The Devil’s Candy
by Hope Madden
Hard rock music makes for both an evocative soundtrack and theme for horror. It possesses a throbbing, angry darkness perfectly suited to imagery, behavior and pace. The hilariously wrong Kiwi flick Deathgasm and last year’s brilliant Green Room knew this.
Writer/director Sean Byrne recognizes this ripe musical landscape. He returns to the genre after too long an absence with his own head banging horror show – The Devil’s Candy.
In 2009 the Tasmanian filmmaker released one of my all-time favorite films, The Loved Ones. And while Candy can’t match the unhinged lunacy of Byrne’s previous classic, his skill with a story, a camera and a cast are still evident.
Ethan Embry plays Jesse Hellman, struggling metalhead painter who, with his wife and pre-teen daughter, just bought a bargain of a house out in the Texas sticks. Why so cheap? Amityville shit.
So, the demented son (Pruitt Taylor Vince) of the deceased former owners lurks about. Meanwhile Jesse’s art becomes more disturbing and consuming. But Byrne shifts expectations, setting the film up as a haunted house/possession terror that turns into more of a serial killer thriller.
Still, so much about this film smacks of redundancy. Too many movies follow a young family into the damned home of their dreams, generating tension with either the fear that one family member will turn on another, or that the parents cannot keep their child safe. Or both.
No, Byrne’s follow up film does not boast the same unbridled originality as Loved Ones. But he almost makes up for that flaw with well-crafted characters, excellent on-screen chemistry among his performers, and a genuine love of metal.
The crossroads between Satan and music – in imagery and lyric – have long influenced and been influenced by horror films. Black Sabbath and White Zombie took their names from scary movies, and the list of flicks that set Satan and rock music against the innocent is too long – and mostly too awful – to mention. (OK, a few: Trick or Treat, Phantom of the Paradise, The Gate, Suck, Liquid Sky, Queen of the Damned – remember that piece of garbage?)
Byrne does a better job of exploding the clichés associated with this line of thinking than perhaps any filmmaker who’s taken up Dio’s sign of the horns. No longer the hysterical outsider condemning that devil music, the film simply uses metal as its backdrop and vehicle, no judgment involved.
Byrne’s also blessed with a lead in Embry, whose caring and vulnerability shine through his tough- looking exterior. Vince is another reliable (if typecast) actor, easily generating sympathy and terror in equal measure.
Clocking in at under 90 minutes, Devil’s Candy is a tight little rocker. The lyrics are familiar, but the riffs still kick ass.