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
Children of the Fall Review – This Israeli Slasher Gets Political
Starring Noa Maiman, Aki Avni, Yafit Shalev, Iftach Ophir, Michael Ironside
Directed by Eitan Gafny
Reviewed out of Utopia 2017
Slashers are a subgenre of horror that are often looked down upon. After all, what can a movie about a killer slaughtering multiple people have to say about, well…anything. Those of us in the community know full well that this is nonsense and that any kind of horror movie can be a jabbing (no pun intended) commentary on society, culture, politics, art, etc… And that’s precisely what Eitan Gafny aims to do with Children of the Fall, one of the few Israeli slashers ever created.
Set on the eve of the Yom Kippur war, the film follows Rachel (Maiman), a young American woman who comes to Israel to join a kibbutz after suffering some serious personal tragedies. Her goal to make aliyah (the return of Jews to Israel) is however hampered by some rather unpleasant encounters with local IDF soldiers and members of the kibbutz. Pushing through, she makes friends with others in the commune and her Zionistic views are only strengthened, although they do not go untested. Once Yom Kippur, one of the holiest holidays in Jewish culture, begins, a killer begins picking off the kibbutz workers one by one in violent and gruesome ways.
Let’s start with what Children of the Fall gets right, okay? As slashers go, it’s actually quite beautiful. There are wonderfully expansive shots that make use of the size and diversity of the kibbutz. The film opens with a beautiful shot of a cow stable, barn, water towers, and miscellaneous outbuildings, all set against a dark and stormy night. The lighting of this scene, and throughout the film, is also very good. I found myself darting my eyes across the screen multiple times throughout the film thinking I’d seen something lurking in the shadows.
The kills, while unoriginal, are very satisfying. Each death is meaty, bloody, and doesn’t feel rushed. In fact, the camera has no problems lingering during each kill, allowing us to appreciate the practical FX and copious amounts of blood used. And if you believe that a slasher needs to have nudity, you won’t be disappointed.
The acting is middle of the road. Maiman is serviceable as Rachel but the real star of the film is Yafit Shalev as “Yaron”. His range of emotion is fantastic, from warm and welcoming to Rachel when she arrives to emoting grief and pain during his Yom Kippur announcement where we learn that he was a child in a concentration camp. The rest of the cast are perfectly acceptable as fodder for the killer.
So where does Children of the Fall stray? Let’s start with the most obvious part: the runtime. Clocking in at nearly two hours, that’s about 30 minutes too much. The film could easily have gone through some hefty editing without affecting the final product. Instead, we have a movie that feels elongated when unnecessary.
Additionally, the societal and political commentary is very in-your-face but the film can’t seem to make up its mind as to what it’s trying to get across. Natalia, a Belarussian kibbutz worker, raises the concept of Israeli racism, misogyny, and xenophobia, her hostility unabashedly pouring out in the midst of IDF soldiers, locals, other kibbutz members, and more. Is there validity to what she’s saying? Undoubtedly. But there is also validity to Rachel’s retorts, which include calling this woman out on her own vitriolic views. This back-and-forth mentality frustratingly prevails throughout the film, as though Gafny was unwilling to just commit.
The dialogue is also quite painful at times, although I attribute this to difficulties with translating from Hebrew to English. Even the best English speakers in Israel don’t get everything perfect and the little quirks here and there, while charming, are quite detracting. Also, why is this movie trying to tell me that Robert Smith of The Cure is a character here? While amusing, it makes absolutely no sense nor does it fit in Smith’s own timeline.
Had this film gone through a couple rounds of editing, I feel like we’d have gotten something really great. Eitan Gafny is definitely someone that we need to be watching very closely.
While Children of the Fall has a lot going for it, it has just as much working against it. Overly long, you’ll get a really great slasher that is bogged down by uneven social and political commentary.
Madam Yankelova’s Fine Literature Club Review – A Charming, Quirky Dark Drama
Starring Keren Mor, Yiftach Klein, Hana Laslo, Ania Bukstein
Directed by Guilhad Emilio Schenker
Reviewed out of Utopia 2017
One of the great joys I have in being a horror fan is seeing horror films from around the world. I view these films as a chance to learn about the fears, folklore, mythology, and lore of varied cultures. Films like Inugami, Frontier(s), [REC], and the like transport me across oceans and into places I might never get the chance to visit otherwise. Hence my interest in the Israeli dark drama Madam Yankeolva’s Fine Literature Club, the feature debut of director Guilhad Emilio Schenker.
The film follows Sophie (Mor), a member of a strange, female-only reading club – who believes that love is a lie – that we soon realize brings men into its midst only to have them killed. The woman who brings the most fitting man is awarded a trophy for her fine taste. When a member reaches 100 trophies, they get to enter a coveted and highly esteemed upper echelon of the reading club’s society, one that includes lavish surroundings and an almost regal lifestyle. Sophie starts the film earning her 99th trophy but her plans towards the all-important 100th trophy are thrown askew when she ends up developing feelings for her latest victim. She must now decide if the mission that has been so dear to her for so many years is something she wishes to see through or if she’s ready to take a huge risk and fall in love.
Now, if this seems like a strange story for a horror website, I don’t disagree. Madam Yankelova’s Fine Literature Club is certainly not your traditional horror film. In fact, I’d liken it far more to the more playful works of Tim Burton and Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s The City of Lost Children than something more grotesque and violent. It’s very playful and quite charming, although there are times when the presentation feels amateurish and certain moments when things become wildly unbelievable. That being said, the film aims to be a dark fairy tale come to life, so a healthy amount of “I’m okay letting that go” will not go unappreciated.
The film is shot in such a way that it’s very soft around the edges, almost like we’re constantly in a dream. This is aided by composer Tal Yardeni’s score, which obviously takes inspiration from Danny Elfman, playfully weaving its way through each scene.
While there’s a lot to love about Madam Yankelova’s Fine Literature Club, it’s certainly not a flawless film. As mentioned previously, there are times when it feels quite amateurish, as though no one thought to look at how a scene is being filmed and say, “People, this isn’t how things would go down. We can have fun but this just doesn’t sit right.” Additionally, the story moves very quickly. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve heard of love at first sight. But that’s not how this story plays out, so the wildly strong feelings that develop between Sophie and Yosef (Klein) seem strangely out of place.
All things being what they are, Madam Yankelova’s Fine Literature Club is a charming film that can definitely appeal to horror fans if they’re willing to stretch their boundaries to include films that have absolutely no scares or gore but imply quite a horrific situation.
Charming, quirky, but not without its faults, Madam Yankelova’s Fine Literature Club is a dark drama for fans of Tim Burton and Jean-Pierre Jeunet. Don’t go in expecting any scares or gore. Rather, anticipate a fairy tale that might be just a bit too gruesome in tone for young children.
Beyond the Seventh Door DVD Review – No-Budget S.O.V. Canuxploitation At Its Finest!
Starring Lazar Rockwood, Bonnie Beck, Gary Freedman
Directed by B.D. Benedikt
Distributed by Severin Films/Intervision
Two people trapped within a labyrinthine complex. Booby traps. Rigged doors. Death lurking around every corner. And a mysterious voice communicating clues every step of the way via recorded tapes. No, this isn’t the latest Saw film but a Canuxploitation entry from the shot-on-video market, 1987’s Beyond the Seventh Door. Oozing ambition and bolstered by a truly bravado performance from newcomer Lazar Rockwood – a man who looks like the love child of Tommy Wiseau and Billy Drago – this no-budget Canadian shocker delivers just as many twists and turns as Lionsgate’s dead-horse franchise. The main difference being that instead of having to mutilate yours or someone else’s body, the protagonists here are forced to solve obtuse riddles in order to move on to the next room; failure means death. Intervision has been crushing it throughout 2017 – and this release may be the best yet.
Boris (Lazar Rockwood) is a career thief and recent ex-con who is trying to turn his life around when Wendy (Bonnie Beck), a former flame, comes back into his life. She now works for a rich paraplegic, Lord Breston (Gary Freedman), who lives in an actual castle just outside of town. Desperate for “one more job” and a big payday, Boris begs for a gig and Wendy delivers; the plan is for the two of them to break into the basement of Breston’s castle and steal whatever treasures he has socked away, all while her boss is busy entertaining guests at his costume party. The next night, the plan is enacted and the duo clandestinely slip into the castle’s lower level, when suddenly the door locks behind them and a tape recorder begins to play. Breston’s voice is heard, welcoming the thieves into his home and offering up a challenge: use scant clues (or sometimes, none at all) and uncover a way out of each of the six rooms linked together down here. Succeed and a briefcase of money awaits; fail and you die. Truly motivating.
Going into this film blind is my best recommendation, and so for that reason no other plot points will be revealed here. Besides, the real motivation for watching this movie is to witness the raw acting prowess of Lazar Rockwood. Glad in a denim jacket and rocking the ubiquitous ‘80s bandana headband, Rockwood has the delivery of a porno actor stammering lines between sex scenes. His accent is impenetrably thick and the range of his acting could fit within a matchbox, but dammit the man is weirdly magnetic on screen. He’s clearly throwing everything in his arsenal onto the screen with tremendous bravado. Modesty must be a scarce commodity when you have a name that would go perfectly alongside Dirk Diggler on an adult theater marquee in the ‘70s. My favorite line in the entire film is when Wendy is trying to solve the first clue, which has something to do with rings. When she’s rifling through possibilities and says, “Lord of the Rings?” Boris replies with, “Lord of the ring… who the hell is that guy?” said with equal parts confusion and annoyance. The kicker is viewers will believe that query could have come from either Boris or Lazar.
The rooms aren’t likely to impress viewers with their intricacy or set design, but each has a clever solution that is often a stretch to imagine our leads managing to solve within the allotted time. The clues provided by Lord Breston are esoteric and Boris isn’t exactly the erudite type, but working together with Wendy they are able to move ahead, often with mere seconds to spare. Evidence of past would-be thieves’ unlucky attempts are glimpsed, including one room where a body remains. NON-SPOILER: I completely expected the body to in actuality be Lord Breston, “checking up” on his unwanted guests much like John Kramer in Saw (2004), especially since you can clearly see the actor breathing, but this is not the case. Instead, the he’s-clearly-not-dead guy is played by a local eccentric, whose life is briefly chronicled in the bonus features.
Viewers will already be hooked on Beyond the Seventh Door by the time the climax arrives, but the final twists are what drive this S.O.V. thriller over the edge and into the cult territory it so richly deserves. It’s crazy to think this film went virtually unseen for years, being impossible to acquire on VHS and never receiving the proper home video release until now. Director B.D. Benedikt offers up further proof that strong ideas can be realized on any budget, and fans of films like Saw or Cube (1997) will enjoy this “store brand” version of those bigger budgeted hits.
The video quality review for every Intervision title could probably be a copy/paste job since each one is shot on video, always with a 1.33:1 aspect ratio. The quality here is comparable to a remastered VHS tape. There is a slight jerkiness to the opening but that passes quickly. Colors appear accurate and contrast is about as strong as can be. The picture is often soft which, again, is just something inherent to shooting on video. Film grain is minimized as much as possible; don’t expect a noisy mess just because this isn’t shot on film.
The English Dolby Digital 2.0 track plays with no obvious issues. Dialogue is clean and free from hissing and pops. The score is another awesomely cheesy ‘80s keyboard love-fest, with the three (!) composers – Michael Clive, Brock Fricker, and Philip Strong – getting plenty of mileage out of the main theme, which sounds like it would be the in-store demo default keyboard setting. No subtitles are included.
There is an audio commentary with writer/director B.D. Benedikt & actor Lazar Rockwood, moderated by Paul Corupe of Canuxploitation.com.
“Beyond Beyond the 7th Door features new interviews with Benedikt, Rockwood, and Corupe.
“The King of Cayenne” – Focusing on “legendary Toronto eccentric Ben Kerr”, a street performer who played the role of “dead guy in that one room”.
- Audio Commentary with Writer/Director BD Benedikt and Actor Lazar Rockwood, moderated by Paul Corupe (Canuxploitation.com)
- Beyond Beyond the 7th Door: Interviews with Writer/Director BD Benedikt, Actor Lazar Rockwood, and Canuxploitation.com’s Paul Corupe
- The King of Cayenne: An Appreciation of Legendary Toronto Eccentric Ben Kerr
Virtually lost for nearly three decades, Beyond the Seventh Door deserves a wider audience and Intervision’s DVD should bring it. The then-novel plot and sheer ambition should be enough to get most viewers hooked, but if not the Yugoslavian wonder Lazar Rockwood will handily have them glued to the screen.
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