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Amphibians in Movies
Mandy (2018)
Spoiler Alert !

Some of these pictures and descriptions may give away plot details that you might not want to know before watching the film.
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I wish I could say that the salamander in this movie appears in several scenes and has a speaking part, but no, it's just another blink-and-you'll-miss-it salamander cameo. There are almost no movies with salamanders in them. Even "The Salamander" didn't have one. So because this is one of the very rare fictional movie appearances by a tailed amphibian that I have stumbled upon, I can't ignore it. (Plus this movie is so awesome I just wanted to live in its world a little longer.)

This movie has been called a "psychotropic horror and grindhouse revenge thriller" but it's basically a love story about a trauma survivor and two men who love her. (And it includes one of the funniest fake TV commercials I have ever seen.) In 1983 Red Miller (Nicolas Cage), a lumberjack, falls in love with Mandy Bloom (Andrea Riseborough) when he sees her in a bar. They couple up and live a happy life in a glass house in the middle of the woods. Jeremiah Sand (Linus Roache), the leader of a Manson-Family type religious cult called Children of the New Dawn, becomes obsessed with Mandy the moment he sees her walking on a road wearing a Black Sabbath T-shirt. Like all cult leaders, Jeremiah already has a few sex slaves, but he wants to add Mandy to his collection so he orders his followers to make it so.

Jeremiah's head henchman blows a magic horn that summons a group of acid-head cannibal biker demons who look like a cross between something out of Hellraiser and a Norwegian heavy metal band. The biker demons abduct Mandy and the henchman gives them a fat child to eat as payment. Mandy is brought to Jeremiah. Two female cult members pour LSD in Mandy's eyeball and then Jeremiah tries to seduce her. He puts on an album he recorded and plays a hippie folk song, then he stands naked in front of Mandy, expecting her to jump his bones. She's stoned out of her mind, but all she can do is laugh at him. (I think the most terrifying thing about this movie is not the biker demons, or that Jeremiah thinks the band The Carpenters are sensational, it's the fact that a lot of people have bought or streamed Jeremiah's song. The saying that men are afraid that women will laugh at them and women are afraid that men will kill them, turns out to be very accurate here, because Jeremiah's response to Mandy laughing at his naked musical seduction is to have her burned alive.

There's a lot of time left in the movie, so instead of killing Red, which anybody not in a movie would do immediately, thereby ending the movie, Jeremiah forces Red to watch Mandy burn to death, then leaves Red alive, tied up with barbed wire. Jeremiah has obviously never seen a Nicolas Cage movie. Nobody does crazy like Cage, and this has to be his most insane role - even crazier than when he was a flaming motorcycle riding slave of the Devil. Red rips off the barbed wire, drinks a whole bottle of vodka, screams like maniac, then gets to work on the violent revenge part of the movie. He gets his crossbow and forges a big shiny steel battle axe in his basement weapons foundry (a standard feature of any cabin in the woods, just ask any realtor.) Then he goes hunting, and lucky for Red, Jesus Freaks are in season.
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But what about the salamander?

After a long day of decapitating biker demons and burning them to death, Red lays down next to a creek to sleep through the night. He has a fantasy cartoon dream about Mandy, who pulls a big green glowing thing out of the body of a slain giant beast. Red wakes up out of the dream, opens his eyes, and sees a salamander on a rock. Then he gets up and continues his hunting.

As far as I can tell, the salamander in the movie is a Spotted Salamander, native to the East Coast. Whatever it is, some effort was made by the filmmakers to include the salamander in the movie. It's a trivial occurance, for sure, but it's not accidental. It's there because it means something, but I'm not sure exactly what that is. That may be because I don't know much about fantasy fiction or heavy metal mythology or whatever else is going on here, or because the writer/director doesn't really know what it means either.

Previously, Red visited a mind-reading drug chemist to find out where to find Jeremiah. He tells him: "You exude a cosmic darkness." Then we see Red's boots covered with black millipedes. After that Red's ATV gets bogged down in the mud so he goes to find a place to sleep and then we see the salamander scene. So maybe it refers back to the cosmic darkness comment, since most people would consider a salamander on the same level as squirming and disgusting millipedes. But there is also a lot of fire in this movie, and several people are burned to death. And the only myth we know about salamanders is that they supposedly can appear out of fire as if they can't be burned. (Not true, but that's why it's a myth.) We know that the salamander is connected to the dream of Mandy, so maybe it is supposed to represent the part of her that survived the fire that killed her. Like the glowing green thing she pulls out of the dead beast. Her soul maybe. We have seen that Mandy feels a connection with nature - her fantasy art shows women and animals, she lingers over a dead faun, and she tells a story about refusing to kill a baby Starling, so it makes sense she could appear as an animal. Or maybe I need to drink a whole bottle of vodka to understand it.

But the movie doesn't leave us much time to ponder the significance of the dream or the salamander because it needs to get back to what the audience paid to see - Red's violent bloody revenge spree with a chainsaw duel, decapitation, eye-popping, and lots more fire. Did I forget to mention that this is not a family movie? Seriously though, I wonder who is the intended audience and where they go to watch it. It would be a lot of fun to see this movie in a theater full of the kind of people who would go to see this movie in a theater, but that's probably possible only in a handful of hipster cities. If you don't have that option, it's still well worth watching at home in your basement weapons foundry. Grab a big bowl of Cheddar Goblin and a bottle of vodka and enjoy the carnage.

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