Mandrake – DVD Review

DVD Reviews, Reviews

Bad, original movies on the SyFy channel are about as natural as the sunrise. Though there are a couple of gems in the group (like Sharktopus), most of these films are B-movie fodder that are best watched while drinking with a group of bad movie fanatics. Mandrake, which debuted on SyFy in September 2010, is one of the latter group, and though it is watchable, is another cheap attempt for SyFy to make a couple bucks.

Mandrake follows adventurer Darren McCall (Max Martini) and a group of specialists on an expedition through the jungle to find an ancient dagger. The group, funded by the wealthy Harry Vargas (Benito Martinez from the television series The Shield), makes the mistake of pulling the dagger from the grave it had been resting, which unearths a giant plant-beast. The killer plant is only half of their concern as a group of indigenous people start attacking the explorers as well.

This is a not-so-normal SyFy creature feature that comes off as a mix between The Ruins and Predator. The story, though nowhere near perfect, is interesting enough to get the viewer’s attention. Towards the end, as the story starts to conclude, it begins to head into the “ridiculous” territory, weakening the story as a whole. As with most cheap SyFy films, Mandrake relies on a ton of computer animation and green screen effects. To my surprise most of these effects look pretty good, but there are moments that stand out as unacceptably poor, even for a cheap SyFy film.

Fans of the Saw series might recognize some of the actors in Mandrake: Benito Martinez played in the original Saw; J. LaRose, who plays a Shaman in this, was in Saw III and Saw IV; Jon Mack (playing supervisor Carla Manning) was in Saw VI; and Betsy Russell, who plays Felicia, the doctor of the expedition group, starred as Jigsaw’s wife in Saw III through Saw: The Final Chapter. Saw connections aside, the majority of the cast of Mandrake seem to be talented actors, but the terrible script they’re stuck worth does its best to hide this fact. The biggest problem with the script is that it creates a cast filled with unlikable characters that the audience will find difficult to connect with. Whether or not they were the “good guy” or the “bad guy”, I just couldn’t buy in to their shallow backstories and terrible dialogue, rendering the actor’s work pointless. Screenwriter David Ray (who has made a handful of other made-for-TV movies) creates unlikeable, unbelievable, and worthless characters in this Mandrake script, which kills any momentum the story may have had going for it.

The shallowness of Mandrake doesn’t end with the characters. It plagues the movie from start to finish, which is fine when watching the made-for-TV movie for free on SyFy. When there is a price tag tacked on, though, expectations are raised, and Mandrake falls flat on its face. Though the idea of a giant plant-beast is intriguing, there is little payoff. For a SyFy creature feature, Mandrake does its duty to entertain for 90 minutes, and fans of bad B-movies will enjoy what the movie has to offer. Anyone looking for something deeper or more meaningful will want to look elsewhere, as Mandrake is sure to disappoint.

This DVD release looks typical to most standard definition releases nowadays. There are some parts that look foggier than others, but this doesn’t kill the picture quality. The DVD lists a 16×9 widescreen presentation with a 1.78:1 contrast ratio. “Typical” can be said for the audio of Mandrake as well. Everything about the movie is cheap, including the sound effects. The music is reminiscent of the Lost (TV series) soundtrack, but not nearly as epic or as good. The DVD provides both an English 5.1 and a 2.0 Dolby Digital Audio option. English and Spanish subtitles are also available.

Also from Lionsgate (8:35): Contains trailers for the Saw series, The Last Exorcism, After Dark Originals, FearNet HD, and epix HD. There is nothing new here that hasn’t been on almost every Lionsgate release of the past year, and seeing as this is the only special feature, this section fails miserably.

Mandrake never lets the viewer forget that it is a made-for-TV movie, from the shallow characters, and the story that manages to get convoluted near the finish, all the way to the random political talk tossed in just for the hell of it. Paying for this DVD, which doesn’t stand out visually, and has no worthwhile special features, is not recommended. Catch the inevitable replay on SyFy one Saturday afternoon, and save the cash for something, anything, else.

Lionsgate presents Mandrake. Directed by: Tripp Reed. Starring: Betsy Russell, Max Martini, and Nick Gomez. Written by: David Ray. Running time: 89 minutes. Rating: Not Rated. Released on DVD: April 12, 2011.

Branden Chowen is, first and foremost, an actor. He is in his final year of graduate school, where he will (hopefully) soon receive an MFA in acting to compliment his BFA in the art. He spends his free time watching and reviewing movies for Inside Pulse Movies, and We Love Cult. He is also one of the co-hosts for The Drive-In, which is the official podcast of Inside Pulse Movies. He is an avid horror fan, and will spend time watching just about any horror movie that looks interesting. You can contact Branden by email at bchowen[AT]insidepulse[DOT]com, or follow him on Twitter @Psymin1.