Joshua Hull grew up in Pendleton, Indiana, addicted to comic books, cinema and all things horror. He spent every weekend at the small mom-and-pop video store Video to Go, renting every horror VHS they had. In time, he didn’t just want to rent movies but make them. In 2010, his office zombie comedy Beverly Lane inspired Dread Central to name him an “Indie Director to Watch.” His follow-ups include The Impersonators and Chopping Block, and he’s in pre-production on the forthcoming Old Glory. Find him on Twitter at @joshuathehull.
“Butterflies? *So* not metal.”
Family is a huge driving point for horror films. That’s how (and why) most of us connect to them the way we do. Take a look at the Freeling family in Poltergeist. Most families have moved into new houses in their life. We’ve had to deal with the creaky sounds, menacing trees and closets that just so happen to be doors into the afterlife.
Moving isn’t easy.
Neither is being a family in a horrific situation. Growing up, I always felt a connection to Poltergeist. Aside from the obvious one (getting my younger sister out of that damn TV), the movie always felt like home to me. It would take years to feel “at home” with another horror movie. To feel like I was watching pieces of my life on the big screen.
When it happened, it was no longer as the “scared brother.” It was as a parent — more specifically, the “artist” father of a middle-school daughter.
The Devil’s Candy follows Jesse Hellman, a struggling painter who moves his family into their dream home in rural Texas. A one-car family, the Hellmans are young and struggling. Jesse’s wife, Astrid, works at a salon. An artist and a hairstylist doing whatever they can to a provide a good life for their daughter, Zooey. And they’re happy. This shines through in a particularly touching montage of the Hellmans moving into their new house, capped off with Astrid adjusting the crooked frame of our viewing.
Writer-director Sean Byrne (The Loved Ones) immediately shows us the connection between Jesse and Zooey. He’s a metalhead and she has picked up after him. A middle-schooler into metal, dying her hair and donning fake tattoos. It’s easy to say she’s not exactly interested in the same things as her peers.
I was suddenly looking at similarities playing out before my eyes. While I’m not a painter, you might say I’m a struggling artist. And my daughter has taken a keen interest in filmmaking and horror movies. Lately she’s more concerned with meeting the cast of It or Stranger Things than she is with seeing Taylor Swift in concert.
I found myself on the edge of my seat, invested in an onscreen relationship like I have never been before. I was seeing a version of my own family play out on screen. I would have been perfectly happy watching Ethan Embry, Shiri Appleby and Kiara Glasco play family and adjust to their new life for the next hour-and-a-half.
But Pruitt Taylor Vince just had to show up and ruin everything.
His character, Ray Smile, used to live in the Hellmans’ house. And he’s ready to come home. The Devil’s Candy is about the devil, but the brilliance of what Byrne has done is make a horror movie about parents not being able to be in control of every situation. Because that’s the reality of life. That’s the reality — and horror — of parenting. You always hope you’ll be there no matter what, but there are forces out of your hands sometimes.
And it’s a horrifying thing to see play out.
Once Ray sets his sights on Zooey, our happy family is no more. And sure, the Devil is spooky and all, but you show me a dad breaking a promise to his daughter and I’m covering my eyes like a toddler. There is a look that Glasco gives Embry once this happens that ripped me to shreds.
I’ve broken promises as a father.* I’ve seen that look. It’s not only terrifying, it’s soul-crushing.**
There is a sequence during the finale when Ray shows up at the house. We don’t see everything, but we hear it all. What we do see is through Astrid’s eyes, and it perfectly shows the dread and horror of unstoppable evil through the eyes of a parent.
The Devil’s Candy is one of the best horror films of the last 10 years, one worth revisiting on a yearly basis. This should be the movie that families gather around and watch together on Thanksgiving or Christmas. It’s important to know that regardless of how happy you are, or how many promises you make, or how many times you accidentally paint children burning up in hell, that other forces are sometimes at work.
Now if you’ll excuse me, there’s a man at the door telling Phoenix he’d like to come home now …
* Granted, my broken promise didn’t result in a Satan worshipper kidnapping my daughter and almost stuffing her in a suitcase. It was more like a “Sorry, I know I said we’d have cake for breakfast but here’s Cream of Wheat!” kind of thing.
** I would never eat Cream of Wheat or feed it to my child. I’m not a monster.
The Devil’s Candy is available to stream on Netflix.
For most of his life, Evan Dossey has generally avoided horror films. The genre makes him profoundly uncomfortable. This means he has enormous gaps in his cinematic knowledge. Each year, he asks friends and family which essential horror movies he needs to see in order to fill those gaps and spends the better part of October agonizing over them, tossing and turning over them … and writing about them. This year, he’s sharing the month with those friends and family — letting them offer their own thoughts about the tales that terrify (or perhaps just titillate) them. This is everyone’s No Sleep October.
NO SLEEP OCTOBER 2018
Blue Sunshine — James Ledesma
Spoorloos (The Vanishing) — Andrew Kimmel