Mandao (pronounced “Man-Day-Oh”) of the Dead is a true indie horror with colorful, wildly quirky characters. They are likable from the beginning and drive a simple, yet original, plot through to the end with laugh, thrills, and heart. The beach bum, late-90’s/early millennium vibe is cycled back as if we summoned some of our good old favorites slacker characters back from the dead. It has a genuinely nostalgic yet new wave feel to it, complete with a matching beach bum soundtrack. Like its plot, what shouldn’t work (or hasn’t worked) for most films of that age, miraculously works for Mandao of the Dead. The mechanics, humor, cinematography, acting, and distribution are all low-budget but pull together to perform one heck of a trick while taking the viewer on one unique ride.
When it comes to film communities, fans of the horror genre comprise one of the strongest, accepting, and diverse group of individuals. Just like the expressive film creators we admire, we’re willing to give any story a chance and immerse ourselves into even the most radical subject matter. We long for those in the industry to create quality, out-of-the-box content inspired by, not duplicating, elements of the classics. Filmmakers, both novice and established, grow within these aspirations, one of which recently catching my attention. Scott Dunn is new to the world of cinema production, but his first release, Mandao of the Dead, is sure to be a cult favorite.
“Mandao of the Dead is a true indie horror with colorful, wildly quirky characters […] sure to be a cult favourite”
If you haven’t seen Haggard, Bam Margera and the CKY crew’s homemade feature from 2003, my notion on nostalgia may be lost on you. Nearly ten minutes into Mandao of the Dead, I couldn’t help but compare the two. I was, and still am, in love with Haggard despite the forced dialogue, D-grade cinematography, hokey inside jokes, and completely whacky sense of humor.
Mandao of the Dead reminded me so much of it, but incorporated the daring venture into astral projection and mystery of murder, vampires, and ghosts. It has the dry, clever comedy one would only find in 90’s classics like Office Space (1999). Think Clerks (1994) meets Shaun of the Dead (2004). I’m usually critical of comedy in horror unless it is intentional or adds to the terror. While this remains more on the intentional side, I can get behind the jokes and odd sense of humor quickly. It had me reminiscing on one of my personal favorites, instantly softening my heart to whatever flaws it may have had.
With Insidious (2010) being an obvious inspiration behind the fluid shots, there is an easily distinctive visual between the two worlds Jay and Jackson jump around. I, like most audiences, have seen multi-million dollar blockbusters both dabble in, and concentrate on the concept of time travel with disastrous effect. Dunn and the crew behind Mandao of the Dead, have mastered the rare art of time travel and translate it well on the screen, experimenting with color, lighting, and perspective.
Now, I’m not going to misconstrue this review for praising this as a film that requires no improvement. It’s not going to receive an Oscar nomination this year (then again, neither has Hereditary) or receive commendations from any cinema big wigs. However, when I’m viewing something, especially for the sake of a recommendation and rating, I refuse to project expectations I have of producers like Jason Blum and James Wan onto less financially resourceful contributions to film.
“Between the one-liners, cheesy moves, intentional laughs, and solid plot, [Mandao of The Dead] is one indie film I recommend to everyone.”
Instead of stacking Mandao of the Dead against films like Get Out and Mandy, I’d rather take the approach in looking at its potential and heart, both of which it fulfills. Isn’t that the glory of this film? Fans can pick and choose what they enjoy so long as creators have the opportunity to distribute their art in some way. An honest score should never deter interested audiences from giving them a chance. Mandao of the Dead is far from a perfect film – all factors of the film from acting to lighting could use some work, but those flaws can be understandably attributed to a tight budget. The special and practical effects are not incredibly aesthetic or advanced, though I do believe Dunn does well with what resources he has. It may not resonate as well with some, but I personally cannot deny enjoyment when I feel it.
Between the one-liners, cheesy moves, intentional laughs, and solid plot, this is one indie film I recommend to everyone. In a way, Mandao of The Dead was a unique out-of-body experience for me. I dipped my toe into the alternative plane of low budget horror and I am so glad I began with a Scott Dunn original. It was an interesting trip as a mode of research, so to speak, and is now a guilty pleasure.
Mandao of the Dead is currently streaming on Amazon Video and will be available to stream on iTunes in February. I’ve also caught wind of a possible sequel (and franchise) to follow, so be sure to stay within the cool realm Dunn and his friends have created. This one is sure to reach some cult status in the near astral future.