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.

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.


American Gothic – Episode 3: “Nighthawks”

CBS’ American Gothic
Episode 3: “Nighthawks”
Directed by David Straiton
Written by Meredith Averill

* For a review of Episode 2, “Jack-in-the-Pulpit” – click here
* For a review of Episode 4, “Christina’s World” – click here
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So this episode is named after the wildly famous painting by Edward Hopper from 1942, depicting that lonely, diner on the corner with its few patrons sitting at the counter with a sole man behind it. Another great choice for an episode name.
Garret Hawthorne (Antony Starr) is sitting outside a diner, watching. He fills in a book of times, places, what the woman he’s watching is doing. Before he gets out of the truck someone comes to meet her, so he hangs back.
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All around family friend/handyman Gunther (Aidan Devine) shows young Jack (Gabriel Bateman) how to catch raccoons, or any other “destructive pest” he might need to trap. Mother Madeline (Virginia Madsen) is busy worrying about Garrett, or at least snooping around. Then there’s Brady (Elliot Knight), he’s got that photo of the Hawthorne patriarch with a younger Cam (Justin Chatwin), wearing that belt found in the tunnel’s concrete and making things suspicious. Tessa (Megan Ketch) is of course concerned for her brother, though caught between husband and family, and mixed in with the law.
The rest of the Hawthorne family are at the dinner table hearing about their father’s will, leaving his assets to his wife. Even further, Tessa brings the picture and the possibility of Cam giving over DNA for testing to everyone. Madeline claims the belt got paint on it then she gave it over to Good Will. Yeah, right. She’s also planning on selling off Hawthorne Concrete. Probably to wash her hands of it all before the law gets any closer.
In the meantime big sister Alison (Juliet Rylance) suggests not to do the test because his DNA will be in the system; and what would that matter? Nothing, if there isn’t anything to hide. Like she’s the one to trust. While her husband Tom (Dylan Bruce) tries his best to be a father and husband, she’s got a thing for her campaign manager.
Well everyone gets a bit freaked out in the middle of it all when little Jack puts his cousin Harper’s doll in the trap Gunther gave him. Y’know, because you have to use something the “animal wants” and if you’re trying to trap your little cousin, who’s a girl, what better than a doll? Christ.

When Tess refuses to help Brady out by giving her own DNA to cross Cam off the list, Brady’s colleague Dana (Teresa Pavlinek) suggests it isn’t actually illegal to take a sample from his own home, seeing as how they live together. Ah, shit. Not a good idea in the slightest.
Finally taking the matriarch Hawthorne’s advice, Cam and his estranged wife Sophie (Stephanie Leonidas) discuss the benefits of taking Jack to therapy. Sophie’s father died when she was young, so she was sent to therapy and now feels it was useless. But Cam wins out. He also discovers his therapy sessions were recorded when he was a minor, just as now his son’s will. This worries him. He said dark things and if the cops find those tapes it may get worse for him legally, re: the Silver Bells Killer stuff. Man, this whole thing is thick with mystery. Cam wants to find the tapes and get rid of them. What’s on them? What could be so bad?
And at home – Brady decides to do the unthinkable and take his wife’s brush. He gives it to Dana for some down-low testing. There’s only a matter of time before the family and Brady are really head-to-head.

Jack is now in therapy. He talks with Dr. Donna Stanhope (Ellora Patnaik), as she employs use of a puppet to help. The little dude sees right through that. Even complains the doll’s not “anatomically correct” and is missing his teeth. Meanwhile, Sophie gets Cam the security code for the building’s rear. Wow, these two are sort of made for each other. Perhaps they’re so alike that it’s the reason their relationship doesn’t work. Who knows.
The Hawthorne black sheep Garrett finally goes into the Filly Diner where the woman he watches sits drinking coffee, reading a book. He sits a little down the counter. Then, from nowhere, he sees an old face – Molly (Lara Jean Chorostecki). They do a little catching up. We see how long Garrett’s been out of circulation, not understanding what Molly means by him having “no social media footprint.” As they sit for a chat, the woman Garrett watched closely is gone. So intriguing. He’s definitely the most interesting of the Hawthornes, in my mind.
Over at the mansion, Madeline circles around Gunther, saying his behaviour’s been strange. He makes an eerie comment, almost knowing more than he should: “Nobody should have to die in a cage, anyway.” Then she fires him. A little too close to home. Did she euthanize Mitchell to keep him from jail? Still not sure. Yet.

We start to understand Molly and Garrett were close to marriage. Out of the blue, he disappeared virtually from the face of the earth. No doubt that left behind a ton of baggage. “Heres the part where you tell me why you left,” she urges him. From Garrett we start figuring out that he didn’t want to be the predictable guy that took over the family business, that “Golden Boy” type. Too much pressure.
Out being a creep we find Jack, once more. He’s searching out the neighbour’s cat Caramel. Simultaneously, his potentially creepy father Cam sneaks around to get those tapes, hopefully. He doesn’t know there’s someone snapping photos of him from afar. Jack doesn’t find the cat, though he comes across his old neighbour asleep in her bed. And his father, he locates the tapes; one shows him telling the doctor “I wanna talk about the body.” Yikes. Just… yikes. The next day, Cam and Sophie bring Jack back to the doctor. He says he brought his own puppet today. Is why he spied his neighbour’s teeth so eagerly at her bedside table? Dr. Stanhope now says she can’t continue Jack’s therapy. Coincidence? I think not. Little creepy bastard.
The Hawthornes have a big party at their place, Alison using a big sports star to bump her presence. Mother Madeline is skulking around, not sharing everything about Gunther, while the gardener himself is still lurking, as well. That looks like trouble brewing. Upstairs, Garrett brings Molly to his room, for old times sake. Although he looks reluctant. Still they embrace, they kiss. Everything feels like it once did. So they fall into bed together while the party goes on below. Except after she asks about his scars and keeps pressing when he won’t answer, Garrett throws her off, frightening her. Turns out, Madeline told Molly about where Garrett had been going, to the diner. Ah, now we’re going to see the black sheep rage a little, I think.
Mayor Conley (Enrico Colantoni) arrives to the party, uninvited. He brings nothing but bad – pictures of Cam going into the building to get the tapes. To him, and now Alison/her campaign manager Naomi (Maureen Sabastian), it looks like the junkie brother is stealing drugs. The family roots tangle into Alison’s political career, beginning to make things difficult. She confronts Cam, but he’s not telling the truth, obviously. And all this serves to do is drive him back to Sophie.
At the station, Brady finds a receipt for Nellenthal Clothes and Accessories – for one Madeline Hawthorne, from 2002. For a belt. Oh, Brady, you are slipping into the undertow of the Hawthorne family. Sadly, his own wife Tess, a part of the gang, doesn’t have any idea how dark and murky their family tree gets. Moreover, Dana has the DNA results, or at least the short version.

Later, Jack shows his father the puppet he brought Dr. Stanhope. Her name is Phyllis. It’s actually Harper’s doll, only with the old neighbour lady’s false teeth stuck in the mouth. One of the more creepy things I’ve ever seen a kid hold and play with, all the while looking positively thrilled. But hey, it’s anatomically correct now! For Cam’s part, he looks horrified to no end.
Detective Linda Cutter (Deirdre Lovejoy) comes to the mansion, looking to talk with Madeline, re: the belt. As Cutter starts digging in deep, Brady arrives with the DNA test: nothing. There’s no connection. What Madeline lets them in on is Gunther having access to all their belongings, et cetera. A great scapegoat. Worse for right now, Tess is pissed that Brady took DNA without her permission, regardless of their family’s exoneration. Lots of trouble within the walls of that home, within that family and its various extensions. Brady’s out on his ass, Tess is mad, Madeline has some degree of control over things again. So much happening.
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We discover husband Tom bought Hawthorne Concrete. And he’s done with being his wife’s errand boy. She and Naomi sit drinking together. Alison laments the state of things, and while her mother is powerful she feels like there’s none left for her. These two secret lovers, or maybe not so secret according to Tom’s attitude, take reprieve from the harsh world, and use their alone time to get very, very close.
Garrett confronts his mother about Molly. She wants him to “be happy” except he sees it as wanting his silence. About all the family secrets. There’s something in his past that’s terrifying. Madeline says he needs to put it behind him without destroying them all, himself, the family. “I dont know if I can,” he tells her. What skeletons are hiding in this closet?
The one Garrett was watching, Christina (Catalina Sandino Moreno), she’s a nurse. She stitches up his hand after he cuts it wide open. Also, her father was a Silver Bells victim. Holy. Shit. Does Garrett know something about it all? Does he know the truth, whether something his father did or otherwise?
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At episode end, Madeline and Tess find Gunther – hanging in the shed outside. Nearby he’s left an envelope or a paper with I’M SORRY scrawled on it.
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The mystery in this show is great. Sure, the whole thing isn’t perfect. But I really feel like American Gothic is dark and fun and thrilling. The characters are interesting, the plots are twisty, and there’s even a couple chuckles to be had. Either way, let’s indulge the next episode titled “Christina’s World” together – a 1948 painting by Andrew Wyeth, an important image in the 20th century world of art. Stay with me, fellow fans!

American Gothic – Episode 1: “Arrangement in Grey and Black”

CBS’ American Gothic
Episode 1: “Arrangement in Grey & Black”
Directed by Matt Shakman
Written by Corinne Brinkerhoff

* For a review of Episode 2, “Jack-in-the-Pulpit” – click here
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To start, I dig how they’ve named the episodes after famous paintings, in line with the name of their series being American Gothic. Arrangement in Grey and Black is better known as Whistler’s Mother painted by James McNeill Whistler in the latter half of the 19th century. The next episode, “Jack-in-the-Pulpit”, comes from a Georgia O’Keeffe painting. So that’s at least a fun aspect to he writing off the bat.
We begin in Boston, Massachusetts. A car is crushed in a tunnel, as a couple are headed towards the wife’s parents place – this is Tessa Ross (Megan Ketch) and her husband Brady (Elliot Knight), a police officer who just got a big promotion. She’s a Hawthorne. Her father is Mitchell Hawthorne (Jamey Sheridan), her mother Madeline (Virginia Madsen). They’re a grand group, including artist and former drug addict Cam (Justin Chatwin), his son Jack (Gabriel Bateman) also a budding and excellent artist in his own right. Can’t forget Alison Hawthorne-Price (Juliet Rylance), a big mover and shaker – heading off the fact Hawthorne Concrete supplied material for the part of the tunnel collapse that nearly took out Tessa and Brady. There’s a whole bunch. And a whole bunch of things going on. Seems like there’s a run for office in the family’s current life. Alison wants to be mayor.
What’s most interesting? Inside part of the bridge that fell, jammed inside the concrete, is a belt. One used in a murder, possibly. It was linked to a serial killer committing what was dubbed The Silver Bells Murders.
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So now this is the drama. There’s confusion, paranoia, tension about to come out. Did someone in the Hawthorne family dispose of a body in a string of killings using the family company? Or could it have been an employee, someone like that? There’s many things going on. We hear talk of Garrett (Antony Starr) earlier, having his picture taken down by Madeline, so there’s obviously an immediate idea that maybe the obvious black sheep might’ve done something bad. Afterwards, we learn that Garrett is just off the grid somewhere, disappeared. Yet patriarch Mitchell goes and has a heart attack; guilt, maybe? Could he be the Silver Bells Killer? Oh my.
At the hospital while the family waits, we also meet Sophie Hawthorne (Stephanie Leonidas), estranged wife of Cam. She’s very punk rock, seems chic, though there’s clearly a bad history between the two. Inside, Mitchell recovers from his attack. He wakes up mumbling about the tunnel; why – does he worry about the structural failure, or does he worry about what’s inside? Can’t wait to find more. The intrigue is fun to start. Let’s see if the writing can keep that playing out nicely.
Later at home, we see more of the family dynamics. Tessa wants to help her brother Cam, as he searches for his drugs after being clean a whole year. So there’s a bond between family members, rather than a typical Hollywood-style rich family that we always see, siblings at one another’s throats, and so on. She helps him trying to track down the drugs he’s stashed, so they can toss it out. Only – you guessed it! – they stumble across something else: Silver Bells, newspapers about the S.B.K. murders. Ahh shit. Tess naively believes it may be the previous house’s owner. Cam wonders if perhaps their father collected memorabilia concerning the case, tracking the newspaper clippings; just as naive

Except now, everything is suspicious. Cam sees the silver bells everywhere, even in the morning staring at the shower head, that looks just like a silver bell. Creepier still, there’s stuff on ole grandpa’s iPad about the murders, so says little Jack. Man, oh, man. That is damn unsettling. I dig the macabre elements of the show so far in this first episode, despite its soapy-ish feel at times. Both the siblings are set on their own quest, each rattled by the notion their father possibly has links, somehow, some way, to the Silver Bells Murders.
Meanwhile, Tess finds long lost brother Garrett returning out of nowhere. She and Cam head out with him to the hospital. Lots of strange stuff happening, and plenty of rich family dynamics to play off. We find Garrett’s been living in Maine, reading lots of books (Stephen King maybe?). He didn’t come out for Cam’s wedding. Not Tess’, either. All the same, he seems happy to be there with them. A little standoff-ish, but glad. At the hospital, he’s received well enough. With surprise, hugs. A bit of awkwardness. Alison looks a bit shocked to see her brother.
Back at the Hawthorne mansion, Garrett settles into his old room. For however long he’ll be around. The memories of his life there are surrounding him. For some reason I don’t think they’re all so great. “Youre weird,” his nephew Jack tells him:”Its okay. Im weird, too.” When Madeline is alone with her newly reappeared son she wonders why he’s back, after saying he never would be. In another room, Tess asks her detective husband about killers, whether they seem like normal people. Similar to SBK, he mentions BTK, and how that guy seemed absolutely fine to everyone around him – a Scout leader and everything. This worries Tess, thinking of her father and the Silver Bells Murders. Still can’t count Garrett out. Next morning, instead of shaving with a razor he uses a knife, and better still claims he’s “used to” that method. Yowzahs.

The plot thickens. Cam suggests to Tess that 14 years ago, when the Silver Bells Murders stopped, their older brother Garrett simultaneously left town. Hmm. They further bring it to their powerful sister Alison. She starts believing it’s likely some type of way to smear the family: destroy Mitchell’s legacy, destroy her campaign for mayor. Problem is the newspaper the two also found, the one from their newspaper, a cartoon Cam drew. Too suggestive. Alison won’t believe the concept her father could be a serial killer, neither will she entertain the notion it’s Garrett, nor anyone else in the Hawthorne family. She’d rather put it away until after the election. Morally ambiguous. Alison says it’s a “weird box of bells” and nothing solid. I’m inclined to believe something, anything, different. For now, they agree to set things aside. Nah. Cam and Tess aren’t doing that, you can bet your ass. Again, there’s a nice soapy quality to the show that I actually dig. Not usually my thing, but these are good actors and they help sell it. The writing’s a bit dark, campy, yet still unnerving at times. There’s potential.
Scariest yet? Young Jack appears to have a bit of a sick mind. He’s doing experiments on their cat Caramel. Cutting off the tail to see what happens. Then he wants to see the vet sow it back on. You sick little freak! There’s obviously a drop or two of weird blood in this family, regardless of whether someone in it is the Silver Bells Killer. Although, this Jack moment only makes us wonder if there’s serial killer genes flowing already.

Alison finds out later that one of her little daughters heard uncle Garrett say some interesting things to grandpa Mitchell earlier. “Im gonna tell them it was you,” Garrett says quietly to his father. Oh my! This now has Alison in a mental frenzy. Me, too. There’s lots of nice intrigue to start with this episode. Lots of ways this could possibly end up, and that’s fun. This one line by Garrett might mean that he simply hates his father, hoping to use the tunnel collapse to make things seem like it was him implicating him in the murder. Or perhaps it’s Garrett having committed the crimes alone, hating his father, wanting to pin them on dear dad. Or further still, maybe father and son committed the murders together, and now Garrett wants to use his father’s death to escape the law. Who knows. Maybe it’s none of the above. From his hospital bed, Mitchell tells his wife “We have to tell the truth” and then not long after that she… helps him die. Well, you could say that. You could also say she kills him. That’d be much more accurate. Now there’s absolutely no telling which vein this story’s about to find its way through. And I think that’s spectacular.

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Lots of fun intrigue, interesting characters coupled with fantastic actors like Antony Starr and Virginia Madsen and Justin Chatwin. There is plenty of room to grow and expand. Sure, it’s campy and it has an almost soap opera-like quality in certain scenes. But overall it is enjoyable. Looking forward to “Jack-in-the-Pulpit” – what will it bring? Stay with me and we’ll find out together.