Catch Up Reviews: Mandy (2018), Terrifier (2017) & Summer of '84 (2018)

Panos Cosmatos

Nicolas Cage - Red Miller
Andrea Riseborough - Mandy Bloom
Linus Roache - Jeremiah Sand
Bill Duke - Caruthers
Richard Brake - The Chemist
Ned Dennehy - Brother Swan
Olwen Fouere - Mother Marlene

Genre - Horror/Action/Supernatural

Running Time - 121 Minutes

PLOT (from IMDB):
Taking place in 1983, Red (Nicolas Cage) is a lumberjack who lives in a secluded cabin in the woods. His artist girlfriend Mandy (Andrea Riseborough) spends her days reading fantasy paperbacks. Then one day, she catches the eye of a crazed cult leader (Linus Roache), who conjures a group of motorcycle-riding demons to kidnap her. Red, armed with a crossbow and custom Axe, stops at nothing to get her back, leaving a bloody, brutal pile of bodies in his wake.

Following his cult 2010 arthouse horror film BEYOND THE BLACK RAINBOW, Panos Cosmatos returns with MANDY - another surreal and arthouse horror film that takes elements of rape-revenge and exploitation films to create a memorable, even if unoriginal, story. In a lot of ways, MANDY is a love-letter to late-70s/early-80s horror and exploitation. We get elements of HELLRAISER [Satanic Cenobite looking bikers], MAD MAX, PHANTASM, FRIDAY THE 13TH [Crystal Lake reference], THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE II [chainsaw battle], and so on. And the visuals are definitely inspired by works of Mario Bava and Dario Argento, with the film’s rich reds, blues, and greens that infiltrate the more dream-like scenes. The film isn’t for everyone and may test some with its slow burn first half, which leads into a crazy second half. And while unoriginal and sometimes cliche at times, MANDY still manages to leave an impression on you once its over, making this surreal nightmare resonate and leave you wanting more.

MANDY really works due to its performances, especially that of Nicolas Cage. Cage hasn’t made the best impression as an actor for a while now, but 2018 seems to be the year of his critically acclaimed comeback with both this and MOM & DAD [a film I hope to watch soon]. Cage was born to play a role like Red - a peaceful man turned crazy vengeful when his love is taken away from him in a violent way. Cage manages to do a wonderful job from going to normally subtle to batshit over-the-top - having chainsaw battles, snorting drugs, slicing throats and getting bled on like Ash from THE EVIL DEAD - Cage is in his element here. And even though Cage can be a bit much at times, it’s convincing here considering all the crap he goes through along his way towards vengeance. Andrea Riseborough is also fantastic as Mandy, giving a quiet performance that relies more on her facial expressions and body language rather than the words she says. She has a Sissy Spacek quality about her, making her a compelling presence. Linus Roache is also pretty great as cult leader Jeremiah Sand, managing to be creepy without doing a whole lot. Takes balls [pun intended] to show your pecker out there and then get laughed at, so kudos to him on his bravery and intensity. Also nice to see Bill Duke and Richard Brake make small supporting roles.

And even though it’s only a short segment, that Cheddar Goblin is truly a bizarre character. I’d like to know what drugs I need to take to create something so strange, yet memorably appealing at the same time. With the fandom it has gained, I could see this character make another appearance in another Cosmatos film. 

And any film that uses King Crimson’s “Starless” during its opening credits automatically gets approval from me. Such a wonderful song and used in the right type of film.

MANDY isn’t for everyone, so it’s a hard film to recommend to mainstream audiences. If you’re not into Lynchian storytelling and arthouse style that is inspired by Italian horror and other genre films, then this film isn’t for you. But if you want to see a pretty great Nicolas Cage performance, some trippy filmmaking in terms of visuals and storytelling, and violence shot beautifully, then MANDY may be for you. Sometimes, I feel a film like this can come across as pretty pretentious, turning me off from it. But something about MANDY had me invested from beginning to end, leaving me still thinking about it days after watching it. It’s not a perfect film, but I absolutely loved it. One of the most interesting films I’ve seen in 2018 by far and worth a look if you go into it with an open mind. The less you know about it, the better. It may surprise you.

4 Howls Outta 4

Damien Leone

Jenna Kanell - Tara
Samantha Scaffidi - Victoria
David Howard Thornton - Art the Clown
Catherine Corcoran - Dawn
Pooya Mohseni - Cat Lady
Matt McAllister - Mike the Exterminator

Genre - Horror/Slasher

Running Time - 86 Minutes

A maniacal clown (David Howard Thornton) terrorizes three young women (Jenna Kanell, Samantha Scaffidi and Catherine Corcoran) on Halloween night and everyone else who stands in his way.

With all the talk and hype about this one, TERRIFIER was a film that was majorly on my radar from the moment I heard about it. You know me - I love slasher films and I wasn’t going to miss this one as long as it was streaming on Netflix for the time being. With a cool looking killer and word-of-mouth claiming that this film was a “nod to ‘80s slashers”, I was expecting a fun nostalgic trip with TERRIFIER. And while it does have some cool moments, I felt that the hype didn’t match with TERRIFIER.

The best things about the film are, without a doubt, the gore effects and death scenes. A slasher film needs memorable and sometimes gruesome deaths, and TERRIFIER meets that requirement. The violence is pretty nasty in this film, feeling more like SAW and HOSTEL at times rather than an 80s slasher. But these effects are the highlight of TERRIFIER. We get people getting shot, slashed, stabbed through the skull, decapitations, hammers to the head - nothing all that inventive but still cool to watch unfold. And the best part is that most, if not all, of the effects are practical rather than CGI. I thought they were all done really well. Damien Leone directed a decent little slasher here that doesn’t succeed in tone, but succeeds in spirit. It’s also perfectly paced at less than 90 minutes too. Gorehounds will love the effects.

The other highlight of TERRIFIER is the film’s villain. Art the Clown, who was also featured in 2013’s ALL HALLOW’S EVE, is pretty great and extremely memorable. Never uttering a word, actor David Howard Thornton uses body language and facial expressions to convey Art’s creepy and psychotic personality. Art acts like a mime and moves around as if he was Buster Keaton or Charlie Chaplin. He stalks and stares at his victims with a glare that could send chills up and down your spine. And Art is pretty handy with weapons, making you aware that his targets don’t have much of a chance. A lot of slasher filmmakers try to create a villain that could eventually star in their own franchise, losing sight of crafting a standalone horror film just to make a business decision that could either be successful or a total failure. And while TERRIFIER isn’t a complete success, at least Damien Leone managed to create a villain that many horror fans will remember and want to see more of. I wouldn’t mind a sequel or a spinoff to TERRIFIER, as long as Art the Clown is doing his thing.

I wish I could say that I loved the other characters as much as I did the film’s villain. But when I’m indifferent to the protagonists and feel more for the killer, that’s a problem I can’t overlook. Even in those franchise with the classic horror villains, you still had heroes that you could root for and identify with. I was unable to do that with TERRIFIER. The characters have no depth. They’re not even archetypes of any kind. People just randomly show up, just to be murdered. Honestly, TERRIFIER doesn’t even have a story. There’s sort of a premise here and it tries to follow slasher film 101. But things just happen for the sake of happening. Maybe it was designed to be one of those stories where it’s just a “moment in time” rather than a character arc that has a beginning, middle, and end. But none of these characters made a lasting impression on me. I felt bad for the actors because they do a good job with what they’re given, which isn’t a whole lot.

TERRIFIER got a lot of hype for a film that probably didn’t deserve it. Sure, it has great special FX [the death scenes are pretty damn awesome] and a memorable villain in Art the Clown [David Howard Thornton is more than solid and could probably carry a franchise as this character]. But with lack of story and characters that are paper-thin and unremarkable, I can’t justify myself watching this again for a long time. Decent for what it is, but I was expecting a whole lot more than what I got. 

2.5 Howls Outta 4

François Simard
Anouk Whissell
Yoann-Karl Whissell

Graham Verchere - Davey Armstrong
Judah Lewis - Tommy “Eats” Eaton
Caleb Emery - Dale “Woody” Woodworth
Cory Gruter-Andrew - Curtis Farraday
Tiera Skovbye - Nikki Kaszuba
Rich Sommer - Wayne Mackey
Jason Gray-Stanford - Randall Armstrong

Genre - Horror/Drama/Mystery

Running Time - 105 Minutes

After suspecting that their police officer neighbor (Rich Sommer) is a serial killer, a group of teenage friends (Graham Verchere, Judah Lewis, Caleb Emery, Corey Gruter-Andrew) spend their summer spying on him and gathering evidence, but as they get closer to discovering the truth, things get dangerous.

As a sucker for anything from or inspired by the decade of excess, SUMMER OF ’84 seemed like an easy choice to watch and talk about. My eagerness to watch the film was also helped by the fact that the people behind 2015’s awesome TURBO KID were also behind this film. While not as fun and colorful as TURBO KID, SUMMER OF ’84 is a more mature and grounded entry in the filmography of Simard, Whissell, and Whissell. I don’t think it’s as good or memorable as the earlier film, but still a worthy watch nonetheless.

My issues with SUMMER OF ’84 really stems from the film’s pacing. I enjoy a slow burn, but SUMMER OF ’84 really does take a while to get going. But when it does, it’s great - in particular, the final act is well-done and surprising at points. But I felt that nostalgia weighed the film down in the first hour. Instead of really moving the story along, SUMMER OF ’84 was more focused on sharing its inspirations. I’m always down for a film that’s a little bit of STAND BY ME, THE ‘BURBS, THE GOONIES, and any other ‘80s film that dealt with children living in the suburbs and suspecting evil people and things happening right under their noses. But you also have to keep the audience interested by telling a story that moves along faster than a snails pace. I almost fell asleep during this one at one point because there was too much nostalgia and dialogue-heavy moments, when I wanted more mystery and investigation over whether the neighbor really was a serial killer or not. Maybe I was looking for something different in the film than some others, but too much character development can be a bad thing as well.

I will say that when the film focuses on the investigation by the teenagers in the neighborhood, SUMMER OF ’84 is a lot of fun and downright creepy at times. The mystery isn’t so much of a mystery, but a case of whether Officer Wayne Mackey is a serial killer or not. Through REAR WINDOW spying and breaking into Mackey’s home, we slowly learn the truth. And this is where the film shines, as it’s a simple investigation that allows character growth and a mystery to be answered in a really dark manner. All of the characters are well defined and share realistic relationships with each other and the neighborhood. In a lot of ways, the protagonists seem to be majorly inspired by Stephen King’s Loser Club from the novel “It”. You have the brave leader, the smart one, the overweight one, the outsider, and the girl-next-door who comes from a broken family and finds a new one with the mentioned teenage boys. The characters are fleshed out and you care about them as they struggle with the idea that someone in their neighborhood could be a wolf in sheep’s clothing. Even the adults are well fleshed out, including our suspect. He’s a well respected cop in the neighborhood and seems like a great guy. But is he really? And watching the kids get spooked by the strange things he does also makes the viewer wonder if the kids are on to something, or if they’re just paranoid. And with a chaotic final act and an ending that could possibly justify a sequel of some sort, SUMMER OF ’84 has things going for it - even if it takes its sweet time getting there.

The direction by Simard, Whissell, and Whissell captures the time frame very well, wearing the inspirations on the film’s sleeve. While a slow burn, the film never feels longer than it is and keeps you interested in the end result. Unlike TURBO KID, SUMMER OF ’84 is a more muted and grounded affair - yet still trying to maintain a level of lost innocence that will never return. As someone raised in a metropolis, I can’t really identify with suburban life. But I’m sure those who do will compare the neighborhood to their own when they were the characters’ ages.

The acting is also well done. Graham Verchere is an excellent lead, capturing the portrait of a young teen struggling with the idea that his life-long neighbor could be harboring a secret that’s threatening not only other children, but himself as well. Verchere is confident, brave, smart, and truly feels like a curious teenager that may end up in more trouble than its worth. Tiera Skovbye, best known as Betty Cooper’s sister Polly on Riverdale, is also very good as Nikki - the troubled girl-next-door. While a bit older than Verchere, the two have good chemistry with each other even if it starts a bit awkwardly. The other actor to really mention is Rich Sommer, of Mad Men and GLOW fame. He’s perfectly cast as the suspected serial killer since he has such a baby face and nice guy demeanor. He carries his end extremely well and enjoyed all facets of his character arc.

SUMMER OF ’84 is a good film that captures the mid-80s suburban life really well, wearing its inspirations with pride while trying to create its own identity. While I think the film takes way too long to get to where it needs to go and maybe relies on the nostalgia love a bit too much at times, the mystery aspect is done well enough where you want to see how it all ends. The acting is wonderful and the characters are fleshed out enough for us to care about what happens to them. If you like films like THE ‘BURBS, STAND BY ME, REAR WINDOW and THE GOONIES, SUMMER OF ’84 probably deserves your attention.

3 Howls Outta 4

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