The Austin Chronicle

Fantastic Fest 2015: The Devil's Candy

By Richard Whittaker, October 7, 2015, 4:00pm, Picture in Picture

Heavy metal and horror go hand in hand, but it also has a horrible history of turning gore into cheese (cough cough Trick or Treat cough cough). Hellraising headbanger The Devil's Candy embraces the madness in both, and becomes a true thrashing terror.

2015 was the year of supernatural horror at Fantastic Fest: Demon, Sensoria, Baskin, February, Darling, all gave the devil his due from different parts of the world. This Austin-based shocker, which got its U.S. premiere at Fantastic Fest, saw the horned one emerge in Central Texas. Talented but struggling artist Jesse (Ethan Embry) moves his family to a house in the middle of nowhere (well, Williamson County). He wants to concentrate on his art, which gets increasingly bizarre and dark. Oh, did anyone mention that the previous owners died under mysterious circumstances? Because the realtor should definitely disclose that.

Menace appears in the form of a shambling man-child played with sad-eyed malice by constantly underrated character actor Pruitt Taylor Vince (best known to horror fans as the hapless and doomed Otis from The Walking Dead). He's worked out that the only thing that will block the sound of Satan's minions chattering in his ears is power chords from his Flying V. But when the power goes out, the blood will flow.

That's where the metal comes in. Jesse is a true metalhead, and director Sean Byrne makes that authentic with the right choices of incidental music: Metallica, Slayer, and Texas' own cowboys from Hell, Pantera. The doom and dread comes courtesy of an original score by drone icons Sunn O))) as the embattled father's world starts to unfurl. Byrne uses the music to imply sinful horrors, often keeping gruesome crimes and implied sorcery just offscreen, just where the mind can fill in the most graphic blanks.

Ultimately, this is Embry's movie. Byrne adds scares and foreboding, style and sharpness, catching the fetid dullness brought on by a sweltering central Texas summer, but casting Embry is genius. The former teen heartthrob shocked audiences as the grizzled bruiser Vince in Cheap Thrills, and transforms again into the tattooed, unshaven, but hapless and loving Jesse. He's more than just the devil's eye candy: He's a genuinely nice guy, and Embry makes it clear that, just because he knows the lyrics to "Blackened," that doesn't make him any more ready to stare down the supernatural. This is thrasher as rounded character, not stoner buffoon, and that alone makes The Devil's Candy stand out from the crowd.

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