Starring Ethan Embry, Shiri Appleby, Pruitt Taylor Vince, Kiara Glasco
Directed by Sean Byrne
Distributed by Scream Factory
There aren’t many instances when a new horror film not only catches me off guard with originality, but also is able to crawl under my skin and make my viewing experience uncomfortable. The first time I saw director Sean Byrne’s The Loved Ones (2009), it produced an unexpected visceral reaction. The off-kilter comedy combined with gut-wrenching horror quickly shot it to the top of my recommendation list for that year. Since then, I have been patiently waiting to see what Byrne next had in store for audiences. And now that time has come as his latest endeavor, The Devil’s Candy (2015), finally hits Blu-ray after making the requisite festival rounds. There are many aspects of the picture that appeal directly to my interests – metal, murder, Satan – but a truncated running time and a lack of deeper exploration hobbles the film. The worst offense, however, is what really shocked me: a cop-out ending that robs the audience of profound emotional impact that is delivered and then reneged.
In a quaint home deep in the Texas countryside, former mental patient Ray (Pruitt Taylor Vince) stands alone in his room, loudly strumming a red Flying V guitar to produce droning tones intended to drown out “Him”; a voice in his head that forces Ray to perform horrifying acts. When Ray’s mother enters the room to check on her disturbed son, complaining he needs to return to the sanitarium, he whacks her upside the head with the guitar. A similar fate befalls his father when he returns home. Not long after this incident, the house is on the market for dirt cheap and struggling artist Jesse (Ethan Embry) puts in an offer, looking to give his wife Astrid (Shiri Appleby) and daughter Zooey (Kiara Glasco) more room to breathe. The family moves in and it isn’t long before a strange, unseen force begins to infiltrate Jesse’s mind.
This isn’t exactly such a bad thing. Jesse has been destitute, scraping to get by for some time, and the voice he hears puts him into a fugue state, wherein he paints graphic, dark images that appeal to his dream art dealer, Leonard (Tony Amendola), who runs the elite, macabre gallery Belial. Later that night, Ray stops by his old homestead and speaks with Zooey through the screen door, trying to get permission to enter the home. Jesse less-than-politely asks him to leave. The next morning, Jesse and Zooey find a red flying V outside the front door; the exact same guitar Ray was discussing with Zooey the night before. At home, Jesse gets lost in his own head painting a gargantuan mural of screaming children being swallowed up by a giant black creature. Zooey is among them, screaming and aflame. Later that night, Ray breaks into the family home and tells Zooey that “He” wants him to hurt her, but Ray is trying to resist the calling. A scream alerts Jesse and Astrid, and Ray vanishes into the night. But all is not quiet on the home front yet, and Ray’s sadistic impulses eventually become too powerful to ignore.
First off, The Devil’s Candy got me extremely excited when I saw the soundtrack listing, which includes killer metal classics from Metallica and Pantera. Adding to the metal cred is score work by drone legends Sunn O))), who provide the monotone riffs which Ray slowly belts out during his “drowned out sounds” phases. Rarely are songs by these groups licensed for feature film use, and hearing them in a new picture added a dose of ‘80s/’90s nostalgia that instantly hooked me. And trust me, your subwoofer will never get a better subterranean workout than when Sunn O)))’s monolithic riffs are pouring through like sludgy molasses.
Byrne’s festival cut of the film ran for 90 minutes, while this home video version runs a tighter 79 minutes – and it isn’t exactly for the best. There are glimpses of greatness in here; suggestions of a richer plot that never manages to fully materialize. Why does Ray hear these voices? The story suggests he’s insane, but then if Jesse begins to hear these voices, too, why? What is it about this location that culls forth something demonic? The dynamic between Jesse and Astrid feels off as well, and it left me scratching my head wondering how these two not only wound up together but also have managed to stay intact as a family unit. Apparently, the longer cut deepened these relationships so I am unclear as to why additional complexities were nixed. Even Leonard and his Belial collective seem to have more lurking beneath the surface, though this, too, is oddly handled. The 79-minute cut feels like a truncated version of a 100-minute movie.
But that isn’t the film’s biggest sin; that honor goes to its inability to make tough decisions and stick to them. Ray is a character who is extremely dangerous, but he looks and acts like someone who is benign and relatively harmless. Even Jesse simply dismisses him during their first encounter. When Ray snaps and decides to give in to the mounting pressure from “Him” to abduct and kill Zooey, that’s when the film takes a very dark turn.
There is a moment late in the film when Ray enters the family home, shoots Jesse and Astrid and snatches Zooey, intent on burning the house down with the two of them inside. In that moment, when Jesse lay “dead” and Astrid is presumed dead in the next room, my stomach was in knots. Byrne had taken the film in a horrid direction, with main characters paying the ultimate price and virtually no sign of help on the way for Zooey. It felt dire. But then Astrid crawled out from the room, clinging to life. Ok, sure, I can buy that. And then Jesse somehow managed to not only come back to life, but also climb the outside of a burning home to rescue his daughter and defeat Ray. It felt contrived and cheap, qualities that were absent in The Loved Ones. This was disappointing. After such a slow-burn buildup to Ray’s ultimate act of demonic devotion, Byrne chopped his film off at the knees and crippled it permanently.
In the end, I still enjoyed The Devil’s Candy though for reasons highlighted above it may not hold much replay value. The story is engrossing and much of that is thanks to Vince’s unnerving portrayal of a man not in control of his own mind or actions. Exposition didn’t need to be beaten into the story, though a bit more backstory on some of the “whys” might have enriched the script. It’s frustrating, really, because the elements for success are present but Byrne never manages to expand intriguing details into salient plot points.
The 2.40:1 1080p image is a beaut, that’s for sure. The dimly lit opening displays strong shadow delineation, allowing minute frame elements to remain in focus. Once day breaks, the picture is razor sharp and colors are boldly represented. Black levels are nice and inky, with few moments of wavering into hazy territory. Contrast is equally strong. Fire seen in the last act glows bright, CGI as it may be. Red is a predominant hue throughout and it appears striking alongside the subtler, dusty palette used for the majority of the film.
METAL! The English DTS-HD MA 5.1 (or 2.0) surround sound track sonically assaults viewers with a crunching cacophony of riffage, as all-timer classics by metal bands pump through the speakers. And as mentioned before, the monotonous riffs produced by Sunn O))) will make your subwoofer sweat from the workout. There is a proper score here, too, that is comprised of keyboard melodies. Dialogue is always clear and clean, never buried under the punishing sound mix. Subtitles are included in English and Spanish.
An audio commentary with director Sean Byrne has been included.
“Behind the Scenes – Visual Effects” – This brief piece focuses on achieving the fire effects seen during the film’s climax, with before-and-after shots showing the progression of effects.
Advantage Satan is a short film Byrne directed in 2007, which runs for just over 10 minutes.
A music video is included, featuring clips from the film set to Goya’s “Blackfire”.
An art gallery shows off some of the sketches and paintings done by “Jesse” as seen in the film.
A theatrical trailer is also included.
- Commentary with director Sean Byrne
- Behind-the-Scenes Visual Effects
- “Advantage Satan” Short Film
- Music Video
- Art Gallery
- Theatrical Trailer
LIQUID SKY Blu-ray Review – You Don’t Need Acid For This Mind Melting Trip
Starring Anne Carlisle, Paula E. Sheppard, Susan Doukas, Otto von Wernherr
Directed by Slava Tsukerman
Distributed by Vinegar Syndrome
Succinctly summing up a slice-of-life avant-garde feature film can be difficult when the picture relies heavily on the audio-visual experience and not necessarily the story. Liquid Sky (1982) is an acid-fueled trip through the emerging New Wave movement, viewed through the vapid lens of the fashion world, where drugs and sex are a commodity to be frequently bartered. The film juxtaposes the grimy and gritty streets of New York City with liberal use of bright, flashy neon, creating an aesthetic that both revels in the post-punk subculture and looks forward to the eye-popping pastels that would come to define the ‘80s. Within this kaleidoscope is a story about androgyny, rampant drug use, pleasures of the flesh, sexual abuse, and tiny invisible aliens that subsist on the endorphins released when people either get high or get down. As director Slava Tsukerman states in the extras, the idea was to craft a unique visual palette, the likes of which cinemagoers maybe hadn’t seen before; in that respect, Tsukerman capably succeeded. This is true subversive cinema, not for the mainstream.
Margaret (Anne Carlisle) is an androgynous NYC fashion model, looking to get her big break into certifiable stardom. Her nightclub fashion shows bring out all the fringe of the city – drug users, sexual deviants, flamboyant personalities, and her rival, Jimmy (also Carlisle), who is a fiend for cocaine. Margaret’s girlfriend, Adrian (Paula E. Sheppard), is a coke dealer whom Jimmy constantly harasses for a quick high, despite the fact he never has any money. Sex is his usual currency, consensual and otherwise. For reasons unknown, though easy to glean, a tiny UFO has landed on top of the apartment building in which Margaret lives, the visitors here to feast on endorphins released by the brain during drug use… or explosive, orgasmic sex.
Jimmy has lunch with his mother, Sylvia (Susan Doukas), a television producer who he sees as little more than a blank check. Sylvia also happens to live across the street from Margaret’s building, making it the perfect vantage point for scientist Johann Hoffman (Otto von Wernherr) to observe the till-now undiscovered, minute aliens and their spacecraft. Margaret, meanwhile, finds herself in one compromising sexual position after the next, often against her will, though these (let’s be honest here and call them) rapes tend to end with her perpetrators dead, a thin crystalline sliver embedded within their skulls; brain removed. Margaret doesn’t quite understand why, but the frequent cause and effect makes her imagine she has unbridled power, able to kill anyone that has sex with her. Eventually, Margaret comes to use this “power” to destroy anyone who crosses or uses her, which as the film will show is a significant number of people. Little does she know, all this time her saviors have been invisible to the naked eye and living atop her building.
The above plot synopsis barely scratches the surface of the weird and insane places this film travels. The biggest takeaway here should be the ground Tsukerman was breaking, which feels very much in the vein of something Andy Warhol might have been behind. The cast is comprised of societal outcasts; populated by homosexuals, ambiguous individuals, gender-fluidity, heroin users, club cronies, kink, vulgarity… all things that in no way conform to societal standards of normality. Carlisle pulls double duty playing two characters – one reprehensible, the other vaguely sympathetic – yet both fall under the rubric of blurred lines; they embody qualities of both masculinity and femininity. Tsukerman embraces the abstract and absurd, delivering a film that is fiercely independent and wholly incapable of direct categorization.
Driving this tour de force is a cutting edge synth score that is constantly active and consistently weird. A trio made up of Tsukerman, Clive Smith, and Brenda I. Hutchinson composed the soundtrack, and it sounds alien and otherworldly while also capturing the essence of the New Wave. The electronic cues and deep bass beats are energetic and repetitive, often making use of bizarre time signatures. Large portions of it reminded me of John Massari’s stellar synth score to Killer Klowns from Outer Space (1988), as the synthesizer sounds are nearly identical in some passages. The grooves are infectious and wonderfully lo-fi, adding an audible assault to complement the visual feast.
Still, Liquid Sky is something of a challenging watch, especially a first-time viewing when expectations are impossible to calibrate. Because Tsukerman purposely made his film so esoteric and obtuse, it can be tough to settle into a comfortable viewing mindset because so much of the film is uncomfortable and unconventional. The acting quality is passable enough that viewers may find themselves watching the film less as a veritable feature and more a staged, lengthy piece of performance art, which it is in certain respects. Liquid Sky doesn’t lampoon the period or people associated with it, though it does offer an exaggeration of current trends. One thing is for sure, this is bespoke filmmaking at its core and a shining example of the marriage between emerging trends and psychedelic euphoria. Mind blowing stuff.
Vinegar Syndrome is consistently lauded for their A/V work and, boy, did they ever knock this one out of the atmosphere. The 1.85:1 1080p picture is pristine, making it almost impossible to believe this is a low-budget indie from ’82. The original 35mm negative has been given new life via a 4K scan, with the resulting image looking nearly flawless. Aside from literally two or three white flecks the picture is immaculate. Film grain has been smoothed out and minimized without the use of waxy DNR. Fine detail is exquisite, adding a sense of true life to these shiny and squalid environments. Colors are richly saturated and pop off the screen, just as eye-catching neon might do in real life. Color filters are used frequently, bathing the image in hues of blue or green or whatever color fits the intended mood. Skin tones are spot-on and accurate. There is nothing worth complaining about making this one of the finest images Blu-ray is capable of producing.
Although the audio is a single-channel English DTS-HD MA 1.0 mono track you’d never know it from the sonic quality. The synthesized score is catchy and constant, causing the film’s soundfield to be brimming with life at every moment. The aggressive mix and high levels cause a mild sensation of discomfort and unease for viewers, ensuring the picture is never viewed too comfortably. Dialogue is understandable and totally clean, with no indication of hissing or pops at any point. Subtitles are available in English.
An introduction is available before the feature begins, with director Slava Tsukerman giving viewers a brief greeting along with praise for Vinegar Syndrome’s new home video edition.
An audio commentary is available, featuring director Slava Tsukerman.
The disc also contains an isolated soundtrack, highlighting that groundbreaking score.
Interview with Slava Tsukerman is a recent chat with the Russian director, who touches upon his career, influences, and the legacy of his most endearing creation.
Interview with Anne Carlisle is a similarly themed chat, with the leading lady discussing topics ranging from her early beginnings to where her career has taken her now.
Liquid Sky Revisited is a nearly-hour long documentary covering all aspects of the film’s production, with Tsukerman delving into every bit of minutia behind the production, genesis, inspirations, etc.
Q&A from 2017 Alamo Drafthouse Yonkers Screening, featuring Tsukerman, Carlisle, and co-composer Clive Smith.
A lengthy reel of outtakes, alternate opening sequence, rehearsal footage, multiple trailers, and a still gallery complete the wealth of bonus features found here.
Additionally, the cover artwork is reversible allowing for display of the original key art or newly commissioned artwork.
- BRAND NEW 4K RESTORATION OF THE FILM from the 35mm original negative
- Brand new commentary track with: Slava Tsukerman (director)
- Video interview with Slava Tsukerman
- Video interview with Anne Carlisle (actress)
- Director’s introduction
- “Liquid Sky Revisited” (2017) – 50 minute making-of documentary
- Q&A from a 2017 Alamo Drafthouse Yonkers screening with: Slava Tsukerman, Anne Carlisle and Clive Smith (music)
- Isolated soundtrack
- Never before seen outtakes
- Alternate opening sequence
- Behind the scenes rehearsal footage
- Multiple theatrical trailers
- Still gallery
- Artwork designed by Derek Gabryszak
- Reversible cover artwork
- English SDH subtitles
Supremely psychedelic and infinitely eccentric, Liquid Sky was 1983’s most successful independent film and for good reason: it is impossible to categorize and there are few films that color outside the lines so vividly and uniquely. You can’t explain it or understand it; you just have to see it. Vinegar Syndrome have raised the bar with their impeccable a/v quality and wonderful selection of extras.
Zena’s Period Blood: Dying for a DEAD END
It can be difficult finding horror films of quality, so allow me to welcome you to your salvation from frustration. “Zena’s Period Blood” is here to guide you to the horror films that will make you say, “This is a good horror. Point blank. PERIOD.”
“Zena’s Period Blood” focuses on under-appreciated and hidden horror films.
How do you turn $900,000 into $77,000,000? Offer directors Jean-Baptiste Andrea and Fabrice Canepa the initial amount and give them the freedom to let their minds wander. In 2003, both directors accomplished this unimaginable feat with Dead End. Under the clouds of a small budget, typical poster and insubstantial trailer, most viewers forecasted one long stretch of boredom. However, 15 minutes in and I was as hooked as a pervert in a strip club with his tax refund money. In 83 minutes, the movie unravels and exposes intelligent craftsmanship with story, acting and location, introducing us to the Harrington family and their demise.
After 20 years following the same route, Frank Harrington (Ray Wise) decides to take his family down a shortcut to his in-laws home during Christmas Eve. Wife Laura (Lin Shaye) sings in the passenger seat, serving as the optimistic family unifier who is often ignored by her husband and children. Behind Frank is their oldest child Marion (Alexandra Holden), unnervingly sheltered under the arm of her soon-to-be fiancé, Brad. And forever mom’s favorite boy is Richard (Mick Cain), who rocks out to Marilyn Manson blaring in his headphones. After this brief introduction to the characters and their distinct personalities, we witness everyone fall asleep, including Frank, who refuses to let anyone else drive.
Several seconds pass before the Jeep Wagoneer veers into the opposite lane. Gradually, a honk pleads from an approaching car, startling the Harrington family and forcing Frank to fight with the wheel until he brings the Jeep to a stop. Wide-awake, the family begins to move forward, now entrapped on a new, never-ending road.
I could elaborate on so many scary details in the movie, but the never-ending road stands out the most. What makes it worse is that there are signs for a town called Marcott, with an arrow indicating the town is straight ahead. But the Harringtons never reach the town. This scares me because I believe that every human being has a mental list of things they are scared of or things they should keep an eye out for in certain situations. Unfortunately, this movie exists to expand that list. What sucks for me is that my husband likes taking back roads. Because I strive to have a happy marriage and a peaceful death, I usually fall asleep to avoid an argument and the grim reaper, both of which usually exist on these particular roads. However, I never imagined that a back road could become a never-ending road. Man that would suck!
Speaking of never-ending, the directors became devils of discomfort by never really showing the deceased’s mutilated body, leaving your brain struggling to piece together the unseen image long after the movie ends. Throughout the movie, the family and Brad are picked off one by one. We mainly suffer these devatations through the reactions of the family members that are still alive, sometimes witnessing them lift a severed ear or caress a charred hand. This movie taught me that I can still taste bile at the back of my throat when a mutilation is suggested rather than shown.
Directors Andrea and Canepa accomplished greatness in Dead End with little time and little money. It is a testament that imagination coupled with skill is the true combination to capturing a big budget feel. I hope that all the individuals behind this movie have a long, never-ending road ahead of them because they have delivered brilliance to the world. This is a good horror. Point blank. Period.
In addition to contributing to Dread Central, Zena Dixon has been writing about all things creepy and horrific for over six years at RealQueenofHorror.com. She has always loved horror films and will soon be known directing her own feature-length horror. Feel free to follow her on Twitter @LovelyZena.
Who Goes There Podcast: Ep 164 – THE CLEANSE
Wait no longer, boils and ghouls! Today is the day you’ve been waiting for; today is the day we sink our teeth into 2018’s The Cleanse! What’s that? You’ve never heard of The Cleanse?! Well, neither had we, but horror releases are slim pickings right now, so we take what we can get. At least we can all agree that we’ve been dying to see Johnny Galecki in something other than Big Bang Theory, right? No? Well, fuck. Here’s an episode about his new movie anyway. What are we even doing?
It was crazy of me to think I could help the police, but I’m going to keep researching, keep writing, there are stories that need to be told, so… here’s the Who Goes There Podcast episode 164!
If you enjoy the show, please consider joining our Patreon subscribers. For less than the cost of a beer, you get bonus content, exclusive merchandise, special giveaways, and you get to help us continue doing what we love.
The Who Goes There Podcast is available to subscribe to on iTunes right here. Not an iTunes user? You can listen on our Dread Central page. Can’t get enough? We also do that social media shit. You’ll find us on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Twitch, and YouTube.
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