Heavy Metal Possession in THE DEVIL’S CANDY

The Devil’s Candy. 2017. Directed & Written by Sean Byrne.
Starring Ethan Embry, Shiri Appleby, Pruitt Taylor Vince, & Kiara Glasco.
Snoot Entertainment.
Rated 14A. 79 minutes.
Horror

★★★★1/2
Screen Shot 2017-03-17 at 8.56.09 AMSean Byrne’s debut feature The Loved Ones rocked me in 2009. It was unique and horrifying. I knew he’d give us more terror eventually. Although I didn’t think it would take another 6 years. When you wait that long and the product ends up being something altogether eerie, you thank a writer-director who so obviously digs the genre.
The Devil’s Candy gives us equal parts beauty and horror. There’s heavy metal, there’s painting, there’s a troubled father-daughter relationship and a fun family at the centre of the plot. There’s also three excellent performances from Ethan Embry, Kiara Glasco, and one of the great unsung character actors possibly every, Pruitt Taylor Vince.
What’s most exciting about Byrne’s follow-up feature is the take on possession. So many horrors out there try to do the sub-genre justice by giving their own take on the concept of demonic possession, but many of those slip into the pitfalls of a typical Exorcist rip-off. Byrne avoids that by going a whole other route, bringing the supernatural straight into collision with utterly human, family drama with an innovative twist.
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I always love when demonic possession is more than some poor, helpless young person is seized by the devil, flopping around on the floor or speaking another language or contorting into a weird human-limbed spider. A possession story becomes something else entirely when the demonic influence helps the possessed acquire wealth (fame/anything similar). This makes the character of Jesse’s (Embry) paintings like an unwitting, unspoken pact with the devil.
On the other side is Ray (Vince), whose encounter with Satan is entirely different. He’s a man with mental difficulties to begin, then he has to contend with the voice of the devil whispering in his ear. Whereas Jesse sort of takes it like a voice of inspiration, if not a sinister one, for Ray it’s like torture.
Heavy metal is the link. While Jesse listens to metal, as he paints and driving with his daughter Zooey (Glasco), Ray uses it as a means of drowning out the voice of Satan in his head. He plays the guitar, a flying V in fact, strumming deep, droning, distorted chords, which doesn’t just make his house unpleasant, it eventually draws the police. Just a whole mess of things going on, all of which add to the atmosphere of terror.
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Embry and I follow one another on Twitter. I asked him if he was wearing a Sunn O))) shirt, which he confirmed, and he also told me that, he believes, the voice of Satan here is likewise provided by the band.
Brings me to one of the things I find so unsettling about the film – the sound design. At certain moments we hear the low, rumbling voice of Satan speaking to his pawns. It’s the absolute perfect voice. Sort of rattles your bones listening to it. Along with Ray’s power chords, the heavy metal soundtrack, the sound design and the voice itself are part of the dreadful feeling the film evokes at every turn.
The storytelling is a large part of The Devil’s Candy‘s success as a horror that works hard to unnerve its audience, frame by frame, building to a roar. In parallel, we watch the stories of Ray and Jesse, like opposite ends of a spectrum. Then the paintings Jesse creates in a fugue of possession reflect the actions and events in Ray’s life, giving the parallel plots a whole new level of meaning.
A favourite scene of mine is the montage sequence of the painting Jesse works on. The paint, the brushes, the sloppy wet sounds of them together – these are, again, paralleled with the sounds of Ray with his wet mop sloshing around, soaking up blood. The whole sequence is amazingly edited. On top of that the score and the sound design make it chilling.
Screen Shot 2017-03-17 at 9.56.06 AMByrne does a fantastic job providing us with an alternative story about possession and occult horror. Not saying he’s reinvented the wheel. But god damn me to hell if he doesn’t offer up a horror that doesn’t take the same old beaten path. Peppered with equally fantastic performances, The Devil’s Candy is a personal favourite of mine since 2000.
A huge selling point is the chemistry between Embry and Glasco. Their relationship as father and daughter is strained, though not past the point of no return. There’s a breaking point, yes. And that plays its own part in their relationship. What I dig is that they’re so natural. Embry’s not that old, so his character comes off as this hip guy who hasn’t exactly reconciled his hipness with also being a father; he’s a good dad, not perfect, and tries his best. For her part, Glasco plays the daughter well and her emotional range as an actress stacks up well against her adult counterparts.
From Sunn O))) in all forms – t-shirt, voice of Satan, soundtrack – to Embry and Glasco, as well as Pruitt Taylor Vince doing a bang up job as a seasoned character actor, to Sean Byrne and his atmospheric directing, The Devil’s Candy does what it sets out to do: unsettle and terrify. You don’t have to piss your pants to find something scary. What I find most unsettling about the film is the presentation of the devil’s influence, as something that simply cannot be stopped – won’t be stopped. And for once heavy metal isn’t the bringer of horror, it is a way for the horror to be evaded, a positive force between father and daughter. Underneath the possession stuff there’s a lot going on, too.

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The Redemption Song of Anvil: The Story of Anvil

Anvil: The Story of Anvil. 2008.  Dir. Sacha Gervasi.
Starring Anvil. Abramorama.
Unrated. 80 minutes.
Documentary – Biography/Music.

★★★★★

Before this film, I had only briefly heard of Anvil by thumbing through old metal records in my search for bands that had escaped mainstream eyes. I never much gave them a listen, and it wasn’t until a few years ago when I saw Anvil: The Story of Anvil that I went back after viewing the documentary, so I could listen to their tunes. Have I been sleeping! As a metal fan, it’s a shame I had never discovered Lips and the crew before because they are true, old school, tongue licking, brain rocking heavy metal.
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Since the late 1970s, Anvil have influenced many other great metal bands, some who reminisce on the band’s early performances, their edgy sound, and the dirty, saucy songs they wrote throughout this documentary. For whatever the final reason, Anvil never became commercially successful the way people like Slash, or bands such as Metallica, Anthrax, and Twisted Sister did; they spiraled into years of making monetarily unsuccessful albums on their own, and playing whatever gigs they could manage to get. All the while, many of the bands they influenced with their stage performances and gritty tunes were out touring all over the globe and back again.

However, Lips (real name- Steve Kudlow) and Robb (Reiner) never ever gave up on their dream, and continued to rock on as the only solid members of Anvil to stay the entire course.

1239226371_1This documentary picks up as the boys get contacted by a European fan who basically offers to be their manager, and wants to help arrange a tour of shows in Europe for somewhere around 1500 Euros a night (or so she says). What follows is a very disheartening tour where they are late for gigs, delayed here and there, and generally followed by an air of discontent; at one point, Reiner even refuses to play and says he will quit the band, but Lips convinces his oldest best friend to stick it out. These guys have taken time off work for five weeks, and make little-to-no money whatsoever.

It almost feels like Anvil is doomed. Lips, though, still feels the passion, and so does Reiner. Lips sends Chris “CT” Tsangarides (a producer they had previously worked with many years ago) a demo tape of their new album called This is Thirteen; CT calls Lips back, and says it has potential, but they still need funds to make it all happen.
Lips tries to do telemarketing with the help of a very enthusiastic lifetime fan of Anvil, but cannot even produce one sale; this part was especially sad, as even though Lips holds another job, we get a glimpse at how rockers feel when not on the stage, and forced to go to work just like the rest of us (Lips is a man who knows only music; it feels to me he is compromising himself by working a regular job, and that’s why this scene is particularly depressing). An emotional visit with his sister yields a great opportunity for Lips and his band: she gives him what I understood to be around $10,000 to help him make the album.
This is where we see the true spirit of Anvil begin to shine, and even though there are still arguments, fights, scraps- the band pushes to achieve their dream.
AnvilIn the end, Lips and Reiner travel with Anvil back to Japan where the film began in 1984 at the Super Rock Festival. Now, they find they are booked for 11:30am to play, and Lips immediately begins wondering how they came so far to simply be booked for a morning show. With all routes looking to lead towards more disaster for Anvil, they take the stage in front of a massive crowd of people DYING to see them, and proceed to rock their fans from beginning to end of their set. You can almost see the fire return to Lips and Reiner, as they finally have made it back to the huge stage in Japan where they once played with the Scorpions, Whitesnake, Bon Jovi, and many other big names.

I give this film a full and fat, rocking 5 out of 5 stars because not only is it a well-documented film about the trials and tribulations of Anvil as a band, but also it showcases what the human spirit is all about: never giving in. The ability to get knocked down before getting back up each and every time they fall is something Lips and Reiner are both masters at; they falter, but never do they fall flat on their face. Every moment is just another moment for redemption. Highly recommended.

Just a note- whenever I feel down, or like life isn’t giving me a fair shake, I throw on The Story of Anvil, and I’m reminded just who the real heroes are. Those are the times I’m reminded that determination really is everything; it’s not just some tired cliché. It’s truth.

Music Heals All in Metalhead

Málmhaus (English title: Metalhead). 2013. Directed & Written by Ragnar Bragason.
Starring Ingvar Eggert Sigurðsson, Thora Bjorg Helga, Sveinn Olafur Gunnarsson, and Þröstur Leó Gunnarsson.
Unrated. 97 minutes.
Drama

★★★★1/2

Hera, as a young girl on her family’s farm, witnesses her older brother Baldur die in a freak accident while riding a tractor. Later, as a teenager, Hera gets into the heavy metal lifestyle and music Baldur enjoyed. She lives in a tiny community where her newfound choices don’t exactly go over well. Her father and mother struggle with the motions she goes through. They attend church, while she only rebels against it. Hera not only picks up heavy metal, both listening to it and playing it, she also takes to more violent, destructive behaviour; this all culminates in a very serious act of vandalism and arson. She is at odds with the people and place where she lives. Everything feels too ordinary and small for Hera, and so her rebellion grows large.
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The whole film is essentially about Hera’s struggle, however, we also get an eye of what her parents go through in their own struggle to deal with death. Aside from the family there is also the great character of Janus, a new priest in the town. He is secretly a very cool guy underneath the black clothes and the collar; in a very suggestive scene, or at least it is at the start, Janus takes off his shirt to reveal to Hera a tattoo. He then proceeds to tell her he loves Iron Maiden, Venom, Celtic Frost, among others. His taste in music transcends the priestly garb, and he even gives a line similar to “don’t judge a book by its cover” (or maybe it was exactly that – I can’t remember now).

I really like that the film included Janus as a character because this shows the multiple lives a person can live; they are not defined by their occupation, nor are they defined by the music they listen to. However, Janus gives off signals Hera misinterprets. Their relationship isn’t what she thought, and it sets her off further against God; this being one of the threads running through Metalhead.
MetalheadAny drama truly thrives on its performances. Above story, above mood or setting or plot, the actors and actresses of a film (or any performance truly whether it’s onscreen or onstage) really carry things; if they do a bad job, the film can fall flat. On the other hand, if they do even a mediocre job a film that might not have been any good without them becomes really worthwhile. In Metalhead, the performances give even more punch to a great story. Thora Bjorg Helga, as Hera, really does a spectacular job portraying a young woman trying to find herself while also mourning the loss of someone whom she loved very much.
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The film does a good job of illustrating, to those who don’t already know, how music can both destroy as well as heal; it has both of these capabilities, whether people like it or not. Hera clings to music as a means of identifying herself. She also immerses herself into music because it helps her still keep Baldur with her in spirit. There are beautiful scenes where we get to watch Hera go through intense emotion while she puts the dark soul in her inside the music she plays.

There are some other solid performances in Metalhead to round the film out. Such as Sveinn Olafur Gunnarsson as Janus, the heavy metal rocker priest, and also Ingvar Eggert Sigurðsson who portrays Hera’s equally trouble father Karl. Although Helga herself is the main focus of the film, and a strong female lead, these two male leads also provide great non-typical characterizations of familiar characters.
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Later in the film, after Hera has almost fully abandoned music in her life; it has gone away, and she resigns herself to a life that is simply available to her instead of one she actively seeks out and wants. Then when three men show up looking for Hera, having heard some of the demo tapes she made while deeply mourning her brother, music comes back into her life. What follows in the finale of the film is absolutely beautiful.
There is a final moment of catharsis in the moments before credits roll on Metalhead which almost made me cry. I couldn’t believe it. The whole time you watch the film there are moments where you actually hope for a good end to everything. Most times, even while watching a terrifying film like a horror or maybe a thriller, I find myself looking for a grim ending because honestly, in my opinion, those are more interesting film-wise. Happy endings don’t usually jive with me because they are too heavy handed, too smug. On the contrary, the moments closing out this film are absolutely perfect, not only for the plot, but also tonally. It just, simply put, works; damn well. The tragic and heavy tone throughout much of Metalhead, including what I feel are some excellent moments of dark comedy, all play well with the end. Some endings can take the tone and throw it out, however, this one hits its mark, and strikes a fair balance where everything comes out slick.
metalhead_01-thumb-630xauto-41451I have to give the movie a 4.5 out of 5 star rating. I have one small problem with Metalhead. I felt they could have used a little more time on female relationships. They explored the mother slightly because there were some fascinating shots and bits of scenes where we really got to see her almost in the same light as Hera.  But they didn’t get enough of it in there. With the inclusion of Janus and Hera’s father Karl, it felt as if there was a lack of more female presence in movie. It isn’t necessarily something that detracts from how beautiful or successful in its goal Metalhead is in the end. Personally, it’s just something that would’ve made this a little stronger overall. There is a lot of ground left to be covered concerning Hera’s mother that I wish they could have, or would have, covered. I recommend anyone who loves a good drama to check out Metalhead once they can.

I believe Raven Banner is handling the Canadian distribution across all media. This is really great film. Not only for those who are fans of metal (there are some musical treats within, no doubt!), but those who enjoy heavy, personal dramas. There are some big, great aspirations here concerning faith, music, forgiveness, and other themes. I think Metalhead delivers on most levels. It is worth the money and time to see something not typical of most dramas: a middle-ground view of ideas about death, love, heavy metal, and religion.