For me heavy metal and horror have always been uneasy bed fellows. Metal may have embraced the imagery of horror since the early days with Black Sabbath named after Mario Bava’s classic movie but there’s always something a little camp and ridiculous about this musical genre. When it is inserted into a horror movie it stops the film from being scary and just becomes silly. Whenever metal started playing in the old Nightmare On Elm Street movies it undermined the terror rather than reenforced it. To be fair I am mostly talking about bands like Dokken so maybe it doesn’t count. Anyway, the point I’m making is that to get the two outsider genres to work in perfect sync is a form of alchemy that has yet to be created. Until The Devil’s Candy came along that is.
The Hellman family are a cute little family who move to some crazy cheap farm house in the middle of the Texas countryside. Of course the reason the house is cheap is because two people died there: an old lady who fell down the stairs and her husband who killed himself as he couldn’t live without her. Of course we already know that this is bollocks. The opening scene shows that they had a son who is not the greatest at child-parent relations, who also might have the devil whispering to him in his ear. Never a good sign. It doesn’t help that the father of the family, Jesse, can also hear something whispering to him the moments he moves into the house.
So the dynamics seem to be set for how this story will play out, and by the end you can see that it does follow a classic story framing. However it doesn’t do quite what you think it will. This partly due to the well defined characters who are full of contradictions. Jesse, played with huge charisma by an unrecognisable Ethan Embry, may be a devoted and loving husband and father but he’s also a heavy rock artist who’s trying to embrace his commercial side to help pay for his family’s new home. Shiri Appleby as Astrid is the sensible one but she’ll kick back with a spliff from her husband to enjoy their life rather than just worry about it. Their teenage daughter Zooey (Kiara Glasco) is the best person on the planet – she shares her dad’s love of heavy metal but will pull him up if he is unkind or foolish. It’s their loving and lovable relationship that is the heart of the film, so when the shit hits the fan you are really rooting for them.
The shit that hits said fan is mostly in the form of hulking man child Ray Smilie (Pruitt Taylor Vince) who stumbles about, initially trying to drown out the voices in his head with a Flying V guitar and Marshall amp, but soon giving into their demands. These involve something awful with a saw and a suitcase. Smilie wears a bright red tracksuit with white piping so looks like a sick or drunk evil Santa Claus, but his large frame and barely able to focus gaze makes him terrifying rather than funny.
Look, I don’t really want to get into the ins and outs of what happens, The Devil’s Candy is only eighty minutes long so its probably best to let you discover its delights yourself. But let’s just say that the metal music works really well in the soundtrack. Jesse as some kind of ultra cool hard rock Jesus father shows that despite what the words and images of metal often suggest, it can also be a force for good. Also the metal and horror come together perfectly in the climax, rather than fighting against each other or making one or the other seem stupid.
One thing I can say is that director Sean Byrne is clearly a genius. We’re two film’s into his career and both this and The Loved Ones, whilst maybe not to everyone’s taste (what’s the matter with you?!!?!?), is a guy who really seems to know what he is doing. His two horrors are both visually strong (with a great understanding of cinematic storytelling) and hugely entertaining at the same time. Byrne does not seem to be a man in a great rush (this was completed in 2015 and has only just got released now, The Loved Ones took even longer) but maybe that’s not his fault. I can’t wait to see what he’s going to do next.
I LOVED The Devil’s Candy. Despite its short running time it is packed with interesting ideas and incident. It also has brilliant characters that I was rooting for, even screaming out “noooooooo!” at one point. Plus it has a damned fine sense of what makes Heavy Metal the horror fan’s music of choice… and you can’t argue with that.