It’s time for payback, fiends! If you are any kind of horror fan, you know that there is a revenge sub-genre. It has existed almost as long as horror movies have, with Tod Browning’s Freaks being one of the earliest examples I can think of. What separates horror revenge films from revenge thrillers is the level of violence and gore that bridges typically into the territory of exploitation. Other prime examples of the genre are The Last House on the Left and The Day of the Woman, aka I Spit on Your Grave. These films are known for their extreme levels of violence and gore. So with revenge in mind, today’s double feature is Revenge and Mandy.
Revenge is a story that has been told before but not with this much style and beauty. Jen is a young would-be actress having an affair with the wealthy and handsome Richard. The two fly out to the desert in a helicopter to his vacation home for a romantic getaway, even acquiring peyote from the pilot. Their plans, however, become ruined when Richard’s friends Stan and Dimitri arrive early for their planned hunting trip. Richard asks her to keep a hold of the peyote. After a night of drinks and flirting, Richard leaves for a business meeting the next day. While he is gone, Stan accuses Jen of coming on to him, and after she refuses his advances, he rapes her. Dimitri sees what is happening but does nothing to help. When Richard returns, she tells him what happened, but he decides to try and pay her off. Jen is incensed and demands he calls for the helicopter so she can leave. When he refuses, she threatens to tell his wife about them, and he attacks her. She flees into the desert with the men cornering her on a cliff. Richard lies to her so he can get close enough to push her off the cliff, impaling her on a tree below. But Jen is not dead and is only at the start of her quest for revenge on the men.
The photography in Revenge is superb, making it a visual feast for the eyes. The desert setting is incredibly picturesque, and the filmmakers shoot it to maximize the vibrancy of the colors. It feels more like an art film than a revenge/exploration film, and that’s part of its charm. Once Jen starts attacking the men, the film is bloody, intense, and graphic. The sequence where Jen patches herself up is so visceral and intense that I guarantee it makes you cringe, her injuries so honest that you almost feel the pain with her.
Mandy is one of my favorite revenge films of the last ten years.
Set in the 1980s, we meet Red and his girlfriend Mandy, who live a reclusive but peaceful existence in the forests of the Pacific Northwest. Red works as a logger, while Mandy is a fantasy artist and a cashier at a gas station. One day while walking along the road in the woods, Mandy is passed by a van containing members of Children of the New Dawn, a cult led by Jeremiah Sand. Sand becomes enamored of Mandy’s beauty and obsessed with having her. The cult breaks into Red and Mandy’s home that night with the help of the Black Swans, an evil group of bikers who are hooked on LSD and murder innocents for fun. The cult drugs Mandy and Jeremiah tries to seduce her, only to have her laughs in his face. Driven to fury, Sand has Mandy put into a large sack and suspended from a beam outside. While Red is bound and gagged, they force him to watch Mandy as they set her on fire. Driving the point home, the cult members taunt him, then leave him for dead.
But Red is a madman. He eventually frees himself and then goes to an old friend for weapons and info before setting out revenge.
This movie is spectacular in its use of color, a mixture of different media and atmosphere. With Mandy, director Panos Cosmatos proves his ability to skillfully use color, sound and visual cues to create surrealistic scenes that hit on as visceral a level as anything gritty and realistic. There is real dread here, despite the wash of nearly non-stop beauty. As the film progresses, lush, animated sequences give us insight into Red’s mind; these sequences share Mandy’s fantasy paperback art and, coupled with the score, make the entire experience feel like a love letter to fantasy art and heavy metal music.
And then there is Nick Cage, who is perfect for this role. His grief skirts a line between cartoonish and oppressive, perfectly predicting Red’s acid-soaked thirst for blood. The violence he engages in is incredible, particularly when he comes up against the Black Skulls. These demonic bikers are another element of the film that blurs the line between realism and fantasy, with designs that harken back to the Cenobites from Hellraiser. As Cage progresses and the madness intensifies, the film’s color palette and general tone likewise become darker and more hallucinogenic. The scene where Cage finds the cult’s dealer (played by Richard Brake) has so much atmosphere and so little dialogue that its impact left me reeling (in the years, Ray? – Shawn).
On a final note, what makes these films so great is the level of filmmaking utilized to create these films. This is the same genre that is typically depicted with stark realism and violent exploitation. But these films are crafted with style and a flair that rises above. Whole sections look like they were made to be paintings and are picturesque and beautiful.
Both are streaming widely and easily rentable, or both are on Shudder, to which a subscription is more than worth the cost of these films.