Panos Cosmatos Fosters His Own Monsters in Mandy
By Sean M. Sanford
Fostering a Monster
I find that the question, “Have you seen Mandy?” is often followed by an exclamation of or equal to, “Holy shit.”
The link between a concept and its composer can sometimes be dim to nil. For example, when most people think of a persona named Frankenstein, they’re likely to imagine the bolt-necked creation who once pioneered death’s epilogue. Of course, an arguably comparable amount of people will admit that Frankenstein was in fact the name of the monster’s creator.
A film like Mandy, with more ambiance, layers, interpretability, and chainsaw jousts than dialogue (or even plot summary), begs a closer look into who had created such a thing.
Meet Panos Cosmatos
Mandy’s director and co-conjurer, Panos Cosmatos, was born amongst film. His father, George P. Cosmatos, has been in the filmmaking industry since the early 60s, and it seems natural that Panos would follow suit. His mother, Birgitta Ljundberg-Cosmatos, being a sculptor and artist, Panos had it in his blood to meld said savvies and make way for cinematic art. Interestingly enough, Panos’s parents deplored the very notion of him watching horror flicks. In fact, the first scary movie he ever watched was Alien, reflected off the living room window from his bedroom’s vantage, where he had been sanctioned while his parents divulged.
Panos’s work is clearly inspired by his relationship with horror partly instilled by his childhood, not to mention his parents themselves. He has said that both of his first films (Beyond the Black Rainbow and Mandy) were products of him processing the loss of both of his mother and father [Ryan Reed; “‘Mandy’: How Metal Inspired 2018’s Most Psychedelic Action Horror Film;” Revolver; 2018]
Nonetheless, Horror Courted
Despite, if not because of, such a diluted relationship with terror, Panos’s imagination tried to experience and understand the nature of such a prohibited beast. Thus nudging his young mind to speculate, imagine, and invent scenarios known only to the scary movie experience. He would dip into the horror section at his local video store beyond his parents’ watchful eye and look at the movie jackets, allowing his mind to roam wild as to what these forbidden fruits might entail. He’d invent entire plotlines, and watch them play out in his mind using only the still-frame nuggets who gleamed from their backsides.
A Life in the Movies
As Panos grew up he found himself becoming more and more entrenched in the magic of movie making. His dad was credited as the director for 1993’s man-babe-alicious western Tombstone, and Panos worked alongside him as a video assist operator. Pair that with his childhood imagination for horror, not to mention his teenaged promiscuity with hallucinogens, and you’ve got yourself a concoction for some real cinematic sorcery.
Thus a Mandy is Born
Mandy, Cosmatos’s second movie after Beyond the Black Rainbow, accentuates the writer’s fondness for showing over telling. It has a simple plot: a hero with a singular agenda; and is told in 3 acts with 2 distinct parts: one of love, and one of revenge. His story arch reflects the staged tragedies of ancient Greece. The real meat of the movie is more in its mood than its actual path to point B: its soundtrack, cinematography, color-use, and so on. Also the actors.
Holy shit the actors
After assembling an incredible cast (including Nicholas Cage, Bill Duke and Andrea Riseborough), Cosmatos created a playlist of songs that he felt were symphonic with how he had envisioned his film. He gave the playlist to his cast and crew and asked them to listen to it before production began. Cosmatos later worked ostensibly with composer Johann Johannsson to create an audio aspect that’s as compelling and nightmare-inducing as the visuals. They wanted to enshrine the vibe of 80’s metal to parallel the film’s overall theme, while pairing it with thematic vibes of shit like vengeance and crossbow murders. This is one of the ways in which Cosmatos homages the 80’s with a modern and blood-soaked facelift.
Also Nick Cage Though
Cosmatos had asked Nicholas Cage to play the villain in his movie. Cage however had just gone through a difficult break up with his long-term girlfriend. He felt that he could relate to the hero and would do a much more convincing job in that role. Cosmatos wasn’t really feeling it, as the hero was written as a young man, something that Cosmatos felt was important for the plot. But then, one night, Cosmatos had a dream that Nichols Cage was playing the hero. He woke up feeling assured that Cage would do justice to his vision as his protagonist. Hence, we have Nicholas Cage doing a performance that really wags its ass at any naysayers. Hallelujah!
Cosmatos chose a chainsaw as Nicholas Cage’s article of vengeance to represent the nature of his insanity and its resulting girth. And here I thought Cage’s crimson-drenched mannerisms were quite enough. Cue nightmares for the rest of my life.
Mandy: A Real Dandy
Alright, so maybe Mandy wasn’t created by a mind too sick to tell a story any less saturated in dementia. But I love that it was born of a creative environment that had actually worked to shield him from movies like Mandy. As he claims it to have been an offshoot of parent-themed emotions, it may even have been in part a product of the very thematic shackles that had been put on him. Shit, maybe he also got older and learned that his own mentally-scripted versions of all those classic 80’s horror flicks were better than the real deal. And thus a Mandy is born. Or shall I say, Cosmatos’s Monster?