot to his first film (this time stemming from a marathon of Charles Bronson’s Death Wish series) and a stellar cast including the likes of Andrea Risebrough and the legendary Nicholas Cage, whose horror credits range from cosmic horror to pure murderous rage is notable here. Mandy gives the impression of coming from a fantasy horror fever dream of uncanny nostalgia.

When a couple’s idyllic woodland existence is targeted by a psychotic pseudo-christian cult and shattered into cosmic terror, Red (Cage) sets out on a bloody rampage of revenge and crushed skulls. 

The film’s opening to King Crimson’s ‘Starless’ and a sweeping, grain-soaked shot over endless pine forests should send chills through any hyper-fan of the VHS age. Like Beyond The Black Rainbow, Mandy takes its time to tell its tale, though its ideas feel more fleshed out, its every frame feels more meticulously planned and its inspirational roots are worn as badges of honor. 

Mandy is dense with references; from the demonic bikers The Black Skulls appearing a combination of the cenobites from Hellraiser and a Mad Max-esque road gang to Bill Duke himself appearing to give Red some advice and arm him for his savage quest. The film’s ethos appears to be Heavy Metal (or love’s vengeance, if you like) against religion, or narcissism under religion’s guise, which may seem almost juvenile had it not been for the repeated self-aware references to rock and roll and heavy metal music throughout. (see: the film’s opening quote). 

Mandy Alternative horror movie poster featuring a man with an axe and another with a chainsaw

Music plays as big a part in Mandy as anything, boasting a rich and emotional score from Johan Johannson made all the more morbidly effective by his tragic passing not long after the film’s release. The score is an eclectic mix of heavy retro synth, moving orchestral passages and devastating guitar distortion from drone band Sunn 0)))’s Stephen O Malley which seems to have been written alongside the film’s creation to ensure their optimal convergence into a single cinematic force. 

To use such long, atmospheric takes to portray a story so devastating and emotionally charged requires acting talent. The entire cast of Mandy brings something new to the table, from Nicholas Cage’s halfway-point switch from content affection to savage insanity to Linus Roache’s seedy, delusional portrayal of Cult Leader Jeremiah Sands. It seems as though Cosmatos is content to roll the camera and just let the actors go with it, each scene feeling loosely organic alongside it’s detailed visual planning. Personally I rate this as Nicholas Cage’s best performance, and the one that solidified my place in the “Cage: good or bad?” argument. Though his balls-to-the wall approach is highly entertaining, it won’t be for everyone. 

Mandy is very ‘one man’s vision’ which does not necessarily equate to an accessible film. It’s a bold statement, even in structure where the films titles don’t even appear until around the halfway point, indicating that what you’ve just watched was a mere setup for the madness that is about to begin. 

Mandy is the story of a man who loses everything, allowing the darkness to fully envelop him into a world of brutally violent vengeance. It is a glorious leap from its predecessor and hopefully a preemptive look into a future of darkness from Panos Cosmatos’ mind. Beware the Black Skulls and remember: A psychotic drowns where the mystic swims.

Prisoners of The Ghostland – The Enigma

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Featured Horror Movie Reviews Scary Movies and Series

Nicholas Cage, for better or worse, is an enigma. The closer he comes to pure genius, the more obscure and confusing the slew of throwaway schlock he frequently indulges in appears. For every Mandy (2018) we are permitted to gleefully enjoy, so are we forced to endure a Willy’s Wonderland (2021) or Kill Chain (2019). He is an actor who seems eager to show off his chops and bask in his own talent, while also perfectly happy to fund his more artistic endeavors by screaming maniacally through one cheap, talentless production after another. In 2021 he starred in Prisoners of The Ghostland.

Prisoners of The Ghostland (2021), the latest film by Japanese director Sion Sono, oddly lies directly in the middle of these two known Cage archetypes. With a distinct gonzo vibe, and a sense of humor that ranges from the campy to the downright absurdist, this latest experiment in Cage-rage feels like a hyper-vivid mashup of Mad Max (1979) and surrealist neo-western, all through a filter of feverish b-movie grit. Insane choices abound in production, the actors being forced to take a script seriously that sounds as though it was written by a film-obsessed, adhd-riddled pre-teen. If that sounds like fun to you, you’ll probably love this one. I am personally on the fence.

Prisoners of The Ghostland has a rather grandiose feel, as though we are viewing a classic epic from an alternate, altogether weirder, timeline. Taken for what it is, it can be a fun ride, though a lot of time is given to slow, sombre scenes that cut tiresomely into the film’s energy. We are forced to watch, on repeat, the tragic incident that led Cage’s character into his explosive predicament, without being offered much more information each time we are shown it. These particular scenes detract heavily from the campy, tongue-in-cheek edge that films of its ilk thrive on, leaving doubtful its ascension to cult classic status.

Prisoners of The Ghostland scene featuring a man with a spear arm fighting a man with a sword

Sion Sono has a penchant for the weird and seemingly random, and his teaming up with Cage should have been a match written in the stars. Sadly it more serves as proof that more than visual flair and an abundance of oddities are needed to make even a b-movie great. All the ingredients are there, though something in the execution is simply lacking in any kind of real engagement. Through awkward and drawn-out conversation we never learn enough about any one character to allow any kind of development, and most interactions seem to be intended to confuse rather than enlighten. It is the kind of picture one could watch at least five or six times before realizing the deeper meaning they were looking for is actually not there at all.

For those who can bask in strange without feeling the need to look much further, the vibrant and colorful visuals of Prisoners of The Ghostland coupled with its eccentric cast and true attention to madness should provide ample entertainment for a late-night viewing.

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