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Film

#87: Mandy (2018)

My name is Ed and I’ve been playing the lottery by using numbers from Nicolas Cage films, because I believe some kind of magical force will travel out of the films into the real universe and cause me to win millions of pounds. Over the last 5 weeks I have matched precisely zero numbers (including the bonus ball), which may not seem very promising, but is in itself a statistically unlikely thing to happen – there’s a less than 1% chance of it happening 5 times in a row. So I continue, in the hope that something even more improbable will take place.

If you’ve heard of any one film (well, excluding animations, which we will inevitably get to) Nicolas Cage has made in the past 5 years, it’s probably Mandy, which had the makings of a cult classic from the moment the trailer hit the World Wide Web.

Director Panos Cosmatos’s debut, the immaculately-styled retro/art/science fiction/horror film Beyond the Black Rainbow, had impressed chin-stroking weirdo film nerds back in 2010, and the idea of dropping an ax-wielding Nicolas Cage into the middle of his follow up had immediate appeal, especially for those of us otherwise suffering through the likes of USS Indianapolis: Men of Courage and Inconceivable.

The first half of the film introduces us to Mandy, an artist, and Red (Cage), her logger boyfriend, living a peaceful existence in a cabin near the ‘Shadow Woods’, which is rendered substantially less peaceful by a Manson-esque cult leader becoming obsessed by Mandy, kidnapping her with the help of a gang of possibly demonic LSD-fuelled bikers, then burning her alive in front of a helpless Red.

The second half of the film sees Red on a single-minded, drug-fueled mission of revenge to taking down the bikers and the cult through a variety of hellish, hallucinatory battles involving the aforementioned specially-forged ax, a crossbow, and two chainsaws. Inevitably!

Mandy (the film) is fairly incredible to look at – Mandy (the artist) is seen painting the sort of lurid mythical art found on the covers of fantasy novels or heavy metal album covers, and this feels like an attempt to directly translate that to film. And on some level it works – at almost any given moment there’s something fun to look at happening on the screen (albeit sometimes ‘fun’ meaning ‘viscerally horrible interaction barbed wire and human skin’).

And while ‘man on mission of revenge’ is basically Cage’s default setting these days, this at least an imaginative take on it, and his performance of a man losing grip on reality as fast as reality loses its grip on him is dead on the money.

So why don’t I like this more? There’s just something slightly detached in the film-making, I think – it can get you in the head, and in the guts, but it bounces off the heart. Take the duelling chainsaws sequence – it’s a funny idea, a great visual gag: Red’s about to take out a cultist with a chainsaw when the cultist reveals his own (ludicrously oversized) chainsaw. But once the gag’s delivered, the actual fight that follows feels a bit perfunctory, something to get out the way so they can set up another tableau.

I feel a bit like a contrarian saying this as there’s a lot to like about it and I get why it’s one of Cage’s best-reviewed films for about two decades, but there’s just something missing for me. It’s almost like it’s designed to work primarily as a set of interesting stills, with the motion between them an afterthought.

Still, take those images and set them into cardboard wheels and you’ve got the best set of View-Master discs EVER.

THE NUMBERS

3 – The bloke who made that Too Many Cooks spoof sitcom opening titles video that went viral that one time contributed a pretend advert which is seen on a telly at one point. It is for a cheese called Cheddar Goblin, which we are told was voted number 1 three years in a row.

5 – There are 5 demonic and/or drug-crazed bikers in the gang, according to the script. To be honest, I lost track of whether they all made it into the finished film.

13 – Red and Mandy live near Crystal Lake, which is a reference to the Friday the 13th series. Cage has said his performance in the second half of the film drew on Jason Vorhees. Is it notable that 1983, when Mandy is set, was the only year from 1980 to 1986 in which a Friday the 13th film wasn’t released? Who knows!

20 – The film opens with the quote “When I die, bury me deep. Lay two speakers at my feet, put some headphones on my head, and rock ‘n’ roll me when I’m dead.” This quote is attributed to one Douglas Roberts, who apparently said it just before being put to death for murder on 20th April 2005.

44 – Red wears a shirt with the number 44 printed on it. Someone on IMDB thinks this a reference to an unfinished Mark Twain story in which a character called either No. 44 or Satan (nephew of his more infamous uncle, apparently) uses his “heavenly powers to expose the futility of mankind’s existence”.

59 – Jeremiah Sand, the cult leader, is 59 years old according to the script. They originally approached Cage to play the role but he requested the part of Red instead. Which does sort of suggest that he is deliberately going after these ‘man out for revenge’ roles deliberately rather than having to do whatever dross he’s offered. The real shame is that they didn’t just get him to play both parts.

THE RESULT

Lottery draw: 2600

Date: Saturday 21 November, 2020

Jackpot: £7,743,072

Draw machine: Arthur

Ball set: 7

Balls drawn: 23,32,37,49,54,57

Bonus ball: 47

Numbers selected: 3,5,13,20,44,59

Matching balls: 0

Numbers selected (lucky dip): N/A

Matching balls (lucky dip): N/A

Winnings: £0 (£0 to date)

Total Profit/Loss: £-172

NO MATCHES. FOR THE SIXTH TIME. There is only a 1 in 275 chance of this happening. Actually, I’ve just checked and the last 3 films I did before I stopped last time in 2017 also had no matches, so that’s actually NINE times in a row, and there’s only a 1 in 4500 chance of that happening. Either I don’t understand how probability works or SOMETHING OMINOUS is happening.

NEXT TIME ON NICOLAS CAGE

Looking Glass. It’s about PERVERTS.