A Guide to the Amphibians
and Reptiles of California

Amphibians In Movies

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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 short cameo. There are almost no movies with salamanders. 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 definitely can't ignore it.

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.) 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 woods. In 1983, Jeremiah Sand (Linus Roache), 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 in a Black Sabbath T-shirt. Like all cult leaders Jeremiah already has some sex slaves, but he feels compelled to add Mandy to his collection. His main henchman blows a magic horn to summon a group of acid-head cannibal biker demons then gives them a fat kid to eat as payment for abducting Mandy, and she is brought to Jeremiah. Two female cult members pour LSD in Mandy's eyeball and then Jeremiah tries to seduce her with his music. Stoned out of her mind, she laughs at him after he puts on an album of his unappreciated music and plays a hippie folk song then stands naked in front of her trying to seduce her. (I think the most terrifying thing about this movie is not the biker demons, who look like a Norwegian metal band, or that Jermiah thinks The Carpenters are sensational, it's the fact that a lot of people have bought or streamed Jeremiah's song. Those people are the real monsters here.)

The saying that men are afraid women will laugh at them and women are afraid men will kill them, turns out to be very accurate here, because Jeremiah's response to Mandy laughing at him is to burn her alive. In order to give the movie something to do until the end, instead of killing Red, which anybody not in a movie would do, Jeremiah forces Red to watch Mandy burn, then leaves him alive, bound 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 his barbed wire bonds, drinks a bottle of vodka, screams like maniac, then gets to work on the violent revenge part of the movie. He grabs his crossbow and forges a big shiny steel battle axe in his basement weapons foundry (a standard feature of any cabin in the woods, 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 and burning biker demons, Red lays down next to a creek for 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.

The salamander is a Spotted Salamander. I'm fairly certain it's not a spotted morph Fire Salamander. Whatever it is, some effort was made by the filmmakers to include the salamander. It's a trivial occurance, 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 either. 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 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 level of 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 about salamanders anybody knows is that they appear out of fire as if they can't be burned. 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. Like the glowing green something survived the beast's death, maybe. We have seen that she 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. But the movie doesn't leave us any 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 more fire to come. Did I forget to mention that this is not a family movie? Seriously though, I wonder who is the intended audience and where they watch it. It would be fun to see this movie in a theater full of the kind of people who would go to see this movie in a theater full of people, but that's probably possible only in a handful of hipster cities. If you don't have that option, I suggest you watch it in your basement weapons foundry with a big bowl of Cheddar Goblin and a bottle of vodka.

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