Last weekend marked the passing of yet another Music Box of Horrors, the annual 24-hour horror film marathon held at The Music Box Theatre. (as opposed to the The Massacre, Chicago’s other 24-hour horror marathon). The event is a frustrating mix of horror enthusiasts and horror tourists. (tangent ahead) The tourists typically don’t stay very long, laugh at wildly inappropriate moments in films, talk/text during films, and use the marathon as a backdrop for getting drunk/high and annoying their seat neighbors. I love it, and look forward to it, but I do get annoyed. (end tangent) This year featured several classics on 35mm and the Chicago premiere of Sean Byrne’s The Devil’s Candy. Byrne’s last film, The Loved Ones, was pretty damn good. So, I expected this one to be as well. I wasn’t disappointed.
The film tells the story of Jesse Hellman (Ethan Embry) (of course his name is hellman), an artist who has a tight knit little family but not much income. Despite this, he and his wife buy a big old house so they can get out of their crappy apartment. They can afford it because the house has a “history”. People died there. The guy who killed the people in the house, Ray Simile (Pruitt Taylor Vince) (who was in charge of character names on this thing!?) constantly hears the voices of “Satan himself” telling him to kill/mutilate. When he has nowhere else to go, he returns to his childhood home, which is now the Hellman’s home. He takes a particularly creepy shine to 12-year-old Zooey Hellman. Then things get extremely violent.
Byrne has reversed the roles of The Loved Ones for The Devil’s Candy. Now, instead of a fucked up family fucking up an innocent guy, we get a fucked up guy fucking up an innocent family. Where the former film had us squirming with repulsion toward the freakish family, this one has us sympathizing strongly with the Hellmans. We want them to be safe. We want them to get away when they’re not. And we to fight back and win when they can’t. Hell, we don’t even want them to KNOW that bad things are happening in the world. We just want them to keep on loving each other and doing fun montages under a heavy metal soundtrack forever! But then this wouldn’t be a horror film, and I probably wouldn’t bother watching it. Since it is a horror film, the Hellmans are threatened, attacked, and fight back with some very shocking results. Byrne pushes the viewer to the brink of an emotional cliff in the film’s finale, masterfully walking the razor’s edge of exciting anxiety and unpleasant anxiety. I really enjoyed the ride. That said (uh oh!), there were some missteps. There was a subplot about a prestigious art gallery that was heavy-handed and unnecessary. Moreover, it didn’t fit the tone of the film AT ALL. And I couldn’t help feeling sorry for the killer. I just kept thinking that this guy has a severe intellectual disability. (maybe that’s why satan chose him?) So, when Jesse gets the upper hand during the final conflict and the audience was cheering, I was thinking, “Jesus, man! Do you have to be so brutal? That guy is retarded.” (sorry for the epithet, but it was in the moment and my heart was in the right place)
THE FINAL CUT: The Devil’s Candy is a brutal family drama with child murder and home invasion scenes that push the limits of viewers’ sensibilities (in a good way). Despite a tonally incoherent subplot and a not-quite-evil (and somewhat sympathetic) villain, the film is a thrill ride that will leave viewers fired up (wink) and in a metal mood.