Wednesday, October 31, 2018
Nicholas Cage has seen his fortunes and career careen from the utmost high to the lowest of lows. At one time he was considered the premiere actor in the world, won an Oscar and a Golden Globe and was on the covers of numerous magazines. Some erratic behavior, living beyond his means and trouble with the IRS resulted in his taking on numerous roles to pay off his debts. With more and more of these roles he seemed to get fewer and fewer of those that would allow him to reach the heights he once roamed. But among those numerous films there were still some gems, movies that continued to display his abilities. I’m not sure if this one falls into that category but I wouldn’t place it among terrible films he’s been making.
MANDY takes place in 1988. Cage is Red Miller, a lumberjack who lives in a secluded forest home with the love of his life Mandy Bloom (Andrea Riseborough). Mandy is one of those ethereal beauties, not quite lovely in the standard sense but possessing her own look that is enchanting. Staying at home, working in a small local store, spending her days drawing and reading, she is the most harmless person you could meet.
But walking home one day she’s passed by a van containing a cult leader named Jeremiah Sand (Linus Roache) and his followers. Jeremiah is entranced by her and later that night mulls over this with two of his followers. He send out his right hand man Brother Swan (Ned Dennehy) to summon the Black Skulls, a group of bikers they use for dirty work, to kidnap Mandy and bring her to him.
The Black Skulls are an unusual gang made up of miscreants who have abused the drugs provided to them by the Chemist, turning them into marauding instillers of pain with little concern for their own safety. Along with Brother Swan the capture Mandy and Red, tying Red to a tree with what appears to be wire. Jeremiah drugs Mandy with the LSD his group uses and preaches to her his mystic philosophy of being blessed with all things by a drug fueled God. When she begins laughing at him he flies into a rage.
The enraged Jeremiah stabs Red still tied to the tree, hangs Mandy up in a sleeping bag nearby and lights her on fire while Red watches helplessly before leaving with his followers. Red later escapes his bonds, visits an old friend where he reclaims a crossbow he calls “the reaper”, constructs a battle axe and sets out to claim revenge on the Black Skulls and Jeremiah and his followers.
Don’t get me wrong here as standard a revenge movie as this may sound it is far from it. Director/writer Panos Cosmatos has concocted a visually arresting movie that feels like you’re watching a revenge film through drug fueled eyes from the opening moments through to the very end. He uses a stylistic approach to the film with various scenes shot in bright colored lights making it seem surreal and far from real while the violence that takes place is as real as one will find in a movie. This combination of art film esthetics and brutal post-apocalyptic styled brutality is an odd mix and yet seems to work well here. This is not a movie where you are likely to forget the visual appearance of the film.
The film is incredibly slow to build steam and that may turn off a number of viewers. But if you can make it past the first half of the film (yes it actually takes that long) then the payoff for fans of violent revenge films will be paid off. That lengthy first half is done so to establish the difference between the two worlds, that of Mandy and Red in peaceful bliss in the mountains and the acid fueled carnage let lose by Jeremiah in his quest for mysticism. It’s unlike most movies seen today but works in its own way.
Cage is working at his peak here, subtle when called for a full on rage when his character lets lose near the end. To be able to carry off both extremes in the same movie is an achievement. Riseborough carries off the role of Mandy perfectly offering an innocence to the character placed in harm’s way. And Roache comes off as incredibly creepy, a cult leader who can spin a few words around his flock and have them do his bidding.
After all is said and done I’m still not sure if I enjoyed this movie or not. I honestly thought it could be trimmed down some from its 2 hour running time. Cosmatos has offered something different than I’ve ever seen before and I enjoyed parts and was bored by others. My recommendation is that if brutal violence is something you avoid steer clear. If you like Cage and great performances you may want to watch this. And if you like watching movies that attempt to do something other than the standard fare put out by Hollywood then by all means give it a watch. Odds are once you do it will be a movie you talk about for some time.
I’ve read some negative reviews of this film and I was surprised. I wondered if the same people writing those would have found the humor in EVIL DEAD as ridiculous as they found this movie. Myself, I enjoyed it immensely and found the combination of humor and horror well done here. It’s a touch combination to master and many can’t pull it off but the folks here did an amazing job of it.
The film opens years ago as a young boy named Dax watches old black and white horror movies with his mom on Halloween. She tells him there’s nothing to be afraid of and heads to the kitchen where she is attacked and killed by a maniac on the loose. The killer was a patient of her husband, Dr. Conway (Tate Donovan). Fast forward to the present and young Dax (Robbie Kay) is a true horror geek. It’s his way of coping with what he witnessed years ago.
Dax is making plans to attend a horror fan fest that evening called Blood Fest. The film fest is different this year in that they’ve rented an entire ranch and constructed various areas to tie into specific horror film themes, enclosing the entire shindig for fans only. Unfortunately his father finds his tickets and cuts them up. He’s anti-all things horror since the murder of his wife. He has plans to be on a TV show that night condemning Blood Fest and expects Dax to be there as well.
Bemoaning his loss of tickets to his two friends Sam (Seychelle Gabriel) and Krill (Jacob Batalon) they suggest he contact Ashley (Barbara Dunkelman), a friend of his and an aspiring actress who landed a small role in one of the films showing. She agrees to pass them in and the night is planned.
The group shows and Ashely introduces them to the director of her film, a jerk named Lenjamin Caine who obviously has no real love of horror and uses his position to take advantage of attractive leading ladies. Walking the grounds in the main area the come across Roger Hinkley, the actor who starred as the main killer in Dax’ favorite horror film ARBOR DAY. The adage never meet your heroes comes true when Hinkley dismisses his character and horror films in general much to Dax’ disappointment.
The lights go down and the spotlights go up and the host of Blood Fest steps forward on stage to the roar of the crowd. Horror director Anthony Walsh steps out to greet the crowd and introduces a new horror icon soon to hit the screens, a masked killer named Red. He laments the state of horror on today’s screens and tells the crowd they are there to participate in the making of the most stupendous horror film ever. Calling two guests to the stage Red kills both and the crowd cheers thinking it’s all an act. As a group of chainsaw wielding men wearing pigs heads stands at the front of the stage Walsh announces that it’s all real and only those who survive the night will be allowed to live at which points the chainsaws rev up and the carnage of fans is cut down in a gory blood batch.
Realizing it’s all real Dax and friends take off to find a place to hide and regroup picking up Hinkley on the way. With the location walled in and the only door out covered they realize they are trapped. Until Ashley tells them she came in through a back entrance, a large yellow door that she has a pass key for. Looking at the map given all guests they discover that they have to travel through almost all of the various locations on the grounds to reach the door.
The rest of the movie follows the group as they attempt to reach their destination going through areas filled with zombies, vampires, clowns and more. At the same time we watch as behind the scenes Walsh and his crew are filming every minute of the death across the park. Eventually we discover that Walsh has a partner in crime here funding the entire event. Not all of those in attendance, including the small group of friends, will make it out alive before the sun rises in the morning.
The movie parodies and pays tribute to various horror movies and their fans here and does a fantastic job of it. Horror fans will easily recognize the movies they portrayed here and the humor/horror of seeing them come to life. I’ve said before that horror fans are the most die-hard fans in the world and it proves true in this film. If you’ve ever been to a horror convention then these folks here are as real as one would expect to find at one of those events.
Bringing both horror and comedy to life and combining the two is not an easy task but writer/director Owen Egerton has pulled it off nicely. The in jokes work well and the gore factor is as over the top as one would expect in any respectable horror film. The nods to various movies also work well while not being so exact that a copyright infringement problem would ensue.
The acting on hand here with mostly unknowns is surprisingly good. That’s not to slam those involved but in most cases young unknowns tend to become little more than stereotypes done to the extreme and while there are certain stereotypes going on here none of them come off as patronizing. Kay handles the job of being the center of attention nicely here. Gabriel does a great job as well as the sarcastic tough girl who is a match for Kay when it comes to horror knowledge and fandom. Batalon is terrific as the chubby friend who’s determined to lose his virginity with little clue as to how to achieve it. And Dunkelman pulls off the bubble headed blonde character while not being too ridiculous. When she does so there is a reason for it.
The end result was a movie I could easily pull out and watch again. It might not achieve the same level of horror comedy as my favorite TUCKER AND DALE VS EVIL but it’s a close second. I know I can watch it again and still get plenty of enjoyment out of it. What better can be said about a movie?
You can’t talk about a movie like DEADBEAT AT DAWN without putting it into context as to when and how it was made. If you do then you make it far more difficult to describe just what a cult fan favorite the movie is and why. And if ever a movie deserved to be called a cult film this is it.
Made in 1988 as the midnight movie faze was petering out and the home video craze was peaking the movie found its way into the hearts and minds of its fans video VHS. Not just in the stores that were renting the film but in the numerous bootleg copies that were out there passed along from one anxious pair of hands to another. The word was out about this small film made on a meager budget with zero name brand stars that just messed with the minds of all who witnessed it. That made seeing the movie all the more desirable to those looking for something new and different.
The story in the film is simple really but what unfolds on screen is unique. Director/writer Jim Van Bebber stars as Goose, the leader of a gang known as the Ravens in Dayton, Ohio. Their arch rivals are the Spiders led by Danny (Paul Harper). When the film opens the Spiders are entering Raven territory, a huge cemetery. The two leaders face off in a hand to hand fight that leaves both battered and bloody but with Goose getting the upper hand.
Returning home Goose nurses his wounds with the help of his girlfriend Christie (Megan Murphy). Christie dearly loves Goose but knows that this lifestyle will lead him to certain death. She tells him that if he doesn’t give up the gang then she’s leaving. Realizing how much she means to him and taking her at her word he agrees to give up the gang. Before he leaves his life of crime behind he has one last thing to do, the sale of drugs to put himself and Christie in a position to leave.
But while he’s out members of the Spiders show at their apartment. They brutally beat Christie to death with rape implied but not onscreen. When Goose returns he is torn by what he discovers. He takes Christie’s body and places it in a giant trash compacter and goes on a drunken binge. With no place to go he moves in with his father, a PTSD Vietnam vet who’s more concerned about his next drug fix and beer than his son.
Found by the new leader of the Ravens before he can kill himself Goose it hauled in because they need an extra man for a job they intend to pull off. The gang has joined up with the Spiders now and a huge heist is in the making. What this new leader doesn’t realize is that Danny plans on double crossing the gang and taking them all out once the job is done. With nearly everyone in his life now gone only Goose is left to seek revenge on Danny and the remaining members of the Spiders.
The movie was the first feature film shot entirely in Dayton. To say it was made on a low budget is being generous. It was made for around $10,000 and shot over a four year period. Van Bebber not only wrote, directed and starred in the film he also edited, designed the effects, and did his own stunts. And the effects here are some of the goriest you will find between hands partially blown away and more. That he could reach his goal of making a feature film that contained his vision without studio interference and that we’re talking about it now some 30 years later is an accomplishment.
There are certainly moments that could have had more polish added to them, stunts that professionals might have done better and certainly the film could look better than the grainy appearance that it has. But all of those things are what make up the charm of this film. It IS the grainy picture, it IS the slightly off punches, it IS the touch and go acting ability of those involved (and some moments are great when it comes to performances) that make up a movie that earned its cult status by being true to itself. This is the first movie of a 21 year old director and it shows but in a good way. The heart involved in the film makes up for the unpolished appearance.
Arrow Film is bringing the movie out for a 30th anniversary release. Said Van Bebber about the release last year “[It’s] slated for a 4K transfer from the original A&B rolls (supervised by me) and a long overdue Bluray release on it’s 30th anniversary.” True to his word that’s what you’ll find in this new release of the film to blu-ray. And the extras are sure to make fans go crazy. They include a new audio commentary track with Van Bebber, Harper and Cody Lee Hardin moderated by Victor Bonacore who made DIARY OF A DEADBEAT: THE STORY, “Jim Van Bebber, Deadbeat Forever!” a new retrospective documentary on Van Bebber and the legacy of the film by Bonacore that includes rare footage, interviews and more, an archival 1986 behind the scenes documentary from VHS by Nate Pennington, outtakes, four newly restored shorts from Van Bebber (“Into the Black”, “My Sweet Satan”, “Roadkill: The Last Days of John Martin” and “Gator Green”), a Van Bebber music video collection including never-before-seen director’s cuts, “Chunkblower” a promotional trailer for an unfinished Gary Blair Smith produced feature, an extensive image gallery with never before seen still, a reversible sleeve with newly commissioned artwork by Peter Strain and for the first pressing only a collector's booklet featuring new writing by Scott Gabbey and Graham Rae. It will take longer to get through the extras than the movie itself!
As with all things Arrow they’ve outdone themselves with this release. Fans of the film will now have the chance to have it in the best possible format available with all of the extra goodies to keep them entertained and watching for several hours. If you’re a fan of the film you’ll love this edition of it. If you’ve never seen it prepare to have your senses blown away and your stomach churned.