Low-budget horror flicks apparently do killer business on demand, as every week there are two or three more B-movie shockers taking aim at the couch potato’s credit card — “Hell Baby,” “Bad Milo” and “Jug Face” being only a few semi-notables of late. The vast expanse of VOD has at least something for everyone, but for the die-hard horror fan, it’s a veritable blood feast.
Indeed, the glut of gore on demand is such that casual clickers could be forgiven for thinking that “All the Boys Love Mandy Lane” is just another cut-rate slasher film; its lurid ads feature a scantily clad, strung-out and hyperventilating Amber Heard looking like the so-called Final Girl in “The Texas Chain Saw Massacre” circa 1974. But buffs know that “Mandy Lane,” like the voluptuous title character ingeniously played by Heard, is something special.
First seen at festival screenings six years ago, “Mandy Lane” was bought by the Weinstein Co. and subsequently banished to distribution purgatory. But its legend continued to circulate — as did illegal downloads, to the extent that piraters may consider the pic’s official release last week to be redundant if not downright damaging to its all-important cult status.
Heard — whose outrageously alluring young Mandy reluctantly accompanies the cool kids on one of those clichéd escapades to a house in the middle of nowhere — has become a celebrity in recent months (i.e., Johnny Depp’s girlfriend), which partly explains the film’s belated release in 2013. Plus, the VOD biz is as smokin’ hot as Mandy — and horror, having hit a nasty dead end in the torture porn, Iraq War era of “Hostel,” etc., has twitched back to life with a vengeance (witness the paranormal grosses of “The Conjuring”).
But why try to explain the supernatural resurrection of “Mandy Lane” when there’s so much for a genre junkie simply to savor? In addition to having evidently consumed every single indie horror film from “Texas Chain Saw” on, director Jonathan Levine seems to have taken a look or two at the great “Donnie Darko,” emulating that modern classic’s hallucinatory vision of high school as equal parts dream and nightmare.
With “good girl” Mandy’s almost animal magnetism as a running gag, “Mandy Lane” is hilarious until it isn’t, Levine’s slashing violence hitting one’s jugular even when it’s obvious that minor characters were doomed to be drawing flies before dawn. And Heard is, well, as enthralling as you may have heard.
Also new to VOD
Some relatively bloodless VOD releases of recent weeks include “Ain’t Them Bodies Saints,” the gorgeous, Terrence Malick-influenced Dust Bowl love story; “From Up on Poppy Hill,” a lovely Japanese animated feature whose VOD bow comes on the heels of sad news that Studio Ghibli director Hayao Miyazaki (“Spirited Away”) is retiring from the field; and “Koch,” a lively and provocative documentary study of the former New York mayor, Ed Koch.
Rob Nelson is a National Society of Film Critics member whose reviews appear regularly in the trade magazine Variety.