Monday, July 2, 2018

Redbox Reject: MANDY THE HAUNTED DOLL (2018)

I honestly had no intention of diving back into the murky Redbox waters so quickly. After the last endurance test, I needed the mandatory six months to recharge. However, those sly bastards at Redbox hit my email with an offer I couldn’t refuse - get your next rental for only 50 cents! Why you sumbitches. To quote Michael Corleone, “Just when I thought I was out...they pull me back in!”

So then it was a tough night of decisions. You see, one simply doesn’t show up to the Redbox not knowing what they want. Do I go for BAD APPLES? Or am I in a THE 13TH FRIDAY mood? Is CANNIBAL FARM tickling my fancy? Eventually I decided to get my Charles Band on and went with the UK import MANDY THE HAUNTED DOLL. Wilson, you’re an idiot.

The tiny terrors horror subgenre has been a constant staple since Redbox’s early days where they actually had a deal with Band. Now if you can get anything tiny into a horror movie, you are practically guaranteed a spot in the kiosk. UK director Andrew Jones has perfected the formula with his ROBERT series, which is apparently 5 films deep now. No doubt the success of THE CONJURING spinoff ANNABELLE has also contributed to the growing “cursed doll” market. And much like those films, MANDY THE HAUNTED DOLL claims to be based off a true story. The purported story involves early 20th century doll housed in a museum in Canada. The previous owner donated it after hearing crying in the night that could not be located and it freaked them out. Now it is behind a glass case and causing all sorts of calamity at the museum, such as moving pens and missing lunches. You guys sure this isn’t just normal workplace routines? “My pen is missing, must be the haunted doll!”

MANDY opens with a tiny prologue which sets the events in England in 1910. A young girl is locked in a parish during a snowy winter and dies after ten days with the title doll in her arms. Cut to the present day where a young couple is making out before the girl tells her boyfriend about the “best bullshit job in the world.” Wait, she reviews Redbox movies for our blog? Oh, sorry, she was talking about a weird babysitting job she had where she never saw the child. Just as she finishes up her story, there is someone at the front door. When she opens the door, she finds a package that contains a old doll with a cracked face. As horror tropes dictate, she immediately says, “Have you heard about the legend of Mandy the Doll” and explains the story to her beau. Naturally, this is Mandy in the, porcelain and she comes alive to kill the couple in rather non-exciting fashion.

Our story proper begins with Amber Ross (Phoebe Torrance) being released from prison. She is met by her sister Carly (Amy Burrows) and Carly’s boyfriend Neil (Manny Jai Montana). Minutes into her new freedom, Amber is told by Carly that they have set up one big job that will set them all up on the road to financial freedom. Carly guilt trips her sister by saying they had paid off all her underworld debts and Neil even sold his gun. Woah, woah, wooooooah! Hold on a sec here. Now I allow haunted dolls that kill people, but a British person owning a gun? I can only suspend my disbelief so far. Anyway, the job involves - you guessed it - babysitting for Mrs. O’Brien (Penelope Read). The plan is to clean out the old lady’s house of all her valuables. Arriving at the house, Amber is told that Mrs. O’Brien’s daughter Mandy is asleep upstairs and not to disturb her. She lays out the rules of not going into the attic, not leaving the house, and always monitoring Mandy by baby monitors. “She’s a special girl,” she says before leaving.

Naturally, from the moment Amber is alone things start to get freaky. She hears Mandy speaking to her and goes into the room, only to find the doll in the bed. Thinking Mandy has been kidnapped, she called Mrs. O’Brien who then describes her “child” and Amber realizes the lady is crazy and wanted her to babysit her doll. Carly and Neil then show up to ransack the house and wait for their fence, Diana. Yes, this is the kind of movie where logic dictates the fence show up at a crime scene in order to evaluate items. *slaps forehead* Of course, this is really to facilitate another victim for the malicious Mandy, who starts attacking everyone and then arranges for a TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE-like meal where everyone is strapped to chairs around a table to help Mandy celebrate her birthday.

Having previously endured THE ELF (2017) and THE TERRIBLE TWO (2018), it is probably not shocking that MANDY THE HAUNTED DOLL is another Redbox dud. I guess it goes to show that low budget chores aren’t limited to our shores. Hey, that rhymed (I gotta amuse myself somehow). It is actually kind of amazing this was made 4,400 miles away from where the likes of THE ELF and THE TERRIBLE TWO were shot because they are remarkably similar. The same bland video cinematography, the same generic score droning on, long scenes of people making dumb choices, and nearly identical running times. Redbox must has a stipulation that films must at least be at least 77 minutes as every one of these three clocks in at roughly that time. All that said, there are some small gasps of decency in the movie. The three young leads are actually decent actors, although Torrance does vacillate wildly between good and bad at times. Read is also believable as Mandy’s crazed keeper and she gives her all in the finale where she smacks folks with a hammer. Director Jamie Weston should also get some credit for trying to make it look like a real film. Despite the bland video work, he has a good eye for shot composition (perhaps best evidenced in the opening in the church) and attempts some moody lighting.

Of course, any positives have to be immediately wiped out scenes such as the fence coming to the house and calling Carly and Amber. They ask where she is and she says she is downstairs. Amazingly, the girls never decide to go down ten steps to meet her and get the hell out. Yes, it is one of those kind of horror films where someone is feet from the front door, but opt to hide in a room instead. And, honestly, not much effort was put into making Mandy look formidable. I mean, it is literally people just holding the doll in the frame and wiggling it. I also need to admonish Weston for his audio commentary. This is the first Redbox horror I’ve seen with that special feature, so I wanted to check out what one of these new wave of filmmakers had to say. Apparently not much! Weston will comment on something and then not speak for minutes on end. I want to say he was enamored by his own work, but I’ve just seen MANDY and know that is virtually impossible. I gave up after 20 minutes where he had said maybe four things. The film ends with a coda where Mandy has moved on to a new family in the country, promising (threatening?) more sequels. When the mother sees the doll, she says, “The best place for this is in the bin.” Hey, I agree with that sentiment. And it seems most Redbox users do too:

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