Nicolas Cage has been cranking out straight-to-VOD movies for ages, but “Mandy” broke that mold. The wild, heavy metal-inspired revenge saga screened in a handful of theaters when it came out on VOD in September, but the enthusiasm for director Panos Cosmatos’ eerie, haunting cult phenomenon turned it into a theatrical phenomenon. While it was released in accordance with a traditional day-and-date strategy, distributor RLJ Entertainment noticed a massive uptick in demand for the film, and the movie continues to expand to theaters across the country.
For Cosmatos, who spent eight years working on his follow-up to his similarly psychedelic breakout “Beyond the Black Rainbow,” the enthusiasm has extended far beyond his expectations. “This is very surprising to me,” he said in a phone interview. “I suspected the movie would find an audience, but that it would be a lot smaller.”
He added that he had started to notice the way fans responded to the moody gothic aesthetic in part because it differed from anything else out there. “I hoped when I made the movie that it was speaking to an audience that wasn’t being spoken to, and I wonder if that’s what’s happened here,” he said.
Of course, the Cage factor hasn’t hurt. “I suspect that a portion of the audience was going into it as a novelty because of the Nicolas Cage aspect, but then connecting with it in an emotional way,” Cosmatos said. “It’s exactly the kind of thing I hoped would happen.”
To date, “Mandy” has grossed nearly $1.2 million domestically, and that’s not taking into account its digital receipts. More than that, it has expanded Cosmatos’ profile in a big way, and led some to contemplate whether he might have a new franchise on his hands. “People have asked me about it,” he said. “I don’t know if I’m a sequels kind of person. I prefer each film to have its own unique identity.”
However, Cosmatos did imagine another story from the “Mandy” universe during pre-production, following Cage’s grief-stricken killer Red Miller to a different setting. “When I was writing the film, to amuse myself, I imagined a sequel that took place with Red Miller fighting Nazi punks in a bombed-out city,” Cosmatos said. “I don’t know if that would ever happen, but it’s a fun thought.”
In general, Cosmatos has been displeased with contemporary sequels — but he has appreciated a certain variation on them. “The thing I do miss about the way some sequels were in the past was that each film felt like its own unique, complete tone,” he said. “Now, sequels are tonal facsimiles of the ones before them, like a television series, whereas back in the past sequels would often be radically different from the ones before.”
Cosmatos may have some intriguing offers coming his way following the success of “Mandy” — Cage himself recently suggested that the director would be a good fit to reboot “Superman” — but he’s managing expectations himself, and said he wasn’t sure if he could handle a big budget studio project. He spent years developing “Mandy,” eventually landing the support of genre production company Spectrevision and XYZ Films. “I wanted to avoid the situation that a lot of directors are herded into these days, where you have to give up a lot of control,” he said.
He was open to the possibility of working on an existing property, with one caveat. “The only way I’d want to be involved with something like that is if it’s a chance to dramatically reinvent something, not something that’s already established,” he said. “But at the same time, where my heart lies is with serving these things are self-generated. My gut feeling is that’s where I’ll continue to work, on a lot smaller scale.”