If you’re feeling the 80’s revival happening in recent horror movies, check out Mandy (2018), starring Nicolas Cage and directed by Panos Cosmatos (Beyond the Black Rainbow). Fresh off its screening at the 2018 Cannes Film Festival, Mandy might be Nicolas Cage’s best performance, and it wouldn’t surprise me if he makes another horror movie that’s as good as Mandy is.
Streamable on Shudder and available for rent on Amazon, Mandy starts as a love story that is then manipulated by hallucinogens, a psycho cult leader, some slashing, a little fantasy, and beautiful, bold colors.
Rock and Roll Me
I admit I rely heavily on trailers to gain my interest in movies I haven’t heard about. Not only is the trailer for Mandy right on, but so are the opening credits. As the movie begins, a poem displays in red letters on the screen, unfolding one line at a time:
“When I die
Bury me deep
Lay two speakers at my feet
Wrap some headphones
Around my head
And rock and roll me
When I’m dead”
I looked at the screen and thought to myself, “Oh, hell yes.”
The setting of Mandy takes place in 1983, with Red (Nicolas Cage) and his wife Mandy (Andrea Riseborough), living together in a secluded glass house in the woods. A cult leader (Linus Roache) happens to see Mandy walking in the woods and decides he wants to take Mandy for his own wife. Soon, Nicolas Cage reacts by going vigilante style on a hard path to defeating demons. You read that right.
A Guy Who’s Tough But Sweet
At first, Red’s character is introduced to us as being tough but sweet and so affectionate to his little wife Mandy. For the romantics out there – remember when he played Randy in the movie Valley Girl (1983)? You had a crush on him for a little bit after seeing that movie, right? I think Cage is a good dramatic actor when he stars with and supports female characters. Another 80’s romantic movie with Cage was when he played Ronny Cammareri in Moonstruck (1987). He shows us tenderness – which is the contrast we need to make this story satisfying to watch.
But then there’s a shift *sorry no spoilers* and we see Red turn into a fighting machine – not scary, but still pretty kick ass – kinda like Bruce Campbell.
There’s something Bruce Campbell about Nicolas Cage in the movie Mandy. There are scenes with Nicolas Cage’s face painted in blood, eyes wide open – expressions that remind me of Bruce Campbell when he’s slashing demons in the Evil Dead movies. Some of the comebacks Red’s character has – a mixture of drama and humor – remind me a little of the way Bruce Campbell talks to demons in his movies.
Maybe Red is a little like Ash in Evil Dead, the lover turned anti-hero who challenges hell. Let me clarify: many horror fans think that the Evil Dead movies are funny. Mandy isn’t funny or awesomely bad – it’s psychedelic.
Heavy Metal Themes: Love Eternal, LSD, Cults & Demons on Bikes
Written by Panos Cosmatos and Aaron Stewart-Ahn, Mandy contrasts of love and hate: the loving married couple and the satanic cult. The cult has a pact with a demon biker gang who ride only at night to terrorize people. The cult routinely takes hallucinogens. Some of the psychedelic visions in this movie are brief but a vibrant use of color.
Throughout the movie, we see Red thinking about Mandy. The intensity of his love for her is heavy metal. Red is driven throughout the story by his love for Mandy.
I liked the music in this movie a lot. The heavy metal riffs that lace various scenes in the movie add to the scenes without overselling (it’s not corny). We can feel the horror rock us as we watch the story play out.
Shades of 80’s
Mandy’s aesthetic is very reminiscent of the 80s in the oranges, reds, and fuchsias that contrast with blues. Director Panos Cosmatos is very good at giving us visually beautiful and colorful frames as we follow the story. Some scenes are as if under the influence of hallucinogenic drugs, and/or supernatural forces – and for those scenes, we see a beautiful blend and contrast of bold and bright colors like orange, red and fuchsia – with purples and dark blues replacing conventional black shadows.
This movie is so 80’s with its color choices. Some scenes that depict psychedelic visions including brief animation are stylistically 80’s and with bold color. Even mundane moments between the couple are highlighted in dramatic shadows, contrasting blues, blazing oranges, and rich pinks. Whether you’re really paying attention to the story or not, you’ll enjoy looking at most scenes.
This movie is divided into chapters, told in chronological order – each chapter has a little subtitle that displays on the screen. This movie is so reminiscent of the 80s that the first chapter’s title design reminds me of those metallic glitter vinyl decals my older brother used to iron onto the front of baseball tee’s back in the 80s. Everything from the car models, to the font style of each chapter’s introduction on the screen – this movie is 80’s in look and feel – but doesn’t oversell it. As a movie to visually mimic a space in time, it’s good.
A Little Extra But Still Fun
There are scenes that made me smile a little like, “yeah right” but that doesn’t mean I didn’t enjoy the movie. For example: Suddenly, there’s a point in the movie when Nicolas Cage is one hell of a blacksmith. He’s about to hunt down some cult members but before he does, he pounds out a blade in the shape of a spine, while wearing his aviator sunglasses.
Some of the details around the demon gang are a little vague, but that doesn’t take away from enjoying the movie. The fantasy elements (like the fact that each of the demon bikers has a different set of strengths) weren’t explored that much, but in a movie like this one, I didn’t mind not having everything spelled out. It was more of a movie that’s fun to watch than one that’s going to bend my mind. The movie is straight forward from beginning to end. (I just thought it was a funny detail that one of the demon bikers was coke binger – like a face full of coke style, sitting in a living room watching porn on tv.) I don’t know why I thought that was kind of funny when I saw it!
I’m not sure why occasional humor pairs so well with horror movies like this, but it works. Like after Nicolas Cage defeats one demon, he happens to find a cigarette butt on the ground next to him. He lights the cigarette using the flames that are still rolling off the skull from the demon he just destroyed. Kinda silly but it works. It’s a fantastic world.
In Summary: Not Super Scary But Cool
If you like stories about vengeance, with psychedelic images, some slashing/gore, motorcycle demons, and cult horror, you’ll love this movie. The movie’s visual style, bold colors, love story, eerie atmosphere, and heavy metal moments gives us a reason to ride the rollercoaster with Cage and the cult.