Time Travel to Stop EVIL via Astral Projection: Part II! “Mandao Returns” reviewed! (Indie Rights / Digital Screener)

With his powerful ability to astral project, along with the help of a motley entourage of friends and family, Jay Mandao saved multiple lives, some who are close to him, from his blood thirsty ex-girlfriend on Halloween night.  Two months later, days before Christmas, and now living in the scheming medium Cousin Andy’s townhome after his unrelated cousin Jackson set fire to his apartment, Mandao and Jackson float through life, sleeping in Cousin Andy’s living room and barely off the royalties of Mandoa’s father breakfast cereal line.   Dreams of his father, Raymond Mandoa, urging him to stop astral projecting as dark entities will discover him are reluctantly ignored when Cousin Andy connives a get-rich-quick opportunity to contact the recently deceased Aura Garcia, a well-known B-movie actress having died a few nights ago after a drug overdose, but as soon as the spiritual and time planes are disturbed, sinister plans of murder, from the living and the dead, deck the halls with a blood red Christmas.  

Mandao is back!  Or rather returns in a new scouring the astral plane misadventure entitled “Mandao Returns.”  When we last reviewed the Scott Dunn 2019 comedy-horror sleeper hit, “Mandao of the Dead,” an open ending left us salivating with a possible sequel under, what we know now to be a working title, “Mandao of the Damned” that promised exploring the nonphysical and paranormal realm’s mysteries and secrets that threatened Jay Mandao’s whole grain boxed-in existence, at least according to Mandao’s father, Raymond with a foreboding sign of inexplicable things to come.  The Kickstarter.com, crowdfunded modern cult favorite raised more than $26,000, doubling the first film’s budget, from approx. 250+ generous likeminded supporters within two weeks time that brought back four core characters essential to “Mandao of the Dead’s” grim, but lighthearted success to battle half-cocked the supernatural forces of evil.  Instead of a blood drinking cultist, a by-midnight death ceremony concretes stardom and greatness, but not if Jay Mandao has something to say about it.  “Mandao Returns” is a production of Scott Dunn’s Dunnit Films and distributed by Indie Rights.

Returning, obviously as stated in the title, to ensure the safety and well-being of those who incessantly annoy yet deep down care for him on a daily level is the hapless Jay Mandao, the titular hero played by writer, director, and story creator, Scott Dunn, along with Dunn’s wife, Gina Gomez Dunn, who steps back into a co-producer role for the sequel as well as stepping back into the shrewdly wild shoes of Fer, a close but no cigar Mandao love interest continuing to become mixed up in Mandao’s spiritual shenanigans while being a private driver for the Uber-equivalent Bum Rides.  Though blood is thicker than water, Mandao’s cousin-by-marriage Jackson oozes with dense innocence as Sean McBride reprises the daft role to another perfect tune of witless naivety.  Together, Mandao and Jackson arouse a likeable dynamic duo that becomes the keystone to both films’ success because without McBride’s timely childlike disposition, Mandao would just be a snippy and angsty loner and without Dunn’s subtly serious tone, Jackson would overrun the comedy-horror with one-sided gullibility.  With any sequel aiming to top its predecessor, the buddy comedy needed to be bigger and by adding the fourth returning character, Cousin Andy, as an important ingredient to the mix, Sean Liang adds a grounding hoodwinking conspirator that thrusts Mandao and Jackson into action on the astral plane field when the no-good antagonist, Aura Garcia, played by newcomer Jenny Lorenzo, becomes scorned in the spiritual world and takes heinous vengeance that not only involves Mandao, Cousin Andy, Jackson, and Fer, but also Garcia’s talent manager, Ted (Jim O’Doherty), in a sacrificial ritual gone terribly wrong. 

“Mandao Returns” is a smartly written script from creator Scott Dunn whose able to mold fallibly fascinating characters into unlikely heroes juxtaposed against a monumental occurrence much greater than themselves with the vast possibilities in the spacetime continuum.  Of course, the cinema flair to decorate the otherworldly dimensions with accessible ease and gloomy aesthetics faces speculation of existential questions of mindpower and life after death and the challenges the mechanics of the theory of metaphysics, but all that abstract mumbo-jumbo is pushed aside in order to make the “Mandao” films entertaining and for a good reason because when the script has colorful characters and a working narrative, “Mandao Returns” allows audiences to turn off rationality for approx. 71 minutes to enjoy a modestly produced Sci-fi comedy-thriller with a cast accurately in sync with each other’s methods.  The one thing I will say about “Mandao Returns” that I found to be a sore spot, despite still immensely enjoying, is that the story echoes eerily to “Mandao of the Dead.”  With a slight tweak to Mandao’s astral projection powers and trading in a different breed of villain, from point A to point B, from dynamics to outcome, everything seemed nearly identical to “Mandao of the Dead’s” narrative, delivering nothing distinctively new to the table to elevate the character’s fate and circumstances into unique, un-before-seen horizons.  Dunn comes close to challenging and upgrading the prior narrative by hinting something lurking within the spirit world was on the verge of closing in on Jay Mandao if he continues blindly using astral projection by the forewarning words of his father, Raymond Mandao, but slips out of that digressional stream to pit Mandao versus greenhorn cult acolytes looking for glam and glory by way of the gory and that, done in the Dunnit Films’ essence, is okay too.

As a quirky, out-of-body sci-fi thriller experience, “Mandao Returns” succeeds in succeeding as the sequel that brings the thrills and the laughter of far-fetched heroes ready to tear into the fabric of time to stop evil once again. The film comes to you from distributor Indie Rights and is available now streaming only on Amazon Prime so get your pandemic pants on aka comfy, stretchy pants, grab some movie style popcorn, and recline back to watch “Mandao Returns.” Experience the vibrant and wraithy-visioned glow cinematography of A.J. Young, returning from “Mandao of the Dead” as well as Dunn’s first film “Schlep” and another camping trip horror film, “Camp 139.” Young stays true to the films atmospherics with hard lighting a variety of hues and creating a story through the presence of shadows, working movie magic creating an opulent visual experience when really only working with about 25 grand. There were no bonus features nor extended credit scenes with this digital screener. One day, I’d like to see Scott Dunn and his Dunnit Films team work with a good chunk of budget cash and push the limits beyond the simplicities of the “Mandao” films, but until then, “Mandao Returns’ is disseminated with a whimsical awareness and fervent macabre that’s intent to please.

Watch “Mandao Returns” on Prime Video. Click the Poster!

Time Travel to Stop Evil via Astral Projection! “Mandao of the Dead” review!


Astral projection defined per Wikipedia: an interpretation of an out-of-body experience that assumes the existence of an “astral body” separate from the physical body and capable of traveling outside it. The otherworldly experience befalls suddenly upon Jamison Mandao, a young man living off the royalties of his late father’s flailing popular cereal brand, and his recently discovered, and also bewitching, new astral plane exploring powers land him in a macabre laced predicament with his adult squatting nephew, Jackson, and his nephew’s blood hungry, murderous ex-girlfriend, Maeve. With a little help provided by Jamison’s astral enthusiast relative, cousin Andy, and Maeve’s recent victim whose ghost is stuck in limbo, Jamison must use his astral projection to travel back in time, rearranging the series of events in order to not only appease the desperate pleads of a ghost, but to also save his daft, but good natured nephew becoming her next hapless fatality before the stroke of midnight segueing into the Day of the Dead when their chance to live again will rest in peace for eternity.

Here we go again with a time traveling genre film, the horror-comedy “Mandao of the Dead” from writer, director, and star Scott Dunn. Dunn’s sophomore feature film of 2018 dares the chances in being overly and, frankly, unnecessarily lambasted by internet trolls aiming to pick apart the film, hunting vigorously for time travel plot holes, but, and I reiterate this point again, that Dunn’s film is mainly a comedy where the laws of physics and ideas of probability have no bearing on Dunn’s grim fantasy loop. Despite the rather clichéd title suffix implying a facet from the zombie genre, “Mandao of the Dead” refers toward the post-Halloween, more traditionally Hispanic recognized Day of the Dead on November 2nd and while Dunn uses the day typically held for respect of past lives, the “Schlep” director conjures up a lively twist upon deathly circumstances that forms a cut-off date when that slither of twilight time for the dead ceases to be no more.

Alongside Scott Dunn as Jamison Mandao, Sean McBride buddies up as the freeloading nice nephew, Jackson. Dunn and McBride have previously worked together in Dunn’s first feature entitled Schlep and their rapport in “Mandao of the Dead” indubitably confirms a harmonious witty banter and a light-hearted dark comedy in fine, mechanical form. McBride’s spot on heartfelt halfwit Jackson nicely compliments Mandao’s knack for impatient contemplating. Throw a dude name Darth into Jamison and Jackson’s inert existence and things get dire and interesting. “2-Headed Shark Attack’s” David Gallegos isn’t portrayed as your friendly neighborhood ghost nor is he a malevolent one; instead, Darth begs for help and the cosmic universe delivers to him an astral projector and Gallego’s couldn’t be more sharply colorful with his spontaneous humor. Together, the three 30-something year-olds are pitted against the dark horse that is Maeve. Playing an incognito blood drinker, Marisa Hood has an innocence about her that renders a false sense of security and, in Jackson’s case, a pair of weak knees. Alexandre Chen, Sean Liang, and Gina Gomez round out the cast as characters finding their ways into the Day of the Dead debacle.

While we’ve seen where timelines become mangled by the interference of a time traveler and where the theme is fondled with in “Mandao of the Dead,” Dunn doesn’t over knead the narrative with it though certainly a centerpiece of the film as a whole. Mandao’s adventure with astral projection and his middling with the planes are only the beginning that have stirred a frenzy of unhappy campers in the spiritual world. The whole event of Mandao going back in time, twice, to save people is the proverbial tip of the iceberg and a welcoming taste of what’s to come from Dunn and his team. Shot in 10 days with a tight budget, Dunn, who also self-produced and edited the final product, has crystal clear storytelling abilities even with some of the rough, less glamourous edges encompassed within the world indie filmmaking. The characters are well written, from Cousin Andy, to Jackson, and to Darth, as their three various personalities colliding under a thin, blurry gothically influenced omen line.

“Mandao of the Dead” arrives onto Amazon Instant via Prime Video and presented in a widescreen, 2.35:a aspect ratio, and clocking in at a runtime of 74 minutes. No physical media specifications were provided now or for future release. With a budget around $13,000, the English stereo audio track and Panasonic GH5 image quality are finely calibrated and a flat out success for streaming platforms. No bonus features are included with this release. Vampirism, science-fiction, spirits, and astral planes, “Mandao of the Dead” is Scott Dunn’s golden genre-bending film of ghoulish and space and time continuum disproportions! So much so, a sequel has been announced, “Mandao of the Damned,” sparking a positive anticipated interest, by at least this reviewer, for the next chapter of a hapless, macabre adventures that Jay Mandao and Jackson will step into in the next astral plane!