Feeling inspired horror fiends? Anyone who has tried to create something from nothing knows your talent isn’t always enough. Sometimes, inspiration is a real bitch to come by. Whether it’s not knowing where to start, where to keep going, or even what to create. This block can happen in writing, painting, sculpting, drawing or pretty much any creative endeavor. And, if like in today’s movies, your talent as an artist also happens to be your primary source of income, then lack of inspiration is not just annoying but dangerous. In cases like this, how do you afford to eat, feed your family, or pay rent?
But what if all these pressures could be relieved by heavy metal music and the dark and mysterious forces it purports to conjure? Well, let’s find out in today’s films, The Devil’s Candy and Bliss.
The Devil’s Candy is a great indie horror movie with a slow-burn plot that is driven by the protagonist’s love of heavy metal music. Jesse and Astrid Hellman are a couple with a teenage daughter named Zooey. Jesse is an artist struggling for inspiration. He and his daughter Zooey share a love for metal music. Jesse and Astrid buy a house in the country, a chance for their family to own a home and for Jesse to gain inspiration.
Meanwhile, they don’t realize the house they have purchased was the home of Ray Smilie, a dangerous schizophrenic who hears voices. One night after Ray woke his mother playing his guitar loudly; she threatened to return him to a psychiatric facility. So he murdered her, and the house slipped back on the market. Now he is compelled by the voices to murder Zooey, but he is trying to resist. Meanwhile, Jesse finds himself suddenly inspired by these same voices and begins painting while in trances. Jesse paintings begin to reveal Ray’s victims, and Ray will not be able to hold
Back his murderous impulses for too long.
The Devil’s Candy is a tense, intelligent horror movie with an interesting premise. The cast is excellent, especially Pruitt Taylor Vince as the creepy Ray. At times, Ray seems harmless and confused, yet always with a threatening undercurrent. Ray seems compelled to respond and obey to the voices, even as he tries to object to them.
As an actor once famously typecast as the shy, unassuming guy, Ethan Embry turns in a fantastic performance as a man driven by his art and wholly dedicated to his family. Embry’s Jesse and his daughter are both metalheads, and it brings out the love between them. Likewise, the way the film sees metal as a kind of salvation from evil feels unique. The first time we the audience see Ray, he is repeatedly playing a metal riff on his flying V guitar, trying to stave off the voices of evil compelling him to commit murders. In The Devil’s Candy, heavy metal is a force for good.
Our second feature is Joe Begos’s Bliss, and it is a bombastic, abrasive assault on the senses, a journey through drugs, art, and vampirism.
Dezzy is a frustrated young artist struggling to finish her latest painting. She is behind on her rent, and when she asks her agent for an advance and extension, he drops her. Looking for a buzz and a solution to her block, Dezzy visits an old friend that deals drugs and buys and samples a new kind of drug called Bliss, and it leaves her hazy for hours. When she comes to, still in the dealer’s home, there’s a full-on party. Here, Dezzy runs into a friend and ends up having a drug and sex-filled night. During these exploits, Dezzy believes her friend bites her on the neck. The next day, she starts having hallucinations. This doesn’t keep her from indulging in more of the drug, and soon her lust for intoxication transforms into a violent lust for blood. From here, Dezzy’s life spirals out of control, even while she overcomes her lack of inspiration. The more she kills, the better her art becomes.
The film is an orgy of metal music, flashing lights and nightmarish images. Joe Begos has directed a horror film with intensity and bite from the first moment. The loud pulsing music that almost fills every scene is married to the beautiful colors he bathes nearly every scene in. It’s a nightmare for sure, but it’s a brilliant and lush one. It also feels like his most polished film to date, despite the intentionally rough edges that make this one feel like a throwback to the days of VHS.
Begos shot Bliss on actual film stock, so the image is grainy. The crackles and pops on screen, but it only adds to the film story. He also employs rough edits and jumps cuts to keep us on our toes. Considering the mania Dezzy experiences on her drug-filled bender, it again makes total sense. The other strength of the film is Dora Madison as Dezzy. Her character is manic, cranky, a bit of a dick and a destructive narcissist, but goddamn, she’s also magnetic. As much as she is a dangerous addict, you still hope she can fight past it all and succeed. The coupling of drug abuse with vampirism is also a unique take on the vampire mythos. Typically vampires are controlled and measured, but this film presents them as addicted to violent outbursts curbed only by blood.
Finally, these are films that really deserve to have more eyes see them. Bigos is establishing himself as one of the truly great directors in indie horror, and Sean Byrne, who directed The Devil’s Candy, is a talent with tons of potential. His other feature-length film, 2009’s The Loved Ones, deserves to be seen even though some will dismiss it as torture porn (me- Shawn). Bliss is a Shudder exclusive, and The Devil’s Candy is available for rent on Vudu, Prime, and Youtube.