As a fan of both extreme music and horror movies, I’ve been waiting for a film that really captures the essence of both elements. And yes, you could say that it’s already been done with Deathgasm, but that was an extremely silly slice of ass-kicking gore. Which is not to take anything away from Ol’ ‘Gasm; it’s one of my favorite modern horror-comedies. The key hyphenated word here being “horror-comedy.” And you could also throw a list of great early 2000’s slasher flicks that were chock full of nu metal at me, but the heavy metal in those films wasn’t integral to them. In The Devil’s Candy, I’ve finally got what I’ve been lusting over for so many years: a truly scary horror movie with heavy metal in it that’s not just there for comedic effect.
Sean Byrne’s film focuses around Jesse Hellman (Ethan Embry) and his family, consisting of a loving wife and daughter, as they purchase a new home in the countryside. Jesse is a complex yet highly likable character. He’s a metal head, obsessed with the music and the lifestyle, but he’s also a kind and loving family man. He’s a painter who is forced to paint pretty pictures to support his family when he’d quite obviously be better suited to do album covers, but hey, you’ve got to pay the bills somehow.
Yet once the Hellmans move into their new house, conveniently low-priced because of a double murder, his paintings because more and more disturbing. It’s as if something horrible and malevolent is inside of him, clawing its way out of Jesse and onto the canvas. And then there’s also the problem of Ray Smilie (Pruitt Taylor Vince), a former inhabitant of the house, who suffered from hearing voices in his head which led him to kill…and he wants back in.
The Devil’s Candy is a stylistic treat in every sense. The sound design is nothing short of phenomenal, and the heavy metal soundtrack doesn’t feel out of place or over the top in any way. One of the greatest movie watching experiences of my entire life may have been hearing the main riff in Pantera’s By Demons Be Driven unexpectedly repeated over and over in a scene that did not include murder. In fact, the heavy music never seems to be accompanying death or destruction in the physical sense. Instead, it is present more often while Jesse brings his demons to life through his paintings. Add one point for avoiding a common horror cliche, and add a whole list of other points for making the characters appear human; Embry’s character work in this film is so on point that I don’t think I’ll ever be able to watch him in another film and not picture his long hair, beard, and Sunn O))) t-shirt (which was yet another incredible surprise; did I mention they contributed to the soundtrack here?).
Character study is one thing, but this is a horror movie, so you’re probably asking whether or not The Devil’s Candy delivered on the scare front. To that, I can confidently say that it does. Ray Smilie is a horrific and deranged human being, and the tension whenever he is shown onscreen is overwhelming. The Devil’s Candy did an excellent job at making me feel uncomfortable – it’s a film that works by making you really appreciate the characters and subsequently fear for their lives. Working with a small, amiable cast made it very hard to see any of them in any sort of danger.
And although I’ve said that this film uses heavy metal unironically, it’d be impossible to do that without a little bit of one’s tongue in their cheek. Thankfully, Sean Byrne is very self-aware, and he never takes the music too seriously to the point that it becomes silly. The Devil’s Candy is a well-made slice of scary drama that should be seen by every horror fan.