Welcome to the JOE-DOWN, a back-and-forth movie review blog by two snarky newspapermen named Joe from Minnesota, Joe Froemming and Joe Brown. We will take turns selecting a movie — any movie we want — and review it here. For this installment, Froemming picked “Mandy.”
The Movie: “Mandy”
Starring: Nicolas Cage, Andrea Riseborough, Linus Roache
Director: Panos Cosmatos
Plot Summary: (From IMDB) The enchanted lives of a couple in a secluded forest are brutally shattered by a nightmarish hippie cult and their demon-biker henchmen, propelling a man into a spiraling, surreal rampage of vengeance.
Rotten Tomatoes Rating: 91 percent
Froemming: It’s October, so you know what that means: Halloween Month here at the JOE-DOWN! Probably my favorite theme month because I am a (REDACTED) sucker for the horror movie genre.
And speaking of genre, my first pick feels like it is its own subgenre of horror, because frankly I have never seen a movie like it. I really can only describe “Mandy” as the love child of Pink Floyd’s “Echoes,” “Suspiria,” a Yes album cover, Dio’s “Holy Diver,” Charles Manson and LSD.
A lot of LSD.
I had two friends urge me to see “Mandy” last year, and I put it off until around the time COVID hit and I decided to get a Shudder account, since I was stuck inside watching movies for the foreseeable future. One night I decided to finally watch this, thinking it was going to be another bonkers Nic Cage movie, like “The Wicker Man” or something.
It was, but not in the way I was expecting. In fact, Cage is the least bonkers element in this movie, which kinda broke my brain.
It was almost a religious experience for me, because like when I first saw “Eraserhead,” I was gobsmacked by the experience.
Brown, why don’t you give us your first thoughts while I laugh at the dork of a failed folk musician/cult leader who is trying to seduce me with his terrible folk music?
Brown: A lot of LSD, Froemming? Try ALL the LSD. And I say this as someone who’s never taken drugs in his life.
I know this was taking place during Halloween Month (which always puts me on edge since I’m not as into scary movies as Froemming) but I was expecting something different. I blame that solely on the name Mandy being synonymous with Barry Manilow in my brain.
Now, I’ll just think of Nic Cage, eyes bulging and caked in blood, hunting down reject Cenobites from “Hellraiser.”
You’re right, though: This is some kind of experience. So get into it, Froemming, while I try to find my Mötley Crue and Black Sabbath T-shirts.
Froemming: Well, before things kick off, we get some poem that reads like Judas Priest lyrics with King Crimson playing as the soundtrack:
When I died
Bury me deep
Lay two speakers at my feet
Wrap some headphones
Around my head
And rock and roll me
When I’m dead
Which led me to dub this: “Nightmare Prog Rock: The Movie.”
Brown: Turns out, that quote is attributed to Douglas Roberts, a murderer that was executed in Texas in 2005.
Froemming: Now, it is 1983 and we meet our two heroes. Red (Cage) who is a lumberjack who gets helicoptered in and out of his work like this is the Vietnam War or something. His wife is Mandy, who smokes and draws what looks like Dungeons and Dragons fan art.
And everything is bathed in super saturated reds and blues. I remember the world looking exactly like this in high school. Don’t know what changed. But from 16-20, this is was what things looked like to me.
And they live, according to a title card, in the Shadow Mountains. Looks like the Pacific Northwest, and given the sleepy town of Twin Peaks is also in that area, the events of this movie adds up.
Brown: These people live in a Yes album cover painted by Roger Dean. When I saw that King Crimson was on the soundtrack, I texted Froemming “I don’t think I’m ready to step into the court of the Crimson King.” And, when I saw the setting was Shadow Mountain, I figured that was next door to Mastodon’s Blood Mountain, which is a soundtrack that’d probably fit this movie as well.
In fact, this entire sequence is “Mandy” in a nutshell.
Froemming: The first part here is tough to do a play-by-play here, because it is a lot of surreal, dreamlike sequences that are visually stunning, and in no way prepares you for the last half of this movie. The old bait-and-switch.
But there are two things I want to bring up in this weird world or Red and Mandy:
- One night while by a fire outside, Red sees Mandy in the lake and as she comes out, her right eyeball just becomes 90 percent black, which is jarring and never explained. And I love this visual.
- One scene in bed, Mandy tells a story about how her dad one day came home with a pillowcase full of birds and showed his children how to bludgeon these things with a crowbar. My reaction: Holy (REDACTED)!
All the while, we get this weird synth score throughout that sounds like a cross between the music of “Stranger Things” and the kickass Goblin score for “Suspiria.”
This movie inspired me to think about buying a van and painting a wizard on the side of it.
Brown: So you want to become Dr. Krieger from “Archer?”
I was mesmerized by the first 20 minutes or so of this movie. I’ve stated many times here on the JOE-DOWN that I’m a sucker for synth especially when it’s done the way on this soundtrack, which I may need to buy. And the scenery early on is like a technicolor nightmare like in “Suspiria.” That’s why it bums me out later in the movie when, as shit hits the fan, the world gets a lot darker, figuratively and literally.
Because I thought of you right away, Froemming, as far as soundtracks go, you picking this or Goblin on “Suspiria?”
Froemming: Honestly I love them both for different reasons, but I enjoy the “Mandy” soundtrack more. It’s cool and has a weird calming effect on me.
Brown: As for Red and Mandy, you’re right. They’re a loving couple to each other but they are definitely off. Hell, Cage’s first spoken lines in this movie are a knock-knock joke about Erik Estrada from “CHiPs.” That’s the first of many times that I wrote in my notes: “That feels like a Nic Cage actor’s choice.”
And Mandy, she definitely gives off a lot of Shelly Duvall from “The Shining” vibes.
There’s one scene where Mandy’s wandering the woods and she finds something that’s either a deer or Eraserhead’s alien baby since this movie likes to wear its David Lynch love on it’s sleeves. In the woods, looking down in the grass, I thought Mandy was going to find a severed ear and we’d be watching “Blue Velvet” all over again. I do think this movie could have been enhanced with Dennis Hopper yelling about Pabst Blue Ribbon.
Froemming: Our couple’s idyllic world is about to come crashing down. One day, as Mandy is walking and smoking, because she needs a heater for every waking moment of her life, a van passes by filled with a religious cult. Children of the New Dawn is basically the Manson Family, if Charles Manson looked like 50 year old Robert Plant. Jeremiah Sand, our Hydrox Manson, catches a glimpse of Mandy as they drive by and becomes obsessed.
Also, the scene here is bathed in heavy red colors and looks like some photos I have seen of California this summer WHEN THE SKY WAS ON FIRE. I should have had “America Looks Like The World of ‘Mandy’” on my 2020 Bingo Card.
Brown: When we’re introduced to Jeremiah, he’s screaming at one of his followers, complete with eye bulging and weird tonal shifts. I honestly thought he was going to out-Cage Nic Cage, who up to this point is rather subdued.
Boy, was I wrong.
Did you also catch that, when at the store where Mandy works and gets talked to by one of Jeremiah’s followers, Mandy mentions she lives near Crystal Lake? I wonder how her neighbors feel about hockey masks.
Froemming: Given what comes later, I am guessing before moving next door to the Aqua Teen Hunger Force, Glenn Danzing was Red and Mandy’s neighbor.
Brown: Anyways, Jeremiah desires Mandy so he has one of his disciples, Brother Swan, blow into a horn like he’s assembling the Channel 4 news team from “Anchorman?”
Well, it’s the Channel 4 news team from Hell because it’s four guys who are one part Cenobite and one part David’s dream monsters from “An American Werewolf in London.”
We find out later that it’s a group of bikers who got a real bad batch of LSD. I think we all experienced that batch while watching “Mandy.”
Froemming: The Black Skulls must have gotten that brown acid at Woodstock.
Yeah, Brother Swan summons these things with a rock horn, which writing that makes me feel like I wrote a new song for King Crimson.
Red and Mandy are in bed when this cult and their biker gang descend upon them, trying up Red with barbed wire and Mandy is taken to what looks like every kitchen I ever saw growing up in the 1980s. Here, two cult members force some LSD into her eyeball and then grab some weird bug from a mason jar, which they sting her with.
I wonder how many stoners watched this movie and decided to let weird bugs sting them on purpose to get high?
Brown: This movie was written and directed by people who were surely cheesing like in “South Park.” That becomes even more apparent later when Red dreams in “Heavy Metal” sequences.
While strapped to a chair and tripping balls, Jeremiah, who looks like a sociopath from “Xanadu,” disrobes and has this long talk with Mandy in hopes of seducing her. The camera work tripped me out during this sequence because they merged Mandy and Jeremiah’s face together to the point where I thought I was watching a DeepFake.
Froemming: Well, before he gets out of his Ace Frehley-inspired robe, he tells Mandy how much he loves The Carpenters, which is really the only red flag people need when encountering sketchy people. He then plays a record of his own music, where he is singing his own legend, which I did not pick up the first time I watched.
Mandy picks that up, and between this stupid folk music and Sand’s flaccid dork hanging there like a dead sausage, she starts laughing. And just can’t stop, which leads Jeremiah to lose his shit. To the point he is angrily jerking off, which made me laugh just as hard as Mandy was.
Brown: I figured Mandy was laughing because she thinks The Carpenters suck. She is wearing a Black Sabbath T-shirt when she’s abducted. Granted, it’s from “Never Say Die”-era Sabbath, which was peak cocaine crisis Sabbath, but it’s still WAY harder than The Carpenters or Jeremiah Sands as Bob Dylan. I wrote in my notes that the way Jeremiah was acting, he’s basically a religious zealot version of Buffalo Bill from “Silence of the Lambs” minus the dick-tucking. That probably happened off-screen.
Froemming: One quick aside here, after watching this I played the soundtrack on Spotify and saw Jeremiah had his own music account. The song playing in this scene was there, with two new songs released in September of 2020. More research led me to find they are releasing an album of Jeremiah’s music on Oct. 30.
Which leads me to wonder why the (REDACTED), after two years, they are putting out a whole album from a fictional character from a strange movie not a lot of people know about?
Brown: What the (REDACTED) else are people going to do when quarantined? We’ve already gone through “Tiger King” and “90-Day Fiance.” Why not add Jeremiah Sand’s version of Charlie Manson’s “LIE?”
After having his mission from God and his manhood laughed at, Jeremiah throws Mandy in a bag and brings her outside, where Red is tied up. Jeremiah stabs Red with a pretty large dagger, then hangs the bag with Mandy up, soaks it in gasoline and sets her on fire right in front of Cage.
What was more scary, Froemming: the buildup to the burning, the actual burning, the soundtrack at this moment or the alarming shade of purple Nic Cage’s face was during this entire sequence?
Froemming: Look, I think what follows is the scariest thing in this movie, which is also what my life is like after rough nights at work:
The cult leaves, and Red is able to get unbound from the barbed wire rope. The scene above follows one of the funniest and weirdest things in this movie: The Cheddar Goblin!
Brown: I want to watch an entire film on the Cheddar Goblin. Not a movie. A FILM. A work of visual art. That’s what the Cheddar Goblin DESERVES.
When Red falls asleep, his dreams are animated just like the movie “Heavy Metal.” I’ll say it again: Everyone here is cheesing like Kenny in “South Park.” All we needed was for Red’s dreams to be scored by Don Felder.
Froemming: My question about the bathroom scene: Who keeps a liter of vodka under their bathroom sink?
Brown: It was in, like, a bathroom armoire where they hide the towels. But your point stands 100 percent.
Also, I can guarantee that neither one of us ever own a bathroom armoire. Or any armoire.
Froemming: Of course not, street toughs would steal it anyway!
Brown: And it’s here, after a pretty understated performance for about an hour, we get Nic UN-Cage’d. And it’s about goddamn time!
This movie goes from a David Lynch-ian surreal drama to a David Lynch-ian surreal revenge film as Red aims to hunt and kill both the Black Skulls and the Children of the New Dawn.
Froemming: I kept telling you as you messaged me while watching this you were in for a real treat. This is a movie nobody can really prepare for, you just have to ride it out.
Brown: Oh, I’m glad we got to some good, old-fashioned Nic Cage craziness. But everything up to this point, and frankly, throughout the Red rampage, is so esoteric that this movie could be a music video for “Load”-era Metallica.
Froemming: Red’s first step is to visit Caruthers in his trailer, where his old buddy keeps The Reaper! Also, Caruthers reminds me we really need to review “Commando” and “Predator.”
Brown: Having a wise black guy in this surreal hellscape made me think for a second that he had the Shining.
Froemming: This scene has my favorite line. “What are you hunting?” “Jesus freaks.” Red spills the beans on the weird hippie Jesus freaks that burned his wife alive. Caruthers gives us some background info on the Black Skulls, and how they seem like urban legends except they are real and, like you mentioned, all goofed up on bad acid.
Brown: And if Cage getting a crossbow he named “The Reaper” wasn’t badshit crazy enough for you, the dude goes and forges himself a battle ax like someone who takes LARPing WAY too seriously.
With weapons in hand, I was kind of hoping that Cage would look into the camera and say this:
Froemming: Caruthers informs him on where he could find the Black Skulls, and says he probably will not survive confronting them. To which Red replies something about not being so negative. Don’t know why, but this made me chuckle.
With ax in hand, Red stalks these Sam’s Club Cenobites, shooting one off its bike.
I am guessing there is no law enforcement in the Shadow Mountains? Red takes the law into his own hands here. Maybe it is a Stand-Your-Ground state?
Brown: Considering that the Black Skulls were drug runners once upon a time, it’s safe to assume they don’t give a crap about the law. And Red? He’s Nic Cage, so nothing matters.
So Red wounds one of them with his crossbow, then goes to run him over, only for this Gobot Cenobite to apparently be so solid that it’s like Red hit a cement pole and rolls his truck.
That is real weird when you consider that the rest of the Black Skulls are killed by an ax so they’re all varying levels of destructible, I guess.
Also after killing one of the Skulls, Red dips his fingers in a gross-looking mason jar and has a taste of what’s inside like he’s Paddington Bear sampling some marmalade. Only, it’s the bad batch of LSD and, well, Cage gets more Cagey after this. It’s a means to an end that I always enjoy.
Froemming: Yeah, the zoom in on his face as the acid hits and melts his brain and all, how much is acting and how much is it he might have been actually tripping balls here?
Brown: It’s somehow more insane than when Nic Cage transforms into the Ghost Rider.
Froemming: After he doses up and kills yet another Aldi Cenobite, he finds some glass and cocaine on the floor and vacuums that shit up his nose like Tony Montana!
I think this might be peak Nic Cage, man.
Outside their hideout, he sees yet another Family Valu Cenobite, shoots an arrow through it’s neck and it doesn’t faze the thing. That means it is time for some:
And if we didn’t think things could get any more nuttier, Red decapitates this thing, sets its head on FIRE then lights a smoke from the flaming head!
I feel like Abed here talking about this movie:
Brown: Like the Lord, Nic Cage works in mysterious ways.
After finishing off the Shasta Cenobites, Red heads to a radio tower where a man is making drugs while also hanging out with a caged tiger?
At this point, this movie adheres to Michael Bay-talking-to-Ben Affleck rules.
Froemming: The Chemist is making some highly-potent blotter acid. I assume. Just an educated crack there *gets nervous* LET’S JUST MOVE ON, OKAY?
The Chemist sees the damage the Black Skulls and the cult have done to Red, what with him being caked in blood, eyes bugging out from acid and cocaine and all. He spills the beans on where to find Jeremiah and his group of middle-aged zealots.
We then find Red, much like The Bride in “Kill Bill,” spying on the compound from high up in the mountains, which much like the Manson Family, is in the middle of the desert. Which leads me to believe maybe “Mandy” with all its weird geological locations, might take place near Springfield and Shelbyville.
Brown: You could tell me that “Mandy” takes place in Narnia and I’d believe you.
From this point, Red starts picking off gross hippies one by one. One via ax throwing, one via joining the sharp end of a battle ax with one’s skull, one via chainsaw duel, and one via decapitation. Red goes so far as to lob the decapitated head into the room where Jeremiah is either praying or spreading his poop around like a crazy person.
Froemming: It can be two things.
Brown: Nic Cage is the Children of the New Dawn’s Vietnam.
Froemming: Jeremiah is not bullshitting his way out of this situation. Red has no care in the world for his pseudo-religious nonsense. And when he senses this, Jeremiah offers to (REDACTED) Red’s (REDACTED) which, as much as he has a perdy mouth, Red is not interested.
Then Jeremiah gets mad, yelling how he kneels for nobody and how Red should be kneeling before him, a real hail mary that had me thinking:
Spoiler: It does not work out well at all. To the point Red, in a weird distorted voice, gives Jeremiah one of the most badass things one can say before they murder someone:
I am your God now.
Brown: “I’m your God now.” – Nic Cage.
I want that tattooed on my forearm.
Also, as Red smashes Jeremiah’s head as Gallagher would smash a watermelon, I swear we saw Nic Cage’s O-face. That fits in with this cornucopia of craziness.
With his revenge fulfilled, we see Red hop in a car and drive away from the Children of the New Dawn’s burning church in a dreamlike state where Mandy is in the passenger seat. You know, kind of like the ending of “Grease” if “Grease” took place on the set of “Dune.”
I’ll put my final note here: “… What the fuck did I just watch?”
… Froemming, let’s go to recommendations.
WOULD YOU RECOMMEND?
Froemming: Oh yeah, this is one of the best movies I have seen in the past few years. Off the wall, bonkers, original plus Nic Cage. It is quite the journey.
Brown: I’d say yes, just so long as you know you won’t understand what’s going on. Visually and audibly, it’s an assault on your senses (in a good way). And we’ll always recommend a crazy Nic Cage performance.