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The Devil’s Candy

All I knew about THE DEVIL’S CANDY (2015) was

1) I think it’s one of those ones with some kind of satan/heavy metal theme and

2) I’ve been meaning to see it because it’s the second movie from Sean Byrne, the Australian writer-director of THE LOVED ONES.

That’s why it took me a bit to figure out that this is taking place in America, and that the big Pruitt Taylor Vince looking dude is in fact the genuine item, and most of all that the muscly, tattooed, long-haired, bushy-bearded Matthew McConaghey looking lead was CAN’T HARDLY WAIT‘s Ethan Embry. I only realized it like 2/3 of the way in when I checked IMDb for somebody else in the cast. And I’ve even seen him in grown up roles like CHEAP THRILLS and LATE PHASES. So this is quite a transformation for him.

Embry (Masters of Horror: Incident On and Off a Mountain Road) plays Jesse Hellman, an edgy painter who is able to move his family from a small apartment to a roomy house thanks to a combination of soul-grinding sell-out commissions and a two-people-died-here discount. But, as I personally have noticed sometimes happens in movies, there seems to be something demonic or haunted or cursed or evil or unlucky or fucked up or at least just super, super uncool about the place. I mean, we already saw in the opening that Ray Smilie (Vince, K-9, CONSTANTINE), the adult and seemingly developmentally disabled son of the previous owners, heard whispers telling him to kill. His method of shutting up the voices is to play his electric guitar loud, but his mom makes him stop. It’s like George Wendt and Macaulay Culkin at the beginning of the “Black or White” video, but with more deadly results.

The voices could totally be in Ray’s head, not some supernatural thing, but Jesse starts getting visions and nightmares and painting terrifying shit he doesn’t even remember working on, with images related to things Ray has done or will do. It’s a good depiction of the feeling that we Artistes sometimes get when work just flows out and it’s kinda spooky to wonder where it’s coming from. Shots of Jesse mixing acrylics cross cut and blend with Ray mopping up blood, as if they’re similar activities.

Ray is staying in a motel, having urges, and he gets noise complaints there too. So off goes the guitar and on goes the weird behavior like showing up at the house and being told to leave. Vince makes a really compelling psycho because he has this Of Mice and Men quality of a big confused guy who oughta be harmless but is doing these things that his favorite televangelist characterizes as the Devil working through him. He keeps talking about “having to do” what he doesn’t want to do, and he really seems like he thinks he’s a hapless victim while he’s being the perpetrator.

The other thing that makes this really work is the unorthodox family at the heart of it. Kiara Glasco (MAPS TO THE STARS) is outstanding as Jesse’s teenage daughter Zooey, who teases him about his butterfly mural for a bank being “not very metal.” I don’t think I’ve ever seen a movie where a father and daughter share a love of heavy metal. And if there was one you’d think it would be the parent trying to understand what the kid was into, but this seems more like the other way around. It’s so unusual I assumed at first that he wasn’t her dad, but her mom’s cool boyfriend.

There’s some stuff about Zooey wanting a flying-V, and since dad’s tastes don’t go against that it rules out empty rebellion and seems more like pure creative expression and self-fulfillment.

Even aside from that they have a really heartwarming closeness – she hugs him when being dropped off at school and never acts embarrassed of him. When horror movie circumstances cause that standard issue movie dad fuckup of leaving her stranded at school without a ride home it’s more upsetting than usual because he seems genuinely invested in their relationship and in wanting to be there for her as she adjusts to a new school and deal with trauma. It’s not just that he failed to fulfill his obligation.

I do feel a little bit sorry for Mom, Astrid (Shiri Appleby, CURSE II: THE BITE), who does not get any joy out of family headbanging sessions in the car. It’s cool that she’s open-minded enough to get in with Mr. Hell Man, but when her little girl started riding the lightning she must’ve been pretty bummed. Not because her daughter didn’t grow into a little princess, but because it must be lonely being the odd one out. She also has to be the person appalled by her husband’s inexplicable behavior, notably when he paints a giant picture of their daughter on fire. Which actually Zooey might think is pretty cool, but that’s beside the point.

Though there’s this demonic thing going on in the movie, the scary part is very down to earth: an unpredictable, mentally disturbed man violating boundaries and fixated on a young girl, with the police trying to help but not really having much they can do. There’s a scene where Ray lays next to Zooey while she’s asleep that got my heart crawling and skin pumping or whatever.

I couldn’t have identified any of the bands on the soundtrack, but research tells me the songs heard are by Machine Head, Metallica (x2), Cavalera Conspiracy, The Wanton Bishops, Queens of the Stone Age, Spiderbait, Goya, Pantera, Sunn ))) (x2), Slayer and Alessio Randon. It’s by no means a wall-to-wall song soundtrack, but guitar riffs are important to the mood of the horror scenes and also to Jesse when he’s on a painting spree. I am a non-metal person and sometimes find it hard to relate to people who are deep into it, and I can say that this movie makes it seem more appealing than it usually seems to me.

I’d say this is actually enough to be a movement now – like LORDS OF SALEM, MANDY and others it plays around with 1980s religious paranoia about satanic rock ‘n roll, but it’s a story told by the metalheads instead of their clueless parents or the psychos behind the religious tracts, educational videos and teen boot camps. In this case the rock ‘n roll is actually the thing that could’ve protected Ray from the Devil, and taking it away doomed him and his victims.

But it’s really not so much about the music. I found an interview with Byrne where he said it was about his fears of being a new father, but also about his frustrations as an artist doing endless unused treatments and rewrites without being able to get his own stuff off the ground. Unfortunately that seems to continue, as it’s three years later and he has nothing new listed on his IMDb page. I hope that doesn’t last for long.

This entry was posted on Tuesday, October 2nd, 2018 at 11:17 am and is filed under Horror, Reviews. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

27 Responses to “The Devil’s Candy”

  1. In terms of Heavy Metal and ghosts/demons I always have to think of an interview with the then grown-up kids from the haunting that the movie ENTITY was based on. (Let’s just assume for a minute that hauntings are definitely 100% and irrefutable real, just for the sake of this short anecdote.)

    They were apparently Rock/Metal fans and of course many people who were called in for help, saw their record collection and instantly thought: “Oh, that awful music summons the evil spirits!” However, according to the kids, the ghost always got really angry when they played their music, especially during one song, which was about punching the shit out of the devil.

  2. Ah, the mighty Sunn 0))). These guys are pretty goofy and fun. They play in weird venues like churches, and fill the room with fog, and then come out of the fog dressed like ringwraiths and menace you with scary postures while their instruments make sounds. They don’t have drums and I would not call them heavy metal per se. This is one of my favorite music reviews of all time:

  3. You really don’t know the world of metal. It is no longer a tool of adolescent rebellion; that is long gone. What is depicted here, the parent being more into it, rings very true in this cultural day and age. Kids these days are into “EDM” garbage mixed with the most cliched hip hop I’ve ever heard. Metal is parents’ music, at least in this country, except maybe for cliched core garbage.

  4. It’s true. This is the first generation whose music is wimpier and less heavy than the one that came before. The soft-ass crap these kids are listening to would get your ass beat back in my day.

    I’m convinced we have home recording technology to blame. Modern music isn’t written in a practice space with beer-stained carpet squares nailed all over the walls. It’s made late at night in bed with earbuds on so it won’t wake the loftmates. Kinda hard to bring the fuckin’ noize under those conditions.

    The presence of cinema’s 40,000th haunted real estate steal in this film does not entice me, but knowing there’s a crazy metalhead causing mischief in the flesh is a little more interesting. I’ll add it to the October list.

  5. It’s just like any other art form in the modern era. Of course, kids today are making the heaviest music that’s ever been created, you’re just not going to be exposed to it unless you go looking.

    Here’s a list of recent releases to get you started

    2018 Releases

    2018 Releases

  6. Yeah, but does anybody actually listen to it? I don’t think I’ve met a metalhead under the age of 35 in a decade. And even those pretty much exclusively liked classic metal.

    Or maybe I’m just old. What do I know? Listen to whatever fucking tuneless garbage you want, kids. Sorry about global warming killing you all before you get the chance to complain about the next generation’s fucking tuneless garbage. I’d say we did our best but we both know I’d be lying.

  7. Well, none of them will ever be Radiohead- or Metallica-popular, but they have devoted followings of enthusiastic fans. As Steve Vai elaborated upon in his recent speech about “The surprisingly strong state of music”, it used to be you were either Metallica popular or you couldn’t make a dime (more likely you would end up in debt). Now, it’s possible for hard working touring musicians to actually make money off their art thanks to the direct interface between fan and artist, the ability to make good sounding records without paying for expensive studio time, and so on.

    The era of the rock star is over. We’re basically down to one (1) famous musician and, well, it’s Kanye.

    (Sorry to derail this comments section but this is an irresistible line of discussion for me)

  8. Hello, my name is Dan, and I’m a metalhead. This is a good movie and if you like horror you should see it even if you’re not a metalhead. Thank you.

  9. I’m a metalhead under the age of 35, so we do still exist. It’s very much a niche scene tough, at least where I live. The metal scene is kind of like Pro Wrestling, it will never reach the heights of mainstream attention it once had, but there will always be a dedicated fanbase that keeps the subculture alive.

    To bring this discussion back on topic, I 100% with Vern’s take on this movie. I think Sean Byrne has already established himself as one of this generation’s best horror directors and it’s a shame the he seems to have trouble getting his projects off the ground. He has a gift for making his characters seem real and likeable and always strikes that perfect horror movie tone of keeping things serious without being completely joyless.

    It also helps that he seems to be the only modern horror director that is not completely obsessed with the 80’s. I love synth scores and old-school practical effects as much as the next guy, but 80’s nostalgia is just soooo played out in modern horror. Even Byrne’s soundtrack choices in The Devil’s Candy show a healthy balance between classic metal and more modern stuff, which would also be a good description of his approach to horror filmmaking.

  10. I’m 34, if that counts.

  11. Quit being so young, you assholes. It’s annoying.

  12. I actually think it’s the best time in history to be a music fan. That doesn’t mean it’s the best era of music, but there’s so much that’s out there, and it’s all so easily available. Whatever you like, if you do enough digging, there’s someone out there making it.

    The downside is that artists are having difficulty breaking through and actually sustaining themselves on their art. That’s why even though I stream music, I also spend a good amount on musicians by buying music from the local record store and on Bandcamp.

    As far as metal goes, I only dip my toe into it now and again, and I usually only listen to bands that have more crossover appeal, Sunn 0))), Boris, Mastadon, Deafheaven.

  13. I meet youngins now and again at local metal shows, in their 20s. They seem to go through a Whitechapel phase, then dig deeper. What will there be as time goes on? Of course, the dedicated fans and musicians will get into it thanks to the web (I see on YouTube, anyway, young musicians playing classic metal, rock like Van Halen, modern shred death metal, etc. I like that old and new is fair game). In all, though, music generally is no longer a mover and shaper of the culture, nor are the films of cinema, sadly.

  14. If it’s any consolation for you guys, most of my fellow young people are kinda lame these days. I’m 23, which probably makes me one of the younger regular readers around here. (I’ve only posted 3-4 comments over the years, but I’ve been reading since Seagalogy came out.)

    Anyway, people my age and younger just seem terribly career-focused these days. It’s a struggle to find people to go out with on the weekend, because everybody is busy studying or preparing for their new internship or whatever.

    Recently, there was a midnight screening of Texas Chainsaw Massacre in town and multiple people in their early 20s declined my invitation, because they thought it was too late in the evening to go out and see a movie! On a friday night! Good on them for living a productive lifestyle, but a life where you can’t make time for a midnight screening of TCM is no life for me.

    I ended up going to the screening with some guys from my gym who are all in their mid-30s, which just goes to show you that great art and the appreciation of great art transcends any generational barriers.

  15. I like this movie. Appealing actors, a kid character that wasn’t annoying, Heavy Fuckin’ Metal and, hey! Little TB Player is all grown up now!

    I’ll also add my apologies to those of Mr. Majestyk. Sorry about your impending doom, kids, but just know that when we were your age we were have a great time. Hope that makes you feel better when you’re having to kill a two-headed lizard for dinner.

  16. This is the very rare movie that it actually legitimately scared me.

  17. A famous radio DJ here i Norway once said that people my age must not fool ourselves into believing that we’re the first generation in history that’s cooler than our kids. But do you know what? He’s was wrong! I’ve lived near a college for nearly 30 years, and during that time I’ve witnessed how the pupils have gotten more and more alike. Until all signs of counter culture have been wiped out. These days they all look the same! There aren’t a single metalhead, punk, goth or hip hop’er among them. The squares have won this generation!

  18. Hey, anybody else see HELL FEST? At first I thought I was imagining things when I saw a movie with that title in my local listings. It must be some Christian special event screening or something, because they simply don’t show generic slasher movies with gimmicky premises and zero name stars in movie theaters anymore. Then I realized that The Secret must have finally worked, because I’ve been asking the universe for exactly that for years now. So I saw it, and I’ll be honest: it’s not gonna blow your doors off. But it’s utterly unpretentious, it gets right down to business, has a good mix of a light tone and serious scares, the ensemble acting is a step above the kind of Wal-Mart $5.99 blind buy this most closely resembles, and it has actual production values. Sets! Props! Lighting effects! Extras! By god, it’s been years since I’ve seen a regular ass horror movie that could afford extras. And best of all, not one single solitary character in the entire film is dealing with a past trauma. Nobody has to see this slasher rampage as therapy. Nobody is being redeemed for a goddamn thing by the events of this film. Nothing is a metaphor for anything. It’s just a crazy guy trying to kill some kids because they’re there, not to provide a cathartic event to help somebody get over the loss of their child or whatever the fuck dull melodrama every single fucking horror movie of the past ten years has assumed we’d feel like sitting through just to watch somebody get stabbed. There’s even a part where it would have been SO EASY for them to slip in some traumatic backstory. When the sassy black BFF tells the Final Girl (both very tolerable) “I’ve really missed you,” I was just waiting for her to add “You just haven’t been the same since your parents died”…and then she never did! She missed her because she’d been studying too much! That’s it! No manufactured drama, no fake character arc, no half-hearted stab at “transcending” the genre. It’s a story about trying not to get stabbed and that’s it. It doesn’t feel the need to pretend it’s about anything more.

    Honestly, in a healthy horror scene a movie like this would be no big deal. But right now, when my favorite genre has a stick way the fuck up its ass and is showing no signs of removing it any time soon, getting to see an unapologetically meat-and-potatoes horror flick in the theater like God intended is some kind of miracle.

    Majestyk says check it out. Or wait for THE VVITCH 2: CHARACTER ACTRESS STARES INTO CAMERA WITH SEPIA FILTER ON. It’s your money.

  19. As a hip-hop fan, it breaks my heart to turn on the Spotify Hip Hop playlist and it’s nothing but mumble rap garbage with no lyricism and nothing to say other than “I am rich and I enjoy drugs”. BUT, as the child of baby boomers with vivid memories of the generational circle jerk they engaged in throughout the 80s and 90s, I have a natural aversion and suspicion of nostalgia and complaining about kids these days. I like some of their music, and I hate a lot of it, but I figure if it’s pissing off me, a 40 year old dude, it’s doing exactly what it’s supposed to do.

    I think the horror aspect was the weakest part of this movie. I would’ve been happy to just watch a indie dramedy about cool metal artist dad trying to raise his daughter right.

  20. Not gonna touch the metal discussion, but I have heard that the cut of this film that did the festival circuit was longer and everything that got was just metal references which is a pretty hilarious/amazing thing to hear about a movie.

  21. Mr. Majestyk,
    I saw HELL FEST yesterday (thanks AMC $5 Tuesdays!) and I too, was pleased that it was just a regular ol’ horror movie. I, too, kept waiting for the main girl to reveal why she hadn’t been around (and whether that somehow tied into the slasher) and was shocked that there was no reason other than, heck, she’s been busy. I also liked the end reveal – a clever twist on things. I would have liked to have had some more gore in the mix, but in the end, it was a pretty decent time at the theater.

  22. Just to defend the youth of today, I’d like to point out that when I was a youngin’, I thought that most of my peers had shitty taste in music and movies. Really I only thought that my own circle of friends in high school had discerning taste, and a good bit of what we watched and listened to kind of sucked in retrospect. (We still were light years ahead of our peers, but we were also dumb teens).

    Maybe there is no overriding mono-culture today. Maybe, like World Eater suggests, music and movies no longer shape culture like they once did. Maybe it’s all video games and memes, which is a horrifying thought.

    But I’d like to think that even if most kids have shitty taste in music and movies, there are still those out there who care about digitally crate digging for some unknown gem. We have the world at our fingertips. If the kids of today don’t take advantage of that, then they don’t deserve the few things the internet does well.

  23. A Baby Boomer writes – I saw the headline here and thought “Cool! Vern is reviewing a 25-year-old book, that I own and like, on a De Palma movie.”

    But anyone trying to beat up on the young because we were all so much cooler in the ’70s and ’80s has never been Rickrolled.

    Sturgeon’s law applied as much then as it does now. And if it seems like the squares have won, then maybe we should’ve delivered something better to the young for them to work with.

  24. Good to hear you liked HELL FEST, because I was thinking of going to see it tomorrow. Thanks for the tip.

  25. That’s what I was hoping to hear RE: HELL FEST. It’s been on my radar and was hoping for the best. The negative reviews complaining that it was generic actually made me more excited for it. Not sure I’ll make it to the theaters to see it but I’ll definitely try and if not I’ll make it top priority on video.

    Watched TALES FROM THE HOOD 2 earlier today and other than the so-so second story, I enjoyed it and urge you guys to support it.

  26. Counterpoint 1: maybe it’s a good thing that ver kidz today don’t care about how hard or “authentic” their music is. With all that going on in the world now, or at any point let’s be honest, who needs additional anxiety about whether what they listen to passes some nebulous credibility test, or what genre box it fits into, or whether it would appeal too much to “normies”? I know, I know, this is a stage it’s been agreed that everyone “should” go through, it’s all part of growing up like having stupid arguments with your parents about stuff that doesn’t really matter, but maybe the new generation are seeing that this is one of those theoretically rebellious/countercultural/late-20th Century norms that actually ended up being almost as constraining as the more innocuous norms of the “squares”.

    Counterpoint 2: I work in a further education college (primarily 16-18 year old students) in a city with two prominent nightclubs aimed at “alternative” audiences (although one of them recently closed) and I can tell you that around here there are a lot of young metalheads and indeed a lot of cultural diversity in general among the youth. I will concede that the metalheads seem, at least from their T-Shirts, to be primarily into the old metal standards (Metallica, Iron Maiden etc.) so they may as much have fallen into the “music was better before my generation” ghetto (sometimes “everything was better before my generation” ghetto) generally not associated with but very common among so many teenagers as much as they have the metalhead ghetto. That “old is better” ghetto was certainly one I fell into as a teenager, although my tastes mostly gravitated towards Britpop, Classic Punk, New Wave and Synthpop. That last one in particular may explain why I’m not aghast at kids today shunning the “harder is better” approach.

    Caveat: please take Counterpoint 1 with a pinch of salt. I certainly don’t think I’m in the right and you’re all in the wrong here. I guess you could say this is more of a… devil’s advocate.

  27. I think the fear, at least for my generation, is that they won’t get their own “revolution” and grow up to be just as square as their parents.

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