The Devil’s Candy (8/10)

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NOTE: This review originally appeared on Red River Horror.

Ray Smilie (Pruitt Taylor Vince) is a middle-aged, tracksuit-wearing man living in an old farm-house in Texas with his parents. Tormented by a sinister voice in his head, he tries to drown it out by strumming power chords at high volume on his electric guitar. When his mom makes him stop, he responds by hitting her with the guitar, causing her to fall down the stairs.

Jesse Hellman (Ethan Embry) is an aspiring, perspiring artist and metal-head reduced to painting a butterfly mural for a bank to make ends meet. He, along with his demure wife Astrid (Shiri Appleby) and metal-head daughter Zooey (Kiara Glasco), are in the market for a new home. Ray Smilie’s is now up for sale at a bargain price, following the tragic death of his parents. Hellman buys the house, and moves in with his family.

Smilie, now living in a hotel, continues to be haunted by the diabolical voice in his head, but…after a noise complaint, can no longer drown it out without drawing the attention of the local sheriff.

Soon, Hellman is hearing a voice as well, but for him, it becomes the impetus that drives him to create works of art with a quality far beyond anything he has achieved before. After he turns his butterfly painting into a hellscape of tortured children, he earns the praise of a prestigious gallery owner, and the promise of riches and success. With fame and fortune must come sacrifice…

Meanwhile, the voice drives Smilie to acts of destruction, not creation, as he is drawn back to his lost home, forcing Hellman to act to keep his dark muse from becoming the downfall of those he loves most.

While The Devil’s Candy initially appears to follow the standard young-couple-moves-into-a-haunted-house formula, it quickly turns into a much more interesting tale of temptation, deviance, and redemption.

The movie’s emotional core is the relationship between Jesse and his daughter Zooey; neither quite fits the mold that the world wants to cast them with. Their dedication to each other, and love of hard rock, is demonstrated effectively by Ethan Embry and Kiara Glasco’s strong performances.

Mr. Vince, as Ray Smilie, is his usual creepy self. Ms. Appleby provides a quiet but strong performance as the somewhat more straight-laced member of the Hellman clan. Also portrayed well by writer/director Sean Byrne is Texas itself, with Jesse’s painting and the pounding rock soundtrack showing the grungy, sweaty side of the state. That’s in contrast with Zooey’s Polo-preppie classmates at her new suburban school. Featuring a unique style and a fresh take on an old genre trope, The Devil’s Candy is an easy recommend.

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Aaah! Zombies!! (7/10)

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“Aaah! Zombies!!” is a movie that dares to ask the question, are zombies just regular people moving in slow motion? Yeah, I didn’t know that was a question either but, as it turns out, the answer is pretty amusing.

So, more accurately, a bunch of youngsters in the 50s get infected by a failed super-soldier serum that turns them into zombies. But, from their point of view, they’re fine and there’s something wrong with everybody else. Their slowed brain processes cause them to move and speak very slowly, which appears as brainless activity to uninfected people, while the uninfected people appear, to the zombie crew, to be moving extremely quickly. However, they appear fairly normal to drunk people, and are able to communicate with them. Oh, and they’ve also gained super-strength, near invulnerability, and a hunger for human flesh.

The zombie crew meet up with a soldier who is also a zombie-but-doesn’t-know-it who explains the situation (not entirely accurately) and offers to help them get to the bottom of the problem. Much zombie mayhem ensues, leading to a final confrontation between the zombie crew and the uninfected, but drunk, but soon to be sober, denizens of a bowling alley.

So, this was pretty amusing, had some decent gore, and featured the nifty gimmick of showing everything from the uninfected point of view in black and white (keeping with the 50s setting), but switching to color for the zombie POV. Also, you can’t really fault a movie that features a zombie bowling sequence set to “Take the Skinheads Bowling” by Camper Van Beethoven, even though there are no boobs.

Best line: “We’re zombies, not illegal immigrants!”

Tall Men (7/10)

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Terrence Mackleby is an earnest but not-so-bright man who may have killed his girlfriend when he was a boy. He is now a grown-up who works at a warehouse with Lucy the wallflower, Edith the conspiracy theorist, and Lee, who plays cribbage and is creeped out by the conspiracy theorist after making the mistake of sleeping with her. Terrence has just declared bankruptcy due to his overwhelming credit card debt. After going on a date with Lucy the wallflower, he receives an offer for a special credit card with a 4% interest rate, which he gets and uses to buy a new car. Soon after, he starts seeing shadowy tall men following him, and he is fired from his job by his boss, who is sporting some new bruises on his face. To add to his desperate situation, he learns that the terms of his new credit card are not what they seem, and he starts to see and hear some really strange things.

While this is a little slow, and certainly over-long at 2 hours and 13 minutes, it’s still an entertaining slice of whimsical dark humor. The atmosphere is stylish, the acting is good, and the concept is original. Worth a watch for those that enjoy a more cerebral, psychological horror film.

Beyond the Gates (8/10)

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Gordon and John’s father has been missing for 7 months. Gordon, with unfortunately fully-clothed girlfriend Margot in tow, returns to his hometown and reunites with John to liquidate their missing father’s old-school VHS video store. There, they discover a VHS game with the titular title of “Beyond the Gates”. Back at the old man’s old homestead, they pop in the tape and find themselves playing against a beautiful but mysterious woman, played by the legendary (and still smokin’ hot) 80s horror icon, Barbara Crampton. While the game promises to reveal the fate of their father, they find that the answer may cost them dearly.

This movie doesn’t pretend to be anything other than it is — a throwback to the glorious days of 80s horror movies and gaming. We’ve got VHS tapes, a video store, a lovely synth soundtrack, and even the Crampton herself. What we don’t have is titties, but everything else is good enough that I can (grudgingly) give that a pass, even though cutie-pie Brea Grant as Margot is just begging to be objectified. Sigh. Anywho, this is spot-on in tone, photography, lighting, and whatnot. While things do wrap up perhaps a little too neatly, it’s still quite a nice romp through the VHS golden age. Definitely worth a watch.

Sweatshop (6/10)

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A bunch of slutty retarded goth losers are setting up for a rave in an old abandoned warehouse when a masked killer starts dispatching them in increasingly graphic and creative ways. This plot is so simple I don’t even need commas.

Lots of titties and humping. Good stuff.

Spliced (aka The Wisher) (6/10)

Mary is a high-school girl who looks like a hotter Natalie Portman and gets horny when she watches horror movies (where was this chick when I was growing up? Or now, for that matter). She also suffers from nightmares and dangerous bouts of sleep-walking, so her dad locks her in her bedroom at night and won’t let her go to horror movies. Despite the ban and after wishing her dad would “just go away”, she goes with her friends to see super-popular but cheesy horror movie “The Wisher”. This movie-within-a-movie is about some kids summoning an evil dude that grants wishes but, of course, twists them around to be horrible. During the movie she pukes and runs out. Also, her dad finds out where she is and goes to get her, managing to get into a car wreck and dying on the way. Mary blames herself and starts seeing The Wisher around the house. Then she wishes she didn’t have to go to school, and someome burns down the school. After some more fishy wishing business, she goes to the googlenets and finds reports of strange behavior by some people who saw so the movie. Is she crazy? Are the wishes coming true for supernatural reasons? Or because someone else who saw the movie is making them come true? These are truly the most important questions of our times.

So, this started well, with hottie Mary telling her guidance counselor (an increasingly puffy Ron Silver) about her horror movie turn-on. I really thought this was going to get into some fun and twisted territory, but unfortunately this plot-line got dropped really quick and apparently was only there to give her the impetus to disobey her dad and go to the creepy movie. So, this turned out to be a much more conventional story with some Scream-like sensibilities, which kind of makes sense given that this came out in 2002, when the scream series was still rolling out frequent sequels. While nothing special (other than the cuter-than-a-button Mary and some good but non-Mary titties), it was a decent straight-to-video production with a few good moments. Really though, I am now inspired to find the actress that played Mary and make the kinky masterpiece that this could have been if they’d followed through on the promise of the opening plot-line. Anybody want to give me a million or two to fund it?

Fender Bender (5/10)

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Teen Hilary (played by cutie-pie Makenzie Vega, aka Grace Florrick from “The Good Wife”) has just found out her boyfriend is cheating on her with a hot blonde cheerleader. Then she gets into a fender-bender while driving her mom’s new shitty Nissan Sentra. Not a good day for her. She goes home and gets grounded while her bitch-ass parents head out of town to see some stupid show or something that Hilary has been really wanting to see. Then her lame-ass friends show up and surprise her (literally) with pizza and no beer. And it turns out that the guy that rear-ended her (with his car, perv) is a serial killer who is now stalking her. Really not a good day for her.

So, this was well-made and sort of entertaining, but it’s not old-school or new-school enough to be all that interesting. At best, it’s a very bland blend of the two. Throw in some poor decision-making and you’ve got something that’s really not worth your time, unless, like me, your time really isn’t worth all that much. Oh, and one chick takes a bath and Hilary takes a shower, and no boobs in either scene. That, my friends, is unforgivable. If we’d seen some Makenzie boobies, I would have bumped it up to 6, maybe even 7. But “gratuitous nudity” (like that’s a thing) is on the outs these days, so we got nothing, not even a little side-boob. Fuckers.

The Monster (5/10)

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Super-shitty mother Kathy is driving her daughter Lizzy to see Lizzy’s dad, who she wants to live with instead of her loser alcoholic skanky-ass mom for some reason. As they are driving late that night on a desolate road through dense woods, they hit something and crash the car. They investigate and find a dead wolf, but not all of the wounds seem to be from the crash, and a huge tooth is found in one of the gashes. Once the tow-truck arrives, the driver is attacked and they realize they have bigger problems than just dysfunctional family dynamics.

So, I thought this was going to be really good. And it was, for a while. The first act did well at setting up the mother and daughter characters, and the performances were quite good. The second act was atmospheric and the monster itself was very well realized, though by this point the mother/daughter weepy flashbacks were getting a bit heavy-handed. And then the third act hits, and everyone in the movie immediately becomes a total idiot and makes the worst possible choices. Unfortunately, pathos and bathos bring down what could have been a very fine monster flick. Is it really asking too much to have a kick-ass monster wreaking havoc these days without having a heaping helping of domestic issues thrown in? Apparently, yes.