It’s been a little while since I’ve been totally fucking blown away by a horror film; something I would legitimately call a good movie regardless of its genre’s connotation. I’m happy to say that The Devil’s Candy is that film. It also sits somewhere in the sweet spot for me, because it includes a few of the Kvlt’s favorite things…horror & metal! Aw hell, why not throw in some strong satanic overtones just for good measure? It’s certainly not the first film to combine these elements; it’s just the first to do it so damn successfully in my eyes. This is why we love horror movies! It’s rare to get a taste of something so fresh, and to have that taste carry through until after the credits have rolled.
As I said, it’s not the first film to blend metal and horror together. In fact, for the initiated, there’s a whole “metalsploitation” genre dating back to the 80’s. Films like Black Roses, Rock ‘n’ Roll Nightmare, Trick or Treat and even sillier entries like The Gate paved the way for the dark side of metal to permeate the collective psyche of suburbia. Metal music was a little more taboo in the 80’s thanks to the satanic panic, and people generally not having a clue about metal music or its fans. It was easier to prey on the fears of the public back then. Even more recent metalsploitaion entries like Deathgasm knock the concept out of the park, but with a heavy dose of satire and ridiculousness. This is where I think The Devil’s Candy shines above the rest. The metal is a side note in service to the greater story at large, while also being present nearly the entire time. It’s a horror film first and foremost.
The film opens with a demented looking Ray Smilie, played brilliantly by beloved character actor Pruitt Taylor Vince, shredding a guitar in order to drown out “the voices”. He’s playing some sludgy doom-style riffs in a fairly creepy fashion to keep those voices at bay. His mom doesn’t like this so naturally it’s time for some matricide followed up swiftly by some patricide…sorry mom & dad. Most of you will undoubtedly recognize the actor playing Ray as the creepy guy who does that weird back and forth thing with his eyes. He does it in pretty much everything he’s in, and it suits his creepy demeanor perfectly here. I also just recently learned that this is a medical condition known as nystagmus, or involuntary movement of the eye, so I guess I’m the asshole here. You can Google it.
Almost immediately after our double homicide we are introduced to the atypical family unit of Jesse, Astrid, and Zooey…played by Ethan Embry, Shiri Appleby, and Kiara Glasco Respectively. I just want to go on record and say that this is without a doubt Ethan Embry’s strongest performance in anything I’ve seen him in. He brings Jesse to life in a way that I don’t think another actor could’ve pulled off as successfully. He’s an artist who paints to Pantera, drives the station wagon blasting Slayer, and throws the horns to his daughter on her first day of school. He also looks like an honest to goodness hesher with just the right amount of grime. Aside from getting the aesthetic right on the button, there’s an emotional depth and intensity to his character that elevates the mood of the film even further. Embry isn’t typically known for dramatic roles, but he proves here that he’s got a talent for it.
The family has just bought Ray’s murder house, and happily head bangs their way to the new property. Just after settling in, a dirty and deranged looking Ray shows up saying that he “needs to come home now”. Yeah…not creepy at all! He seems to bond with Zooey about playing guitars, but just like any good parent, they freak out and ask him to leave. I guess even the coolest parents still need to be parents at the end of the day. That’s one of the beautiful things about this movie. It treats metalheads with respect like normal people. They listen to metal, but they are normal fucking people…as I assume most of us are. We’re not murderous degenerates based on our taste in music, which seems to be a common misconception when you wear your Watain shirt to the annual summer picnic…but I digress.
It’s obvious that this family has succumbed to some financial troubles, evidenced further by Jesse’s most recent art commission involving butterflies for a local business. Within a short matter of time Jesse becomes, well…possessed for lack of a better word, and starts to paint some darker images. Maybe an upside-down cross that he doesn’t remember painting, or perhaps some children being burned and murdered? Luckily for Jesse, this new phase he’s in attracts the attention of an art dealer who previously rejected his work. The dealer’s studio just so happens to be named Belial, and the head honcho may or may not resemble a classy Lucifer type character. Does this play into the grand scheme of the film? These “coincidences” felt like tasty little morsels thrown out to the observant viewer. Read them anyway you like.
The Devil’s Candy wants to lull you into a false sense of security before it goes for the throat. There are some humorous moments, but it begins to set a tone that will undoubtedly disturb some viewers. The first act makes us care for this family, and even have some sympathy towards Ray before we really get to know him. The third act hits like a sledgehammer to the face, and reminds us of how a “good” horror film can make you feel. It can make you little tense, a little uneasy, maybe a little sweaty on the palms. It can make you think about the real horrors people commit everyday versus the supernatural ones that may or may not exist.
Writer/director Sean Byrne is truly a remarkable talent to keep an eye on. He loudly burst onto the scene with 2009’s psychotic cult hit The Loved Ones. That film was a smash on the festival circuit, and got some pretty high praise from some notoriously tough audiences. The Devil’s Candy is only his second feature film, and it appears that it was well worth the wait. It gives me hope for the future of horror. It’s an example, for me, of having your cake and eating it too. It was tense, it was fun, it was disturbing, and it left me thinking about it…a lot. I am hoping that we don’t need to wait 8 more years for Sean Byrne to kick the door in again. IMDB states that the movie has been making the rounds since 2015, which also makes me wonder what the hell took so long? This is nothing short of a master-class on how tight a horror film can be, down to a final frame that gave this writer the chills.
The Devil’s Candy is currently playing on VOD, so pretty much any pay-per-view type platform you prefer. It’s worth the rent. As all horror fans know, tastes vary. I can safely say that it’s currently a frontrunner for my personal end of the year “best” list, and I walked away extremely happy. Extra bonus for metal fans, there’s a good soundtrack featuring Slayer, Pantera, Ghost, Sunn O))) amongst others. I don’t really care when or how you see it, but if you like your horror with an edge to it…see this one soon.