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MOVIE REVIEW: Mandy (2018)

MOVIE REVIEW: Mandy (2018)

You came, I saw, and I love you

In Mandy, Nic Cage takes revenge on a crazy religious cult in the woods with a homemade battle ax. STOP DRILLING YOU HIT OIL! That’s pretty much what sold me on the plot for Mandy, the second film by director Panos Cosmatos whose first film was Beyond The Black Rainbow (2010). Set in 1983, Red Miller (Nicholas Cage) goes after a religious cult that brutally murdered his wife Mandy (Andrea Riseborough). If you have seen his first film, you know what to expect in this; if not, then fair warning — watch the movie with an open mind. Although the film plays out like an 80s-themed slasher movie, it’s almost far from it. Let’s examine this movie further.

Mandy (2018) / Fair use doctrine.

Although set in the 80s, it doesn’t have an 80s soundtrack with well-known music. There is a synthesizer, though, along with a Friday the 13th reference to Crystal Lake from Mandy (Andrea Riseborough of such works as Hidden (2015), Waco (2018) (TV mini-series), and Black Mirror (2017) (TV series)). Admittedly there is a real Crystal Lake, Nic Cage himself said that he drew inspiration for his character from Jason Voorhees, so perhaps he wants to give that nod since his character evolved in the woods.

Mandy (2018) / Fair use doctrine.As may be obvious, Mandy is not like any other Nicholas Cage film. From the picture of Cage all bloody and glimpses in the trailer, one would expect a cheesy B horror movie with over the top gore and one-liners. Not at all! The film plays out like a heavy metal live action movie, and at times, it just feels like a dream as Red goes through moments of despair, guilt, and regret. Cage is complemented by a host of character actors, from Richard Brake (31, Halloween II (2009)) to Linus Roache (Batman Begins) to Bill Duke (Payback, Predator), who definitely deliver. The scenes with the cult aren’t over the top, which is good because not once do the characters trail off and leave the idea of the movie on its own. The bikers, though, don’t dress or sound like bikers. Think something out of Mad Max with a distorted voice that almost sounds animalistic. This raises some interesting questions on the cult’s story because there’s really no back story – for anyone on anything.

Mandy (2018) / Fair use doctrine.I saw the movie at night, and it stuck with me — not in a bad way but almost as if I were dreaming too. This, by the way, got me thinking about the end when Nicholas Cage is driving away, caked in blood caked and looking out of his mind. This is not Hollywood Nic Cage but a genuinely insane Nicholas Cage.

Final thoughts: Watch the movie, and watch it at night with an open mind because this is without a doubt an interesting movie, and I sincerely hope we don’t have to wait another eight years for Panos Cosmatos’ third film.




Posted by Jai Alexis in MOVIE REVIEWS, NEW RELEASES, SLASHERS AND BAD HUMANS, 0 comments
MOVIE REVIEW: Da Sweet Blood of Jesus (2014)

MOVIE REVIEW: Da Sweet Blood of Jesus (2014)

By Dixielord

I'm not a fan of remakes. It's something to which most of my close movie-watching friends can attest. Still, I almost always end up giving them the benefit of the doubt and checking them out. Thus, when I heard that Spike Lee was doing a remake to what I consider a classic - an underrated horror film - I wasn't really excited. However, I also knew that I would end up watching it. The movie in question was Da Sweet Blood of Jesus, a remake of the 1973 film Ganja and Hess.

Ganja and Hess, directed by Bill Duke, used vampirism as a metaphor for drug and other addictions. It starred Duane Jones from Night of the Living Dead and was screened at Cannes film festival. Many think it is one of the most important black films of the era.

Stephen Tyrone Williams in Da Sweet Blood of JesusDirector Spike Lee has called Da Sweet Blood of Jesus a story about “humans addicted to blood”. Lee took the crowd sourcing route to maintain creative control of the film. This is where things get interesting. Spike Lee refuses to use the word vampire to describe the characters in the film. He was secretive about the plot of, and rumors spread that this was intended to be a remake of Blacula, a blacksploitation horror film better known to the general public than Ganja and Hess.

Instead, supporters and fans got what Lee referred to as a “new kind of love story”, which is, in fact, a near shot-for-shot remake of Ganja and Hess. Sweet Blood stars Stephen Tyrone Williams as Dr. Hess Greene and Zaraah Abrahams as Ganja Hightower. The plot follows so closely to the original 1973 film that a synopsis for one works for both.

Dr. Hess Greene is a cultural anthropologist and collector of African art. He is fascinated, in particular, with the work and myths of the Ashanti people (Myrthrian in the original). While researching an ancient Ashanti dagger he is attacked and killed by his unstable assistant, who then kills himself. The ritual dagger, however, causes Dr. Greene to be revived with a taste for blood, and apparently the desire to only drink it off the floor-not from the victim’s neck.

As Hess looks for victims to satisfy his blood addiction, he is eventually contacted by Ganja Hightower, the ex-wife of his deceased assistant. She moves into Greene's home, and the two eventually become lovers. Afraid of being alone, Hess transforms Ganja into another blood addict. While she takes to the bloodsucking life with relish, Greene tires of immortality and looks for a way out.

Remakes are doomed to be compared to their original source material. It's just a fact you can’t get away from. I wanted to review and judge Da Sweet Blood of Jesus as much as possible on its on merits, but found in fairness that I had to re-watch Ganja and Hess. I'm still going to try and judge it mostly on its own merits, or lack of merits, with a brief comparison of the two.

On the positive side, Da Sweet Blood of Jesus is beautifully filmed. The opening dance scene, accompanied by a Bruce Hornsby score, is fun and light although weirdly out of place. As a matter of fact, the entire film is light, with only a few scenes happening at night. This seems strange for a vampire film, which Da Sweet Blood of Jesus is despite director Lee's denial. The musical score was another bright point throughout the movie but didn't seem to match the scenes they accompanied.

What I liked most about Da Sweet Blood of Jesus was the story itself. It revolved around using vampirism as a metaphor for addictions, especially to drugs. It also focused on how you can either find salvation and escape from the addiction or you can wallow in its excess. This was what kept me watching Da Sweet Blood of Jesus despite its flaws. Yet how can you credit a film for its story when basically it's the same story you have seen before and with much better execution? I really don’t think you can. It’s almost the exact same story as Ganja and Hess with only a few changes. Most of these changes were unnecessary at best, while others actually hurt the story, especially the scene in the club which is shortened from the original. It changes the whole feeling of the scene and the overall character of Hess Greene.

There were some confusing plot elements that weren't fully explained that hurt my enjoyment of the film. One of the most glaring issues was what happened to the victims of the vampires. It appears that anyone killed by Lee's “blood addicts” became blood addicts themselves. They too are cursed with immortality and a need for blood. However, their final fate is left somewhat up in the air. We do see one victim being buried alive (or undead) without being dispatched. We see another victim wandering around apparently infecting others. In a classical vampire film this would work, but here it seems out of place. Dr. Greene is at least bothered by what he has become. To allow a victim to wander around infecting others or to callously bury them “alive” seems extremely sadistic and out of character.

What is most disappointing and what kills the film for me, is the acting. I can't recall ever hearing dialogue delivered as flat and emotionless as the lines delivered by lead Stephen Tyrone Williams. His conversations throughout the film are painful to watch and listen to. At certain points, I was almost convinced that this was all some twisted joke that only Spike and his cast were in on.

His costar, Zarrah Abrahams, tries to cover for Williams by overacting and overemoting every other line and screaming for no apparent reason. Her interactions with the butler Seneschal, played by Rami Malek, are absolutely idiotic. The entire character of Seneschal seems to be a bad joke - a stereotypical caricature of a gay man that belongs in another age.

Da Sweet Blood of Jesus moves along as a snail's pace, similar to the pace of the original. Unlike its predecessor, however, Lee's film doesn't have the acting to keep the audience interested as the story unfolds. Not just the dialogue, but the characters are almost expressionless during most scenes. The times Williams does show emotion it's completely unbelievable, and Abrahams' acting and emoting is all over the place.

Stephen Tyrone Williams and Zaraah AbrahamsOverall, there really isn't much to recommend about Da Sweet Blood of Jesus, which you can’t find better executed in Ganja and Hess. It’s a better looking, better photographed film; but, for me, the grainy look of the older movie was part of its magic. Both films contain quite a bit of male and female nudity, including male full frontal nudity, and sex in both films. There is also a bit of full frontal female nudity and a hot lesbian scene in Da Sweet Blood of Jesus.

The only real reason to watch the new film over the original is that it’s easier to find. Da Sweet Blood of Jesus is streaming on Netflix as well as readily being available on DVD. Ganja and Hess, as far as I know can only be streamed from Fandor, but there is a now a decent DVD release so it can be found, and in this case, it’s worth the effort to find the original. Over all, I’m giving Da Sweet Blood of Jesus a very generous 2 out of 5 stars. It's a pretty film with pretty music, but over all it doesn't hold up to the original.

Posted by Allen Alberson in MOVIE REVIEWS, REVIEWS, 0 comments