By Preston Wilder
What is the Devil’s candy? Underage victims, apparently. “I have to feed him children, because children are his candy,” says Ray (Pruitt Taylor Vince), the corpulent villain of this garishly brutal horror movie. That doesn’t really make sense, then again Ray is a psycho so you can’t really expect well-rounded arguments. We see him in a prologue, playing heavy metal super-loud on his guitar to drown out the low Satanic voice emanating from an upside-down crucifix. “Pack your things,” cries his elderly mother, “you’re going back to the hospital!” Big mistake, Mum.
There’s a certain subterranean comedy here: heavy metal, after all, is notorious for being ‘the Devil’s music’ – and the film gleefully draws that connection only to subvert it, because our hero Jesse (Ethan Embry, who I spent half the movie thinking was Christian Bale) is a big heavy-metal nut. He and teenage daughter Zooey (Kiara Glasco) head-bang in the car, much to the amusement of patient wife Astrid (Shiri Appleby), then he gives Zooey the Metal Salute – a.k.a. ‘devil horns’ – as he drops her off at her new school. Jesse and Co. have just moved to a new home, and the Stetson-wearing estate agent (we’re in Texas, during a summer so hot “even Satan’s prayin’ for it to rain”) is compelled by law to inform them that two people died in that house, one of them violently. Astrid is disturbed by the news. Jesse, however, doesn’t mind, finding it “really romantic”.
How heavy-metal! How immature! The Devil’s Candy seems to be heading to a moralistic place where Jesse’s unconventional lifestyle – he looks like a biker, and disdains bourgeois values: “Don’t let school get in the way of your education!” he tells Zooey cheerfully – will be ‘blamed’ for his demonic possession. Fortunately the film doesn’t go there, though it’s also true that our hero’s non-conformist style is finally irrelevant. The only real difference from the strait-laced family in (say) The Conjuring is that Jesse is already such a weirdo that it’s not immediately apparent – even when he starts painting screaming children and upside-down crucifixes – that he’s been possessed by evil forces, another bit of very deadpan comedy for those on the film’s twisted wavelength.
Needless to say, many will fail to see the humour in a film where a psycho knocks kids unconscious then cuts them up with a hacksaw – nor do I know why an obscure B-movie from 2015 should be at the multiplex during Easter week, unless it’s to target teenage blasphemers looking for respite from too much piety (maybe it’s also trying to wash away the sickly-sweet religious taste of The Shack from a couple of weeks ago). Still, The Devil’s Candy is good fun for hardened horror hounds – stylish and intense, full of meaty heavy-metal riffs, deep Satanic rumbles and blood-red-filtered glimpses of a girl screaming in terror, moving briskly at an almost too-brief 79 minutes (!) and building to a fiery showdown followed by Metallica’s ‘For Whom the Bell Tolls’ over the closing credits.
This is tasty candy, recommended to anyone who’s ever loved a Rob Zombie film or had a poster of Eddie (the Iron Maiden mascot) on their bedroom wall. That said, it’s also empty calories. Almost everything turns out to be a red herring, from the sinister gallery owner who finds Jesse’s paintings “wonderfully disturbing” to the creepy bond between Ray and Zooey. She’s “the sweetest candy of all,” says the fat slob – also glimpsed sitting in his car cradling a big jar of candy, looking like an evil Santa in his faded red tracksuit – but he still tries to kill her, albeit spurred on by that low Satanic basso profondo. Jesse’s own demonic issues also peter out, in fact the whole supernatural angle might’ve been excised: in the end it’s just a home-invasion thriller, with Ray coming back to the house (which was also his parents’ house) and having to be vanquished.
Bottom line? A film so short and unpretentious really ought to be tighter – but writer-director Sean Byrne pours on the style and there’s also a point where you sense that young Glasco is giving a real performance, not just coasting but legitimately running the gamut from joy to terror (Embry does well too, though his role gets reduced to endless variations on “I’m sorry” in the second half). ‘The devil’s candy’ was 90s slang for crack cocaine, a fair analogy for this trippy movie – and heavy metal too is a drug, the troubled teen’s ticket to escape and oblivion, wryly evoked in poor crazy Ray trying to make enough of a racket to shut out his murderous impulses. The moral of the story? If your kids want to play their music loud, let them.
DIRECTED BY Sean Byrne
STARRING Ethan Embry, Shiri Appleby, Pruitt Taylor Vince
US 2015 79 mins.