Ethan Embry Licks The Devil's Candy

Cheap Thrills star on his very heavy metal Austin horror

"I'd run five miles every day. I'd burn 3,000 calories, but only put 2,000 in, so you're going to lose a pound every three days. You do that for three months, and you get pretty skinny." Ethan Embry in The Devil's Candy.

Ethan Embry is a metal kid, through and through. He said, "I grew up with Master of Puppets on a Sony Walkman, riding my BMX bike through Bellflower, California, straight up white trash." In thrash-infused horror The Devil's Candy, he plays "a kid that did the same thing. Now he's matured and has a family, but that's still who he is."

Calling from Los Angeles, where the long drought has finally broken, Embry asks about the weather in Austin. "Nice and muggy, I bet," he said. After all, he does know Austin well, after three successive summers shooting here: 2015's Echoes of War (an under-seen Civil War tale with Maika Monroe and William Forsythe, which Embry called "a pretty dope movie," then The Devil's Candy, and finally the upcoming Fashionista by Simon Rumley (Red, White and Blue, Johnny Frank Garrett's Last Word). "The city is pretty special," said Embry. "I love it. I love working there. I love the people there. I'd move there if I didn't feel I'd be overcrowding the place."

Which could explain why Jesse, his character in The Devil's Candy, has upped roots and moved his family to a farm house in a rural corner of Williamson County. That's where metal and madness abound, as the artist finds a legacy of brutality: Ray (Pruitt Taylor Vince, The Walking Dead) butchered his own family there, claiming it was at the behest of demonic voices. Now, Ray's coming home, and Jesse is being plagued by visions of his own. Embry said, "Even through shooting it, we discussed how much is insanity and how much is actual possession. That plays for Jesse too. Is it insanity, or are there actual forces?"

“I immediately identified with that kid. That was the kid I used to skate with, go to concerts with. Those are my friends.”

For all the supernatural terror, what excited Embry most about the script was that this was a family story at heart. He said, "I saw an opportunity to genuinely portray a father that couldn't care more for his daughter, and is trying to do everything he can for his wife." Moreover, Embry identified with Jesse as the outsider metalhead, and saw this as "an opportunity to represent that population of – I hate alternative, but that's the label we have been given – non-conservative working-class American, and I don't think they are represented a lot in film."

He also knew that director Sean Byrne knew how to depict these characters without falling into Wayne's World cliches, citing outsider Brent in Byrne's 2009 feature debut The Loved Ones. Embry said, "I immediately identified with that kid. That was the kid I used to skate with, go to concerts with. Those are my friends, and Sean is like that. He's one of us."

Much like The Loved Ones, which sat on the shelf for three years before getting a U.S. release, it's been a long wait for this eagerly anticipated piece of candy. It played at Fantastic Fest 2015, and has been MIA ever since. Even Embry was beginning to wonder when it would appear, and he'd email the producers about its release. "I cut it down to one email to the beginning of a new season. So they'd get one email in spring, one in summer, one in fall. Now I don't have to to that any more."

It's the long payoff to a demanding shoot. In a big shift from his bulky, burly, muscled-up turn in 2013 SXSW Midnighter award winner Cheap Thrills, Embry dropped 50 pounds to look like "an older Kurt Cobain. … I'd run five miles every day. I'd burn 3,000 calories, but only put 2,000 in, so you're going to lose a pound every three days. You do that for three months, and you get pretty skinny."

A more esoteric component of his preparation came from working with artist Stephen Kasner, who created the canvases on which Jesse daubs his unholy creations. In keeping with the film's none-more-metal ethos, Kasner is best known for album cover and poster work for extreme metalurgists including Isis, Justin Broadrick, and Sunn O))) (the latter of whom coincidentally also contributed to the soundtrack). Embry said, "I went up looking to get a lot from him as an artist, to watch him work, but what I got from him is that he's a Satanist, and that he has a line of communication to a few of our most famous serial killers. He gave me a copy of The Satanic Bible, and we sat and talked about Satan for four days. Which I was not expecting."

The combination of weight loss and waiting for Kasner to complete the pictures almost led to a production delay, as the crew didn't receive the paintings until the night before shooting began. However, Embry's crash diet won out. He said, "There was talk of waiting until we get back to L.A., and do the painting scenes on a stage once he'd finished them." That was when Embry put his foot down and reminded everyone that he was walking around "looking like a fucking rail. … I couldn't maintain physically what I was looking like. I was like, 'No, we're not, just get 'em.'"

The Devil's Candy is available on VOD now, and opens in Austin at the Alamo South Lamar today. Screening times on our listings page.

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