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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Devil’s Tower (8/10)

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A couple go up to the roof of a council high-rise to make out. Mid-snog, they suddenly start attacking each other for no apparent reason, and they both end up dead. The next day a new tenant, cutie-pie Sarah, arrives. Of course the building is shitty and full of squatters, because socialism. Sarah finds out from some friendly neighbors that she’s moving into the “murder flat”, and that the building is, of course, haunted. Soon, tenants start showing up on the antique TVs that are scattered throughout the building and start behaving very strangely and the whole building turns into a big zombie death- and fuck-fest. And then things get weird.

As you may have guessed from the word choices, this is British. That’s not terribly relevant, but I thought I’d mention it. Anywho, this starts out fairly serious, and then transitions to an almost slapstick comedy as it progresses and things go silly buggers (that’s a Britishism; I know this because I’m very cosmopolitan). This was a peculiar hybrid of family drama, ghost story, world-gone-mad, zombies, and it was quite a bit of fun. Also, there was a fair number of boobies, so that’s a point in its favor. Overall, quite worth a watch, and another good entry in the UK horror catalog. In fact, it was so good, I accidentally watched it twice.

Hold Your Breath (6/10)

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Opening scene: It’s the 1950s and a sadistic serial killer is about to be executed for his crimes. Some shit happens, he kills a couple of guards and almost escapes, before finally being fried in the electric chair.

Cut to: Some young’uns are going camping and lock their cellphones up in the van’s glovebox (could this possibly be relevant later?!!!) As they drive past a cemetary, one of the girls says everyone should hold their breath because spirits might be roaming around and get sucked in as they drive passed. She says this is a thing, but nobody else in the movie has ever heard of it, but of course it must be a thing. Everyone reluctantly agrees, but the pot-smoking dudebro coughs on his pipe and ends up sucking in the serial killer’s spirit, dooming everyone to a horrible, painful, and somewhat entertaining death.

So, first, when Katrina Bowden is only the second-hottest chick in the movie, you’re in good shape babe-wise. The hottest chick seems to be dressed like Lara Croft for some reason, but I’m good with that. Later she is naked in a completely gratuitous (best kind, obviously) sex scene. There’s also some other nice boobs. Plot is bog-standard but executed (heh) well enough. Worth a watch for boobage and a couple of silly but impressive death gags. I gotta knock it for too much CGI gore though, that shit just don’t look right.

An American Ghost Story [aka Revenant] (6/10)

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An under-employed writer (in other words, a writer), girlfriend in tow, moves into a house where a man slaughtered his family and then killed himself. The author hopes to meet the house-ghosts and write a book about it.

The ghosts show up, are very friendly, tell him everything he needs, he writes the book and makes millions of dollars, and marries his reasonably attractive girlfriend. The End.

Haha, not really! Actually, the ghosts rearrange the furniture and attack the reasonably attractive girlfriend with the kitchen cabinets, so she moves out, leaving our sad writer all alone in the ghost-house. After that, he starts wandering around the house, talking to disembodied voices of kids, and playing with stuffed animals.

So, this is a very simple, super-low-budget, single-location movie without a lot of action or special effects, at least until the end. It does establish a good story and spooky atmosphere, and pays off pretty well at the end with some simple, but well-done, practical effects. And, for once, it’s not found footage, which is a nice plus. No boobage, reasonably attractive or otherwise. Overall, pretty slow for most of the run, but not a bad watch.

Amityville Terror (6/10)

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A couple, with crossbow-wielding blonde teenage daughter and recovering drug-addict sister, move into a haunted house and proceed to go ape-shit due to demonic ghostly possession.

Not a bad variation on the typical Amityville theme, with multiple family members losing it, and some sort of cult worship of the house by an obnoxious clique of teenage girls. Also, more nudity and catfights than one would expect. A decent enough way to waste an hour and a half.

American Poltergeist (3/10)

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A bunch of college kids, including some short-shorts-wearing co-eds, rent a fancy lake house for the semester. The owner of the house is a creepy blonde woman with a flat affect who speaks in terse sentences that tend to exclude articles.

One of the bubble-headed co-eds apparently has a connection to the house, and is having nightmares about a woman committing suicide and people getting chopped up in the basement. She hits the internets to try to get the scoop on the house and why it’s mojoing her. Turns out, her family name is Borden, and some very bad things happened in the house a long time ago. But please, don’t axe her about it!

This movie has the acting and production values of your average porno. Unfortunately, they forgot to include the sex and nudity. This must be some sort of made for basic cable type of thing. It was almost bad enough to be funny, but it couldn’t quite get there. Oh, one thing: I was browsing IMDb reviews and there was one positive one that pointed out that this movie passes the Bechdel Test. I guess if that sort of thing is more important to you than acting, writing, directing, and photography, this is the movie for you!