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Film / Mandy (2018)

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"Under the crimson primordial sky, the wretched warlock reached into the dark embrace."

For the best reading experience, play the music from this clip while reading on.

Mandy is a 2018 psychedelic Action Horror film co-written and directed by Panos Cosmatos of Beyond the Black Rainbow, starring Nicolas Cage, Andrea Riseborough, and Linus Roache.

Set in 1983 near the Shadow Mountains of California, the film centers on a logger named Red Miller (Cage) who lives in the Shadow Mountains with his beloved wife Mandy Bloom (Riseborough). When she is spotted by the sadistic cult leader Jeremiah Sand (Roache), he has a demonic gang kidnap Red and Mandy, bringing their tranquil existence to a horrifying end. Now, driven by fury and vengeance, Red goes after the cult and the entities that they have brought forth.

The film was co-written by Cosmatos from a story he conceived, and co-produced by Elijah Wood through his SpecterVision company. It premiered at the 2018 Sundance Film Festival in January of that year before getting a theatrical release in mid-September from RLJE Films.

Mandy is one of the last films scored by composer Jóhann Jóhannsson (Sicario, Arrival, mother!), its premiere occurring under a month before his death. The film is dedicated to him.

In 2020, Sacred Bones Records released Lift it Down, a defictionalized version of Jeremiah Sand's second album performed in-character by Roache.

This film provides examples of:

  • Abusive Parents:
    • Mandy had a psychologically abusive father. It's partly why she's too tough for Jeremiah to intimidate — because she's faced bullies like him before.
    • Jeremiah's mother was most definitely abusive, verbally and physically. She would often lock him in a closet for extended periods of time.
  • Affably Evil: The Chemist, who's friendly, helpful, and sympathetic towards Red, and is heavily implied to have been the drug manufacturer who made the Black Skulls into what they are and the "Minister" who set Jeremiah on his current path.
  • Ain't Too Proud to Beg:
    • Red gets a touch of it when he's been imprisoned by the Black Skulls. When Sis starts harassing him, he just begs for mercy. However, it turns out to be a trick to goad the Skull into bullying him enough that a loose pipe breaks off and he can beat the monster with it.
    • Played straight with Jeremiah's Villainous Breakdown at the end. When his "The Reason You Suck" Speech against Red utterly fails and Red forces him to his knees, he pleads for his life while offering to suck Red's dick.
  • Alien Sky: One with three moons appears in the landscape Red's driving through at the end.
  • All Bikers are Hells Angels: In this case, having the bikers in question only be Hells Angels would be an improvement. Or perhaps the "Hells" part is a little bit more literal than usual.
  • All There in the Manual: There's a sixteen-minute track available on the soundtrack's Bandcamp page in which Jeremiah Sand (Linus Roache speaking in character) narrates his own Start of Darkness, beginning with successfully murdering his abusive mother and emotionally distant father, moving to San Francisco and then to Los Angeles to spend his inheritance on making an album and doing drugs. We learn that his birth name was Jeremy Rygaard, that he's been in the habit of forming exclusive, tight-knit groups with cultish overtones all his life, and that Marlene was his first follower after he experienced his spiritual "awakening" in SF.
  • Always a Bigger Fish: There's a moment when Red revs up a chainsaw in preparation for murdering a guy with it, only for that guy to pull out his own chainsaw that's nearly twice as long.
  • Ambiguous Ending: The movie ends with Red driving away from the burning church as the landscape around him appears phantasmagorical and otherworldly and he sees Mandy in the passenger seat. It's not clear if he's hallucinating from grief, pain, and the drugs he ingested, or whether he's really followed them into some kind of bizarre alien hell, with Mandy's ghost beside him.
  • Ambiguously Bi: Though his harem consists mainly of women, Jeremiah's conversations with Brother Swan give this vibe. There's also his ... unexpected offer to Red at the end.
    Jeremiah: I'll blow you, man! I'll suck your fucking dick!
  • Ambiguously Human: The Black Skulls, with the scales tipping heavily towards "no". And Red himself at the end, after he's ingested their drugs.
  • Animal Motifs: Red is associated with tigers. He wears a t-shirt with a tiger's face on it for much of the movie, he's left unharmed by the Chemist's pet tiger, and several times in the second half of the movie he roars in animalistic rage.
  • Annoying Arrows: Red gets the "Reaper" (a modern crossbow) and two specially made bolts from Caruthers. He shoots one of the Black Skulls, knocking the punk off his bike. The fall did more damage than the Reaper, so Red had to ram him with a car. Also when Red fights Skratch, the final Black Skull, he shoots him through the neck. Skratch simply yanks out the bolt and tosses it in amusement.
  • Art Shift: Three dream sequences in the film are done in 2D animation.
  • Author Appeal: If Beyond the Black Rainbow wasn't enough to show you how much Panos Cosmatos likes 70s/80s psychedelia, extreme color-tinged cinematography, and heavy metal/prog rock, this film should erase all doubt.
  • Awesome, but Impractical:
    • As awesome as a duel with chainsaws is, the film also shows how impractical they are as weapons.
    • Red retrieves "the Reaper", a badass modern crossbow with specially made bolts that his friend Caruthers has been keeping for him for a special occasion. He fires it exactly twice, and both shots do negligible damage.
  • Badass Biker: The Black Skulls are a rather demonic version.
  • Badass Boast: Red delivers one to Jeremiah while high on the Skulls' LSD:
    Red: The psychotic drowns where the mystic swims. You're drowning, I am swimming.
  • Bad Boss: In addition to his other lovely qualities, Jeremiah Sand is rather mean to Mother Marlene, gets Sister Lucy to play Russian Roulette to demonstrate her love for him to Red and sacrifices one of his own men to the Black Skulls.
  • Bait-and-Switch: An early shot shows what appears to be some kind of pitch-black spiky Evil Tower of Ominousness rising into a cold green sky, until it slowly topples over and the camera pans to show it's just a tree Red's cut down as part of his lumberjack work.
  • Barbarian Hero: Red may not be an actual barbarian, but he's almost certainly meant to evoke this trope. He's a solitary man who lives alone in the wilderness, who is heavily implied to have some sort of violent past that he's left behind to live with Mandy. His enemies include a depraved, cowardly cult leader who may possess some sort of magical ability, and his gang of demonic biker servants (mirroring the Sorcerous Overlord trope often found in barbarian stories). When he's called into action, he does so with medieval weaponry, specifically an ax forged by his own hand and a crossbow, and in hand-to-hand confrontations he's The Berserker.
  • Bathos:
    • While Red is wallowing in the shock and horror of watching his wife burning to death in front of him, he walks into his home, where the television set is playing a goofy mac-n-cheese commercial.
    • Jeremiah also falls into bathos through a Failed Attempt at Drama. The whole scene where he puts on music and talks hypnotically to a drugged Mandy is an obvious attempt to seduce her into his cult, but as things proceed it becomes clearer that it isn't working. The moment where he undoes his bathrobe is clearly meant to be some kind of climax, but since he doesn't exactly have the body of a young demigod under there, it turns into a slightly creepy instance of Naked People Are Funny.
    • Inverted when Red begins an intense battle with one of the Black Skulls, Sis, by dropping a Pre-Mortem One-Liner that despite its political connotations, is so out of place that it borders on self-parody. It's almost impossible to imagine this line being said by anyone other than Nicolas Cage.
      Red: You're...a vicious... snowflake.
    • Red seemingly ends a battle with Fuck Pig where he almost loses his manhood by way of a bladed codpiece, only to find out he's still alive shortly after. He proceeds to brutalize the Black Skull that gets the drop on him before dropping a hammy Pre-Mortem One-Liner and then snapping her neck and grinning.
  • Battle Trophy: After Red takes down the Black Skulls, he takes a leather vest from one of them and wears it for the rest of the movie.
  • Beetle Maniac: The floor at the Chemist's lair is littered with black worms. Or at least Red sees black worms.
  • Berserk Button:
    • Jeremiah does NOT like being laughed at.
    • One for Red: don't rip his favorite shirt. He'll snap your neck for it, even if you're a Black Skull. Justified, since at the end of the film, the audience learns that it was the shirt he wore the very first time he met Mandy.
  • Big Bad: Jeremiah Sand, leader of the Children of the New Dawn.
  • Bittersweet Ending: Red kills all the cultists and avenges his wife's death, but Mandy is still dead and it seems to be that Red has traveled to some bizarre alien hell in the process. That, or his mind is broken from what he's gone through.
  • Black Eyes of Evil: Everyone under the influence of the Fantastic Drug has their iris turn black.
  • Blatant Lies: In his song "The Amulet of the Weeping Maze", Jeremiah refers to himself as a "righteous man whose heart was full of love" — an assertion which he does absolutely nothing to prove.
  • Blind Weaponmaster: The supposedly fearsome leader of the biker gang Skratch somehow rides a motorcycle through the forest and fights hand to hand while starting facing away from his opponent with what looks to be a leather sack over their head and no eye holes.
  • Bling-Bling-BANG!: The Chemist has a gold-accented Luger.
  • Blood-Splattered Warrior: Red gets covered head to toe with the blood of his enemies during his Roaring Rampage of Revenge, starting when he cuts Fuck Pig's throat with a box cutter and the arterial spray covers his face.
  • Bottomless Pit: The Skulls' torture dungeon inexplicably contains one. Red knocks his would-be torturer into it with a pipe.
  • Bound and Gagged: Mandy and Red, with barbed wire in Red's case.
  • Cathartic Scream: Red indulges in a prolonged screaming session after the title character's death.
  • Chain Pain: During the chainsaw fight, Red hurls a metal chain around his opponent's neck.
  • Chainsaw Good: The film takes place in a forested area where loggers like Red are plentiful and chainsaws are common. Red uses one to attack a cultist, who pulls out a much longer one of his own, allowing them to duel with chainsaws.
  • Character Blog: The Cheddar Goblin has his own blog.
  • Chekhov's Skill: Red is a logger, and the first shot we see of him is him cutting down a tree with a chainsaw. He later uses a chainsaw in a duel against a man with an even larger one. Before that, he makes himself an axe, and, appropriately for a lumberjack, does quite a bit of chopping with it.
  • Classical Anti-Hero: Red is a very violent, merciless, unstable and questionably sane man, but his anger is quite justified and the people he's hunting totally deserve it.
  • Color Motif:
    • There's a hell of a lot of red in this movie, which underscores the film's satanic elements. The main character is even named Red.
    • Red and Mandy's home is often lit with blue light, such as the cool light coming from the television set or the moonlight pouring into their bedroom.
    • Mandy is associated with black; her hair (which features prominently in Red's dream sequences) is black, a shirt she wears in pivotal scenes is black, and she wears an old black-and-white T-shirt of Red's to bed. (We later see Red wearing the same T-shirt.)
    • The introductions of two "mystical" objects in the Children's possession — the Horn of Abraxas and the Tainted Blade — are accompanied by flashes of an ugly greenish-yellow.
    • The one scene that isn't bathed in color and instead uses natural light is when Red visits Caruthers, probably to show that Caruthers is the most sane person in the cast.
  • Combat Sadomasochist: Implied with the Black Skulls. Their outfits are reminiscent of BDSM gear, and Caruthers mentions that the drugs they took leave them in near constant pain.
    Caruthers: When I've seen... them things... they were in a world of pain. But you know what the freakiest part was?
    Red: What's that?
    Caruthers: They fucking loved it.
  • Couldn't Find a Lighter: Done by Red with Skratch's flaming skull.
  • Cruel and Unusual Death:
    • The title character is trapped in a sleeping bag and burned alive until only ash remains.
    • Fuck Pig of the Black Skulls has a bladed dildo a la Se7en that he uses to rape people to death.
    • Red stabs Brother Swan through the mouth, and he dies choking on and vomiting up his own blood.
    • Red later crushes Jeremiah's skull with his bare hands. Slowly.
  • Cynicism Catalyst: Mandy's death by the hand of Jeremiah Sand and his cult is the main reason which drives Red into a bloodthirsty vengeance against them.
  • Dark and Troubled Past: Red and Mandy are both implied to have one.
    • Mandy recounts to Red a nightmarish story about her father and the horrific thing he did to an annoying flock of starlings when she was a child. She also has a large scar on her left cheek, just under her eye, which is never explained.
    • In one of Red's first scenes, he's shown refusing a beer from a co-worker, and later on when he needs alcohol, he has to retrieve it from deep inside a cabinet in his bathroom — which, in addition to his fearlessness in trying drugs, suggests a Recovered Addict. And when he shows up at his friend Caruthers's trailer home to retrieve his old crossbow ("the Reaper"), Caruthers expresses surprise that he's come back for it "after all these years". Given the PTSD from which Red appears to suffer, the fact that he's quite good at guerilla warfare, and the year in which the film is set, it's possible he's a Vietnam veteran.
  • Dark Is Evil: Do you think a group called the "Black Skulls" sounds like somebody who would be on the side of the good guys?
  • Dark Mistress: Sister Lucy and Marlene both appear to service Jeremiah sexually. The conflict is kicked off because he wants to add Mandy to his harem.
  • Deal with the Devil: Jeremiah chronicles his encounter with an unnamed "him", a being of radiant light who helped him achieve his status as a cult leader. From the way he describes the encounter, it sounds an awful lot like this trope.
  • Decapitation Presentation: Red decapitates Mother Marlene and then chucks her head at Jeremiah.
  • Decoy Protagonist: Mandy. She gets more focus and more solo scenes than Red in the early part of the film.
  • Defiant Captive: Mandy's laughing and mocking Jeremiah, even while he has her bound up and is preparing to rape her, leads directly to her death when he has her set on fire in rage.
  • Defiant to the End: One of the Skulls taunts Red about Mandy's immolation as Red prepares to deliver a coup de grace to him, as does one of the cultists.
  • Developing Doomed Characters: Technically, the title character qualifies, since it's her death that drives the entire back half of the film.
  • Disproportionate Retribution: How does Jeremiah handle Mandy laughing at his music (and other things)? By burning her alive, of course. All while forcing Red to watch.
  • Does This Remind You of Anything?: When Red enters the church hideout, the illuminated cross on the far wall positioned directly behind the corrupted pulpit forms the towering illusion of a brilliantly glowing sword plunged into a stone.
  • Don't Look At Me: When Mandy laughs at Jeremiah, after screaming futilely at her to shut up, he then screams at his cult members: "Don't you fucking look at me!"
  • The Dreaded: When Red tells Caruthers that he's hunting "Crazy Evil", Caruthers warns him that he's heard terrible stories on CB radio about a wandering cult and the black riders who accompany them. They've left a trail of destruction through countless roadside diners and small towns. Caruthers doesn't think Red'll survive his hunt.
  • Drone of Dread: The soundtrack is full of low-frequency droning sounds, most of them produced electronically. The song that plays when Red enters the church, however, is a very heavy stoner doom song that almost sounds like a Sunn O))) or Sleep track.
  • Eldritch Abomination: The way Jeremiah describes his god, the Pale Knight (implied to be Satan in disguise), sounds like this. He apparently casts a radiant light and has control over the entire world.
  • Entitled Bastard: Jeremiah Sand, through and through. He thinks he deserves anything he wants, and flips his shit when it doesn't go his way.
  • Epileptic Flashing Lights:
    • The screen turns green and frantic lights are flashing when Brother Swan shows the Horn of Abraxas to Jeremiah.
    • The lights are flashing menacingly when the baddies invade Red and Mandy's home at night.
  • Everyone Has Standards: By the point where he reaches Brother Swan, Red has clearly gone full Blood Knight in a combination of grief over the loss of Mandy and trying a dose of the Skulls' LSD. However, this does not stop him from sparing the ultimately innocent and harmless Lucy after he brutally murders Swan.
  • Evil Gloating:
    • Skratch does this as Red prepares to behead him.
    • Brother Swan does some of this too, also before being executed.
      "Better to burn out than fade—"
  • Evil Sorcerer: Jeremiah at least claims to have some kind of magical power. He's able to use the Horn of Abraxas to summon the Black Skulls to do his bidding, which may or may not be magic of some sort.
  • Evil Sounds Deep: The Black Skulls all speak with deep, distorted, inhuman voices. Jeremiah's voice also distorts menacingly while he speaks to Mandy under the effect of a Mushroom Samba. Red's voice itself distorts near the end of the film. After he's ingested their drugs, notably.
  • Face Death with Dignity: Brother Swan calmly tells Red "Well, better to burn out than fade awa—" before Red stuffs an ax in his mouth, in a stark and direct contrast to his boss.
  • Face-Revealing Turn: The first of Red's three Nightmare Sequences about Mandy starts on her nude with her back turned...only to turn and reveal a rotting, melting face.
  • Fan Disservice: Red's nightmares about Mandy show her completely nude in animated form with a perfect hourglass figure, the eroticism of which will likely pale in comparison to the evil in her face.
  • Fantastic Drug:
    • Whatever that gray sludge is that the Black Skulls are doing, in addition to the piles of cocaine. Red dips one finger into the jar, tastes it, and immediately has a brief but intense acid vision that points him toward the Chemist, who in turn can point him toward Jeremiah's hideout.
    • Also the yellow powder mentioned in Jeremiah's spoken word screed "My Journey" from the film's soundtrack, which gave him visions of "God" and caused his "spiritual awakening". The "Minister" who gave it to him may or may not have been the Chemist from the movie.
  • Fantasy Americana: It's essentially a gritty Heroic Fantasy story set in '80s California, complete with a Barbarian Hero, an Evil Sorcerer Big Bad, and inhuman Mooks.
  • Faux Affably Evil: Sister Marlene is obsequiously nice to Mandy when probing her for information. By the end of the conversation, Mandy clearly senses that something is off. When they meet again, Marlene again starts to behave sweetly but immediately turns nasty and sadistic.
  • Forced to Watch: Red is forced to see his wife burning alive to ashes while tied and gagged up by the cult.
  • Forging Scene: A Conan-esque one in which Red forges his battle ax, the Beast, after visiting Caruthers.
  • Foreshadowing
    • Red is introduced chainsawing a tree. He later puts a chainsaw to good effect.
    • The passage that Mandy reads from her book is prophetic: "Under the crimson, primordial sky, surrounded by the jagged rocks of the ancient volcanic mountain, the wretched Warlock reached into the dark embrace of the fissure until his hand touched a smooth glassy surface. Cold as ice. His fist closed around The Serpent's Eye. Slowly he withdrew it and held it before him in the fading light of the blood-red suns. It glowed from within. A ghostly emerald light. Strange and eternal." Jeremiah seems to be the "wretched warlock." The "ancient volcanic mountain" is his quarry hideout in the Shadow Mountains. The "blood red suns" are the Alien Sky that materializes in the end. The "Serpent's Eye" is Mandy herself.
    • The first thing Mandy says to Jeremiah is, "The Reaper is near." It turns out that Red calls his crossbow "the Reaper."
  • Four Is Death: There are four members of the Black Skulls: Skratch, Sis, Scabs and Fuck Pig. Red also wears a shirt with "44" on the front during his rampage, though it's quickly cobered by a vest.
  • Freak Out: Red has an intense one in the bathroom after Mandy's murder, as the full weight of what he's just witnessed comes crashing down on him.
  • Freudian Excuse: Downplayed with Jeremiah Sand. His mother would lock him in the closet for no reason at all, and he believed his father was too apathetic and useless to help him, but his ego was apparently just as large when he was a child and he's so evil as an adult that it's still practically impossible to feel anything but disgust for him. That is, if he's even telling the truth.
  • Gainax Ending: Red kills all of those involved in Mandy's murder (save for one innocent cult member), but as he drives away from the burning church, we see a sort of hellish landscape behind him including an Alien Sky, as though he's crossed over into some alternate dimension.
  • Genre-Busting: Containing way more weirdness and psychedelia than most violent revenge thrillers, and way more violent revenge than most weird psychedelic flicks. Horror movie? Action movie? Art movie? You decide.
  • Genre Shift: While it never lets up on its surreal, disturbing tone, the film can be argued to consist of two halves: its bleaker, more horror-inspired first half in which Red and Mandy are targeted and abducted by the cult, and its more energetic, action-filled second half in which Red embarks on his quest for vengeance. The montage of Red gearing up for his journey is even followed by the main title of the film appearing over halfway through the runtime, as if the action is the true essence of the movie, and everything prior was merely a prologue.
  • Getting High on Their Own Supply: It's implied the Chemist habitually does this. We see him manufacturing blotter acid with no gloves on, and he puts one still-wet finger in his mouth when he speaks to Red.
  • Glowing Eyes of Doom: Invoked. When the Black Skulls first appear, the headlights of their motorcycles are made to look like the eyes of monsters glaring through the fog.
  • Gorn: Downplayed. While Mandy is an incredibly violent movie, it notably almost never lingers for very long on the actual carnage, with the worst details often being difficult to make out through the psychedelic cinematography.
  • Green-Eyed Monster: Marlene despises Mandy because Jeremiah becomes infatuated with her. She clearly enjoys beating Mandy and injecting her with wasp venom and is smiling joyfully when Mandy is burned.
  • Groin Attack: Narrowly averted. Fuck Pig's codpiece nearly falls on Red's crotch, but Red manages to move up just enough to prevent that.
  • Gut Punch: Following Mandy's incredibly horrific death along with an incredibly heartbreaking scene of Red breaking down mentally and emotionally, the movie completely refuses to hold back on violence.
  • Hate Sink: Far from the "righteous man, whose heart was full of love" he proclaims himself to be, Jeremiah Sand is a megalomaniac who believes that God (or perhaps Satan) granted him the right to take whatever he thinks he's entitled to. He treats his own followers like dirt, being willing to dispose of them when he sees the need and using the women for sexual gratification whether they're fully compliant or not. He hides behind the Black Skulls gang to do his dirty work for him and is more than happy to torment Red by having Mandy killed in front of him before leaving him to die.
  • Head Crushing: In the climax, Red crushes Jeremiah's skull with his bare hands.
  • Heartbroken Badass: Red's loss of his wife fuels his rage-filled rampage against the cult.
  • Hell Is That Noise: The arrival of the Black Skulls is accompanied on the soundtrack by a painfully loud SCREECH like tearing metal.
  • He Who Fights Monsters: Hinted at in the ending. Red starts speaking in the same Voice of the Legion as the Black Skulls, and gains superhuman strength - enough to crush a man's skull with his bare hands.
  • Higher Understanding Through Drugs: Tasting the drug paste, Red gets a vision of where he has to start his revenge trip. He then meets the drug cook who, under the influence of the drug, can sense Red's tragic past.
  • High-Pressure Blood: Most of the baddies seem to suffer from this. Most memorable in the scene where Red gets sprayed with blood from Fuck Pig's Slashed Throat.
  • Howl of Sorrow: After snapping out of the immediate overwhelming shock from witnessing Mandy's death, Red breaks down screaming uncontrollably in anguish.
  • Human Sacrifice: Evidently how one pays the Black Skulls for their services. The Children of the New Dawn get them to kidnap Red and Mandy by offering up one of their own members to be dragged off and presumably murdered.
  • Humanoid Abomination: The Black Skulls. They are supposedly just the victims of severe drug-induced psychosis. But their voices are demonic, they can be called and bargained with using a demonic instrument, and some of them seem to be made at least partially out of metal. One of them even brushes off a crossbow bolt through his throat.
  • "I Am Great!" Song: "Jeremiah Sand was a righteous man, whose heart was full of love..."
  • If I Can't Have You…: Jeremiah sexually covets Mandy, and when she rejects him, he burns her alive in rage.
  • If You Can Read This: We get a look at the novel that Mandy is reading. A warlock has just gained a prize, but at great cost to himself and to others. Not unlike a certain Mr. Sand.
  • Impaled Palm: The Skulls nail Red's hand to the floor after knocking him out and tying him up. It barely slows him down.
  • Impaled with Extreme Prejudice: Red impales one of the cultists through the mouth with the sharpened back end of his axe.
  • Impossibly Cool Weapon: Red's gloriously extreme axe-glaive from hell. The script calls it The Beast.
  • Impromptu Tracheotomy: Which does jack shit to the Black Skull leader, Skratch, whom Red inflicts it on.
  • I Need a Freaking Drink: The first thing Red does after the home invasion incident is to grab a bottle of vodka which he downs in large gulps between animalistic screams of anguish and terror over what happened.
  • Inelegant Blubbering:
    • During his Freak Out in the bathroom, Red alternates between sobbing like a lost child, screaming like a wild animal, and chugging down vodka, often within seconds of each other.
    • When Jeremiah's messiah act finally fails him, he descends into pathetic blubbering and vain appeals.
  • It's All About Me: Jeremiah, in spades.
    Jeremiah: [to Mandy, quoting his vision] "They were wrong, and you were right... You are not separate from all that is, so all that is, is yours."
    [later, to his own reflection] Never doubt yourself.
    • Worth noting: The sheer narcissistic self-absorption of the song Jeremiah plays for her (aside from it being painfully stereotypical folk) is what enables Mandy, through her hallucinogenic haze, to turn down Jeremiah's advances. Instead, she laughs scornfully in his face until he begins screaming at her to shut up.
      Mandy: You made this song? And it's about you?
  • Kill It with Fire: Happens multiple times in the film.
    • Mandy, regrettably, is the first example.
    • Red pays it back, however: after killing Marlene and Jeremiah, he douses the corpses with gasoline and starts a fire that burns the Children's church down.
  • Large Ham: Red, though it goes without saying being played by Nic Cage (that said, he has plenty of quieter moments as well). Jeremiah is this as well.
  • Last Note Nightmare: "Amulet of the Weeping Maze" is mostly just a hilariously bad song serving as a vehicle for Jeremiah's ego, but the final verse might place the movie in Cosmic Horror Story territory.
    The rushing fools in plastic homes
    These busy little bees
    Running, busy back and forth
    They never see
    Their master's hand in everything
    The order of the trees
    The song that's whistling on the breeze
    This song of you and me
  • Laughably Evil: Occasionally, Jeremiah is so full of himself, it comes off as hilarious.
  • Leave the Camera Running: Red's epic sobbing, screaming Freak Out in the bathroom plays out in one take.
  • Le Film Artistique: Possibly the first time in movie history where a film both qualifies for this label and also features a sword fight with chainsaws.
  • Lens Flare: There are more shots with lens flare in this movie than without them. Rule of Cool applies.
  • The Lost Lenore: Mandy becomes this for Red.
  • Love at First Sight: Somewhat implied towards the end in a Happy Flashback when Red remembers when he first met Mandy.
  • Madness Mantra: Jeremiah Sand repeats the line "Tell me what to do" numerous times in front of a mirror.
  • Magical Realism: Technically speaking, nothing happens in this movie that's outright impossible.
  • Male Frontal Nudity: Jeremiah undoes his robe while attempting to seduce Mandy, revealing he's got nothing on underneath. We see everything as she does, and she is less than impressed.
  • Mangst: Oozing from every frame (along with blood and cocaine.)
  • Man on Fire:
    • Mandy is burned alive, a fact that both a Black Skull and Brother Swan both mock.
    • Skratch goes up in flames after Red pushes him against a burning car.
  • A Master Makes Their Own Tools: We are treated to a Forging Scene of Red, well, forging The Beast.
  • Maybe Magic, Maybe Mundane: Lots of things appear to be supernatural, but with the amount of psychedelic drugs being taken, it's hard to tell.
    • The Black Skulls are called forth using "the Horn of Abraxas," a weird looking, (and weirder sounding) musical instrument. Their appearance is barely humanoid, their voices are inhumanly guttural, and they sometimes seem to shrug off grievous injuries. However, they're explained to be a drug-running outlaw biker gang driven mad by drugs. In spite of their supernatural overtones, Red manages to kill them about as easy as humans. It's unclear whether they're supernatural or just incredibly freaky bikers too high to feel pain.
    • Does the Chemist and Red actually form a psychic connection, or is the Chemist just really good at intuiting Red's thoughts?
    • Early on, Mandy and Red have a discussion about what their favorite planet is. Mandy cites Jupiter, because it's surface is "a storm that's been raging for thousands of years." Later on, when he finds Red in his lair, the Chemist echoes the words he could not possibly have heard earlier, calling Red the "Jovan warrior brought forth from the eye of the storm." Just a bizarre coincidence, an indicator that the Chemist and Mandy subscribe to similar schools of astrological mysticism, or does he truly have some kind of omniscient/telepathic powers?
    • The "cherry on top" is apparently a bird-sized wasp with a psychedelic sting, which doesn't exist in reality. Is it supernatural? Does it actually exist in-universe?
    • Much of the Mind Screw third act. Red is clearly unhinged and has taken some powerful psychedelics, so how much is real and how much is in Red's head is open to interpretation.
  • Meaningful Name:
    • Red is part of the Color Motif of the film, with all the blood and hellish ambiance. It's also the main character's name. By the end of the film, he's covered head to toe in red blood.
    • Brother Swan may be named after William Swann, the psychologist who developed the theory of identity fusion.
  • Medium Blending: Red's dreams of Mandy take the form of disturbing animated sequences.
  • Mind Screw: The film is intentionally made to feel like a bad trip, made worse when some of the characters start actually tripping on drugs.
  • Mood Whiplash: At the halfway point of the movie. Red's at the lowest point of his entire existence. He's been bound with barbed wire, stabbed, and forced to watch the woman he loves incinerated. He drags himself home and struggles to heal his wounds while drowning his sorrows in vodka. Suddenly, goblin pasta commercial!
  • More than Mind Control: Jeremiah tries doing this to Mandy while she's under the effects of the hallucinogens to sway her to his side but fails miserably, resulting in her laughing at him and severely bruising his ego in the process.
  • Mushroom Samba:
    • The Black Skulls are on some weird-ass LSD that basically turns them into demons. After he kills them off, Red samples the same wares, which doesn't make the last act of the movie any less weird.
    • The Children also put Mandy through this in an attempt to sway her to Jeremiah's side; she has some sort of hallucinogen introduced into her system via eyedrops, and as "the cherry on top" is subjected to the sting of a gigantic wasp.
  • Names to Run Away from Really Fast: We feel this bears repeating: how 'bout the Black Skulls? Do they sound like the good guys to you? Specifically, the one with the bladed codpiece who rapes at least two people to death offscreen is named "Fuck Pig".
  • Narcissist: Jeremiah Sand, even by cult leader standards. If anyone takes a jab at his music, he feels personally insulted and tends to react violently.
  • Neck Snap: After getting his shirt ripped, Red kills Sis with a frontal neck snap. This is before he takes some of their LSD paste.
  • Never Trust a Trailer: A slight example. The trailer gives the impression that Red's violent rampage happens very early on, when there's actually a full hour of buildup before then.
  • Nightmare Face:
    • In one of Red's nightmares, Mandy turns around and her face melts.
    • There's also Red's blatantly unhinged grin at the end of the film, when he seems to hallucinate Mandy sitting next to him in the car.
  • Nightmare Sequence: Red has three following Mandy's death, all distinct from the rest of the film in that they're animated.
  • No Historical Figures Were Harmed: The main villain of the movie is a burnt-out musician who tries to regain his former glory through occultism and abducting a nice rock and roll girl believing it will help him regain what he had. Wait, are we talking about Jeremiah Sand.... or Charles Manson?
  • No Name Given: Most of the cast, with their names only revealed in the end credits. Mandy — the title character — even only has her name mentioned once in the entire film.
  • Non-Action Big Bad: Jeremiah gets the Skulls to do all the heavy lifting for him. He himself is passive and physically unimpressive.
  • No-Sell: Red nails Skratch through the trachea with a crossbow bolt. The Black Skull leader barely even considers this worth responding to.
  • Not-So-Harmless Villain: Jeremiah Sand is a painfully bland folk musician and almost comically self-absorbed, which at times makes him seem unintentionally funny. He's also a vicious deranged maniac who thinks nothing of sacrificing his own men and burning someone to death for laughing at him.
  • Nothing Is Scarier:
    • Carefully and effectively utilized with the Black Skulls; even when they are in full view, they are always lit in such a way that we can never tell exactly what they are or what is wrong with them.
    • Used effectively again with the sect's Bible. We never find out what's in it, but the look on Red's face when he finds it indicates it's not something you'd learn in Sunday school.
  • Obviously Evil: Has there ever been a clearer sign of "yup, they're the bad guys" in cinema history than a band of deep-voiced possibly demonic bikers covered in spikes who call themselves the Black Skulls?
  • Odd Name Out: Three out of four of the Black Skulls have names that start with the letter "S", Skratch, Sis, Scabs, and... Fuck-Pig?
  • Off with His Head!: Skratch and Sister Marlene get their heads chopped off by Red.
  • One-Man Army: Only around 2 of the film's total deaths are not at the hands of Red
  • Onscreen Chapter Titles: The film has three, each given title cards reminiscent of heavy metal covers:
1. The Shadow Mountains
2. Children of the New Dawn
3. Mandy
  • Only a Flesh Wound: Jeremiah gives Red a stab wound in the side that is a good six inches deep, but once Red pours some vodka on it and bandages it (off-screen, after a night's rest), he's perfectly fine. This isn't the only time this happens to Red, as he ends up impaled by one of the Black Skulls.
  • Overly Long Gag: After sounding the Horn of Abraxas, there's a long, awkward bit with one of the cultists playing with the power window on the van.
  • Pay Evil unto Evil: Red commits some pretty gruesome acts of violence, but all of his victims completely deserve it.
  • Period Piece: The film takes place in 1983. Red hears Ronald Reagan's "Evil Empire" speech on the radio. It's implied that Red is a Vietnam War veteran with PTSD. Mandy devours Heroic Fantasy pulp novels, wears heavy metal shirts, and paints Frank Frazetta-style art. Both she and Red smoke.
  • Physical Scars, Psychological Scars: Mandy has an unsettling scar down the left side of her face. It is never explained, but it along with her haunted demeanor and the ugly story she tells about her father forcing children to kill baby birds hints that she has had a very hard life.
  • Pre-Asskicking One-Liner: As the pipe comes loose and Red uses it to beat one of the Black Skulls into the bottomless pit.
    Red: You're ... a vicious ... snowflake.
  • Pre-Mortem One-Liner: Just before crushing Jeremiah Sand's head between his hands, after he weakly insists that he carries "God's gift" in his heart:
  • Prolonged Prologue: The film is broken into three chapters with Title Cards. The title card "Mandy" appears 75 minutes into the film, implying that the first 75 minutes was a prologue for the movie as a whole.
  • Psychopathic Manchild: Jeremiah Sand. For all his claims of being a prophet who can lead his children to a better future, Sand is a petty and entitled man who flips his shit if he isn't immediately given what he wants.
  • Rape Is a Special Kind of Evil:
    • Subverted. Jeremiah plans to do this, but Mandy's mocking him puts him out of the mood, so he just lights her on fire instead.
    • Played straight by Fuck Pig. He has a bladed codpiece that he used to rape people to death. Red discovers a couple of violated bodies that met their end that way.
  • Rated M for Manly: Lumberjack Nicolas Cage in the 80s hunting down the evil cultists who murdered his wife (which includes an army of Badass Bikers covered in spikes, who might be the Legions of Hell) and murdering them all in an incredibly violent fashion with chainsaws, crossbows, and an insanely large axe of hardened steel.
  • Recovered Addict: It's been theorized that Red is a former alcoholic. He turns down a beer from a co-worker, and the liquor in his house is found in the bottom-rightmost cabinet of his bedroom's armoire.
  • Religion of Evil: Jeremiah's cult. Made scarier because it's never made clear exactly what they believe. They look like Jesus hippies and display crosses, but Jeremiah is disdainful of Jesus at one point. They also carry an artifact called "the Horn of Abraxas" and a sword with an eyeball in the hilt that Brother Swan claims came from the Abyss. Then there's their alliance with... whatever the Black Skulls are, who might be in service to Satan, if the sigil of Lucifer on one of their members' vests is anything to go by. When Red skims their Bible, he's disturbed by what he sees.
  • Roaring Rampage of Revenge: The last third of the movie is all this for Red.
  • Rule of Cool: To whit: Nicolas Cage getting in a sword fight with chainsaws.
  • Rule of Symbolism: Jeremiah's followers tie Red up vertically with barbed wire (including wrapping it around his face), stab him in the side, and leave him to die in a twisted version of the crucifixion.
  • Russian Roulette: Jeremiah forces Lucy, as a show of devotion, to kneel in front of Red and play a round of Russian roulette; to Red's horror, she goes through on pulling the trigger, but the chamber is empty.
    Jeremiah: You think you're so "in love." I'll show you love.
  • Sacrificial Lamb: Jeremiah orders that the cult's overweight member be given up to the Black Skulls.
    Brother Swan: Good idea. That lardass couldn't find his own nose in a mirror.
  • Samus Is a Girl: Most don't realize that the glass-masked Black Skull, Sis, is a woman.
  • Scenery Porn: Every single shot is either steeped in intense colors, lens flares, beautiful landscape shots or all four at once.
  • Secondary Character Title: Mandy is the Decoy Protagonist and The Lost Lenore for Red.
  • Self-Made Orphan: Jeremiah's backstory reveals he killed his own parents before fleeing his home and starting the Children of the New Dawn.
  • Shout-Out:
    • Mandy informs Marlene that she and Red live near Crystal Lake.
    • The Freudian contraption Fuck-Pig wears (essentially a bladed strap-on) is taken from Se7en.
    • The shot of the Cheddar Goblin rising out of the pot of Mac-n-Cheese is a deliberate take on the famous shot of Martin Sheen rising out of the water in Apocalypse Now.
    • Jeremiah's most beloved disciple is named Swan. Lord of Illusions has Phillip Swan, who is a former follower of a cult also led by a megalomaniac in a white robe.
    • The Black Skulls, especially Scabs (the guy with spikes all over his body) are very reminiscent of the Cenobites. Their group makeup also matches the Cenobite group original film, there's four of them, one of them has spikes in his face, and one of them is female. They have even more in common with The Plague, another probably-demonic, nearly-invulnerable biker gang covered in spikes and metal. Their individual names are similar as well.
    • Brother Swan tells Red "It's better to burn out than to fade away", which is either a reference to Highlander, Neil Young or Def Leppard.
    • Red's ax, The Beast, was designed to resemble the F in the Celtic Frost logo. The Forging Scene where he constructs it in his workshop is very similar to the famous opening of Conan the Barbarian (1982). Connections to that film are driven home by Red's role as a Barbarian Hero taking violent revenge on a clan of murderous cultists.
    • Red's Badass Boast when he confronts Jeremiah at the end is a paraphrased reference to Joseph Campbell's quote, "The psychotic drowns in the same waters in which the mystic swims with delight."
    • The most devout of Jeremiah's followers is called Mother Marlene, which in addition to Mandy...
    • Red first says his favorite planet is Saturn, then changes his mind and says Galactus is his favorite, because he eats planets.
    • The fact the demonic Black Skulls includes a member called "Fuck Pig" who rapes people to death sounds like a reference to Garth Ennis's infamous Hellblazer arc "Son of Man", which features a demon who rapes people to death called "Fuckpig".
    • The chainsaw duel is similar to a scene in Phantasm II which also involves a battle between a hero with a small chainsaw and a Mook with a bigger one.
  • Skewed Priorities: What's Red's one-liner of choice when he has one of the Black Skulls at his mercy? Something like "You kidnapped me and my wife", or "You killed the woman I love?" Actually...
  • Silent Credits: Music is used powerfully throughout the movie, but the closing credits run with nothing more than quiet ambient sounds.
  • Single Tear: Mandy does this during a dream sequence after she finds a dead fawn in the woods, and Sister Lucy does this after Red brutally kills Brother Swan in front of her.
  • Sissy Villain: Jeremiah is cowardly, emotionally fragile, and physically unimpressive in multiple ways.
  • Slashed Throat: Red slices Fuck Pig's throat with a rusty box cutter, causing High-Pressure Blood to spew out of his neck and onto Red's face.
  • Slasher Smile: The final close shot of Red we see in the film is of him with a maniacal grin on his blood-soaked face.
  • Small Name, Big Ego: Small dick, big ego as well. Jeremiah is a failed musician and a leader of a cult composed of gullible individuals (some of whom he likely raped) who thinks he's literally God's gift to women.
    Jeremiah: (playing his song, "Amulet of the Weeping Maze" in front of Mandy) Do you like The Carpenters? I think that they're sensational. But this is even better.
  • Smug Snake: Jeremiah Sand. While some villains' ego serves to make them more entertaining, in his case it only serves to highlight how repulsive he is.
  • Smoking Is Cool: Red and Mandy, our most sympathetic characters, both smoke, and at one point Red even lights a cigarette on the flaming skull of a dead enemy.
  • The Smurfette Principle: Sis is the sole female member of the Black Skulls.
  • Spikes of Villainy: Several of the Black Skulls have them. Scabs appears to be covered in literally nothing but solid steel spikes.
  • Spiritual Antithesis: To Cosmatos's previous film Beyond the Black Rainbow. He explained in the interview that not only did he consider it as a companion piece to Black Rainbow, but also a yang to the latter's yin. They both combine surreal and nightmarish imagery with very long takes and monochromatic light saturation, though as an action/revenge story, Mandy has a tighter plot and more emphasis on action and gore.
  • Squishy Wizard: Assuming that Jeremiah is actually the sorcerer that he claims to be (which he very well could be, if the dagger Brother Swan shows to Red is what he says it is), he deflates whenever he encounters a physical threat.
  • Stacked Characters Poster: The poster gives us a pyramid filled up with the characters, the protagonist Red (Nicolas Cage) in the center and the Decoy Protagonist Mandy on top.
  • The Stinger: There is a post-credit scene showing Mandy's sketches from earlier in the film.
  • Stylistic Suck: "Amulet of the Weeping Maze", a song from Jeremiah Sand's failed folk musician career; what we hear of it is stereotypical Sixties-Seventies folk rock with ethereal acoustic guitars and flutes, and half-baked overly earnest New Age mysticism and mixed in with gratuitous self-praise in the awful lyrics.
    Every seed that gives us life
    Every man must take a wife
    Only one sun ever shines
    Only one sun, yours and mine
  • Super-Strength: Red seems to gain this after taking some of the Black Skulls' drugs, as after this he's able to crush a man's skull with his bare hands.
  • Surreal Horror: Surreal action horror, no less.
  • Surreal Humor: The Cheddar Goblin commercial.
  • Sword and Sorcery: A rare, perhaps only, contemporary take on the genre. A man who lives in the wilds, forges his own axe, wields a crossbow, wears animal hide (a leather vest here), and fights a cult with a dark lord as their leader.
  • Take That!: Red turns on the radio in his car while driving home and is greeted with a speech from Ronald Reagan. He immediately turns it off again.
  • Teeny Weenie: When Jeremiah whips his dick out while preparing to rape Mandy, it... isn't exactly impressive. She starts giggling while glancing at it, and this evolves into full-blown laughter when he starts masturbating in response, presumably because his dick isn't getting any bigger.
  • Thousand-Yard Stare: After witnessing Mandy's immolation, Red wanders through their house in a traumatized daze, having apparently been driven into a kind of fugue state by the trauma of the last few hours.
  • Token Good Teammate: Lucy is the sole member of the Children of the New Dawn who isn't thoroughly evil, and is clearly scared for her life when she sees Red kill Brother Swann in front of her.
  • Through the Eyes of Madness: Everything from the throbbing red glow in Jeremiah's lair to the three moons in the sky call Red's sanity into question by the end of the film.
  • Tranquil Fury: During the final third of the film, after beginning his Mushroom Samba, Red barely says anything for the rest of the film, and the rest of his Roaring Rampage of Revenge.
  • Two-Act Structure: The film is divided by three title cards, but it's really a two-act film: the first half is almost entirely quiet, almost tranquil domestic scenes exploring Red and Mandy's relationship. The second half is almost entirely gory, balls-to-the-wall action and insanity.
  • Underestimating Badassery: A villainous edition. Red sees the muscular cultist and after killing the Black Skulls, he thinks it's going to be an easy kill just like the rest of the cultists. So instead of fighting pragmatically and using the Reaper or the Beast from behind, Red takes a nearby chainsaw that barely works. The alerted cultist then pulls out a MUCH longer chainsaw and gives Red one of the toughest battles in the movie.
  • Unexplained Recovery: Red knocks Sis into a seemingly bottomless pit, but she gets out later and comes after him with a shotgun.
  • The Unfettered: Jeremiah, who believes that whatever god he worships has given him permission to do literally whatever he wants.
  • Unflinching Walk: At the end, when Red walks away from the burning church.
  • Unstoppable Rage: Red gets one so bad, he's able to crack open a man's skull with his bare hands! Even earlier he's so pissed off that a Black Skull ripped his favorite shirt that he snaps its neck with no effort and this was before he took that drug paste.
  • Unusual Pets for Unusual People: The Chemist keeps a tiger in a cage, and implies that he allows her to sample his wares ("When she's calm, I know it's good"). When Red visits him, the Chemist decides it's time to set her free — and instead of killing the men, she merely leaves the Chemist's warehouse.
  • Villainous Breakdown: Jeremiah turns out not to be so tough once Red has him cornered, and alternates between sputtering with outrage and pathetically begging for his life.
  • Villains Want Mercy: Jeremiah frantically begs for his life when Red finally catches up with him, eventually being reduced to sobbing and offering to give Red oral sex in exchange for letting him go. It doesn't work.
  • Voice of the Legion: The Black Skulls speak with it. During the final confrontation with Jeremiah, Red does too. It is worth noting that this is after he has sampled the Black Skull's goop.
  • Was Once a Man: The Black Skulls, according to Carruthers.
  • Waxing Lyrical: Brother Swan says "it's better to burn out than fade away" as Red moves in on him to kill him. Red finishes him off before he can complete the quote.
  • "Well Done, Son" Guy: Gender-inverted version. Marlene appears to be this to Jeremiah.
    Marlene: Did I do something wrong?
    Jeremiah: Wrong? Everything you do is wrong.
  • What Beautiful Eyes!: Most scenes featuring Mandy focus heavily on her eyes.
  • What Happened to the Mouse?: Sister Lucy witnesses Red killing Brother Swan. He notices her, but walks away and she is not seen again. The fate of the Chemist is also left unstated.
  • Your Head Asplode: A partial example when Red finishes Jeremiah off by literally squeezing his brains — and one of his eyes — out with his bare hands.