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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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.

I Can See You (9/10)

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Doug, Richards, and Kimble are three scruffy young men trying to start a new ad agency in NYC. Doug’s girlfriend, Sonia, has scored them a gig with her employer, big-time cleaning product manufacturer Clara Clean, whose products may or may not be involved in ecological damage and de-forestation. Suffering from a lack of clarity in both their artistic vision and their stock photos, the three men decide that camping in the woods to get back to nature is just the ticket, so they head out of town, Sonia in tow, to the countryside where Richards grew up. Once there, Richards attempts to take some photos of nature’s grandeur, but the photos are marred by mysterious wisps of smoke, which seem to be invisible to the naked eye. That night, some old friends of Richards are invited to the camp for a barbecue, and he hooks up with his old flame, Summer Day. The next day, Doug and Summer disappear after a swim, which leads Richards to fear the worst. When Doug shows up that night without Summer and with a bad case of the crazies, things really go bonkers.

So, this movie is about as good as mini-micro-budget filmmaking can get, which, turns out, is pretty goddamn good. This thing starts out weird, and gets to be positively batshit crazy by the end. Nevertheless, it is consistently compelling, and features some genuinely creepy and jarring visuals and editing. The acting is better than one might expect at this price-point (including a great performance from indie guru and producer Larry Fessenden in a small but pivotal role), and the lack of production value really only adds to the lo-fi nuthouse vibe. The whole thing is reminiscent of something you might find in the “weird part of YouTube”, but holds up surprisingly well as a feature-length film. I really don’t want to say anything more about it, so just go watch it.

Antibirth (10/10)

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Lou (Natasha Lyonne) and Sadie (Chloe Sevigny) are super-skanky junkies who like to party with pimp/drug dealer Gabriel. After a night of drug-fueled partying, Lou begins to show symptoms of pregnancy, even though she is sure she hasn’t had sex in months, which nobody believes because she is a total ho. Over the next few days, during which she continues drinking heroic amounts of alcohol and sucking on a huge bong, her symptoms become increasingly, and disgustingly, bizarre. She is befriended by Lorna (Meg Tilly!), who talks about aliens and weird abuse at the hands of the government. As they investigate Lou’s condition, they learn of a shadowy rich benefactor to Gabriel, who is getting girls from him in exchange for a strange new drug, which may have been given to Lou at their last party. What happened to Lou at this party? And why is Sadie spending so much time with Gabriel? Does she know more than she is letting on?

This, right here, is the shit. This is a motherfucking horror movie right here. Natasha Lyonne gives a fantastic performance as the tragicomic Lou, whose drug-laden body horror seems as much an extension of her terrible life choices as it does the result of some mysterious conspiracy. This movie is filled with bizarre characters and happenings, but they flow naturally from circumstances, never seeming like weirdness for weirdness’s sake. She views her increasingly desperate situation as just one more shitty thing that’s happened to her in her already shitty life. Even Lorna, her protector and advocate, is a freakin’ loon. It’s all just another day in the life in the seventh circle of hell that is thug life in Michigan. This is one of the most fucked up movies I’ve seen in a long time, and it is glorious.

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.

RWD (8/10)

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Two doofuses (doofi?) with a YouTube ghost-hunting show go to investigate a family’s haunted house out in the woods, but they got the date wrong and the family is out of town. So, instead, they wander around the woods and find an old silo with a creepy underground complex below it. They investigate the complex and decide to make their latest episode about it instead of the haunted house. While wandering, weird things begin to happen, they catch glimpses of people that look surprisingly familiar, and then some sort of weird sparkly stuff comes out of a laptop monitor and sends them… back…

This was an interesting take on the usual found footage ghost-hunter shows that are ubiquitous right now, mixing in some mind-bending sci-fi concepts that I shouldn’t talk about too much for fear of spoiling the fun. The actors are also rather amusing in their doofusness (doofosity?), and the tonal shift late in the movie from deadly silliness to deadly seriousness is handled quite well. Definitely worth a watch.

Chopping Block (8/10)

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A group of incompetents just laid off from their cubicle jobs decide, after many drinks, to kidnap and ransom their ex-boss’s daughter. They actually end up saving her from a huge, deranged woman that’s been trying to kill her for years, and the killer now comes after all of them. Many more drinks and inept decisions follow.

This low-budget horror-comedy was freakin’ hilarious. Think “Office Space” with more kidnapping and murdering. Good performances all around make this one a quality effort, and the depth of idiocy of the protagonists is impressive. Very silly, but highly recommended.

Infernal (7/10)

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A couple have a kid who is weird and can’t stop brushing her hair. Is she autistic, or the devil? Spoiler alert: It’s that second thing.

So this is basically a found-footage hipster version of The Omen. While not the most original idea, or even slightly original, it does a pretty good job of being creepy and actually works, for the most part. They really needed to cut back on the cricket sounds in the background though, really freakin’ annoying. No boobs but still worth a look.

Darkside Witches (5/10)

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So, this movie opens with some witches being burned at the stake, in a historical fashion. Then, there’s a hardcore sex scene, complete with a squicky demon blowie unhappy ending. Then a bunch of boring stuff with priests and some science chick trying to get to the bottom of the demon attacks. And bad dubbing. And more attacks from penis-chomping lesbian demon witches out for revenge. And tons of nudity. This one kind of has it all! Except for, you know, a budget.

Best line: “Welcome to slavery, you cocksucking sinners!”

Dreamland (5/10)

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A trashy white couple are driving through Nevada when they encounter UFO nuts, timewarps, a holographic WW2 soldier, a creepy ghost girl, and Alien Hitler. Weirdo super-low-budget sci-fi weirdness. Best line: “Elvis, isn’t he dead?”

So, I really have no idea what happened in this movie. Well, I have some idea, but it still doesn’t really make any sense. In any case, it was goofy enough to be sort of entertaining. Worth a watch I guess, but I watched it, so you probably don’t need to. And yet again, no boobs. What’s wrong with filmmakers these days?