Horror Double Feature: The Devil’s Candy and Scherzo Diabolico
I’m finally taking a short break from working on the second volume of my true crime series The Faceless Villain (which I’m hoping to have out by the end of June) to catch up on my Horror Double Feature blog series! I have a HUGE list of recent flicks I’ve watched on Netflix and Tubi, but I decided to do these two particular movies today because I’ve watched them very recently, I dug them both a great deal, and they share a very music-centric theme. As in, they’re not musicals, but they both prominently feature music as a central characteristic of the plot. So, onward.
Sean Byrne’s The Devil’s Candy from 2015 is the follow-up to the Australian filmmaker’s debut film, The Loved Ones (which is available on Tubi now and is on my soon-to-watch list). The movie blends horror, heavy metal, and heart in such a satisfying and fantastic way that it immediately shot into my top ten horror flicks that are available on Netflix at the moment. It really is that good.
The story revolves around metal-loving artist Jesse Hellman (Ethan Embry), his hairdresser wife Astrid (Shiri Appleby), and their lovable metalhead preteen Zooey (Kiara Glasco). The horned-hand-saluting family unit move out to a cheap but beautiful old house on the remote outskirts of Austin, Texas, mainly because the place has an enormous shed that Jesse plans to use as a studio. The good-ol’-boy realtor tells them that the house is such a bargain because an old couple “accidentally” died in the house shortly beforehand (though the viewer already knows this is not entirely the truth because of the creepy scene that took place prior to the credits rolling). But hey, cheap is cheap, this is the family’s first house, and what could possibly go wrong, anyway?
Well, plenty, as it turns out. Jesse begins hearing weird, possibly Satanic voices in his head, and takes to painting disturbing pictures without being aware of what he’s doing. A rather diabolical gallery owner who rejected Jesse’s work before now has a renewed interest in his paintings, since they’re looking a mite more nefarious. Worse still, a heavyset man in a tracksuit named Ray (Pruitt Taylor Vince), who we saw being all sinister and murderous at the beginning of the flick, has been lurking around the premises, telling the Hellmans that his parents used to live there. At first, Ray and Zooey bond over their shared love of Flying V guitars, but her parents think he’s a weirdo and shut that shit down.
And they were definitely correct to do so, because a little bit later, we see Ray kidnapping a little boy from a park, cutting up his body in a hotel room, putting the pieces in a suitcase, then burying the suitcase in a big hole where several older suitcases also reside. Ray, you see, has long been hearing the same voices that Jesse is now hearing, and believes that he must sacrifice children to Satan, since children are (title drop) the devil’s candy, being all sweet and innocent-like.
As the story progresses, Jesse grows more and more convinced that the voices and his paintings are a message of some sort, and as he becomes more entangled in this belief, he also becomes less and less able to protect his daughter from the looming predator, a fact which obviously eats away at him. I won’t spoil too much of what happens, because I don’t want to ruin the experience, but suffice it to say that the entire climax is tense as shit and, in the common parlance, metal as fuck.
Now, allow me to list all of the things I loved about this movie. One, the characters are immediately relatable, real, and likable. The relationship between the family members, particularly the deeply adoring father-daughter bond portrayed in the film, is spot-on, and gives the film a profound emotional punch. You sympathize with Jesse as he is pulled down by forces he seemingly can’t control, and you also feel for him as he desperately tries to protect his daughter from harm and often fucks up. It’s absolutely gut-wrenching to watch him, and even though I’m not a parent myself, I could feel his anguish right down to my very bones.
Secondly, the character of Zooey is an absolute delight. She is sometimes troubled and gets angry at her father and angry at her situation of having to move to a new school where she evidently gets picked on, but she never comes across as annoying or hateful, as preteens and teens in movies often do. Quite the contrary, I found myself utterly charmed by her head-banging earnestness and her tacit acceptance of her outsider status.
And that’s another thing I loved about this film: you can tell it was made with real affection for metal and the people who love it. It’s actually quite rare for an “alternative culture” family to be portrayed so genuinely and in such a heartfelt manner without making a joke out of them or making them out to be “evil” or sketchy. The Hellmans come across in the movie as a loving, tightly-bonded family who all just happen to share a love for tattoos, black fingernail polish, and riding around in their station wagon blasting Ghost and Pantera at top volume.
The movie does have its humorous moments, but on the whole, this is a serious occult horror film that brings the terror and tension in spades. Because the protagonists are so likable and you’re so invested in their safety, when that safety is threatened, the suspense is intensely stomach-turning as you root for them to get out of their predicament. Contributing brilliantly to this suspense is Pruitt Taylor Vince as Ray, the villain of the piece, who is terrifying precisely because he is almost sympathetic and clearly a little slow or addled; this makes his character totally unpredictable and all the more compelling.
It probably goes without saying, but the soundtrack and imagery in this thing are also rad as hell. Definitely recommended, particularly if you like doom metal and horror movies that have a real emotional core. A totally engaging, fun, and hair-raising film experience.
Next up on the double feature is another flick with music as a central theme, though this one boasts an almost nonstop classical score and a climax that veers into opera-style grotesqueries.
Adrían García Bogliano’s Scherzo Diabolico, also from 2015, presents us with the seemingly bland and mild-mannered Aram (Francisco Barreiro), an old-style company man at a struggling accounting firm. Always ready to do whatever is asked of him, always willing to go the extra mile, and always keen to work overtime, even when he isn’t getting paid for it. Sure, his family life suffers, with his wife in particular becoming distant because Aram is always working and yet not having any financial stability to show for it, but on the surface, he appears quite placid and eager to please.
Of course, his milquetoast veneer conceals a myriad of evils, including the fact that he’s constantly making eyes at the new girl at the office, regularly visits a prostitute, and has a dangerous gangster in his debt after he helped the criminal get away with some undisclosed illegality.
Even more to the point, Aram is clearly planning to do something terrible, though for a while, the viewer isn’t exactly sure what it is. Why is he making what is ostensibly a shopping list including vitamin water, protein bars, and “NO sugars?” Why is he weighing garbage bags full of pots and pans, and carrying his son silently around their apartment? Why is he asking his prostitute consort the best way to restrain someone if you want them immobilized? Why is he practicing a chokehold on his Alzheimer’s-riddled father and then pretending like nothing happened?
As the movie goes on, we finally see Aram stalking a particular teenage girl, taking note of her movements and timing her routine down to the second over the course of days or weeks. So we now know that he’s planning to kidnap her, hence all the “practice” beforehand, but after he eventually has her in his clutches, things don’t really go the way the viewer (or the protagonist) expects them to.
As I said, the way Aram’s plot unspools and then unravels is almost operatic in its histrionics and over-the-top insanity, nearly playing like a black comedy, but not exactly, because it remains fairly believable, and yet, still really fucked up. Again, I don’t want to spoil the major plot points, but the reveal of who the girl is and how and why Aram chose her was actually rather shocking, as was the aftermath of Aram’s unforgivable crime. Mozart’s Rondo Alla Turca plays a huge role in the film as well, adding an effective juxtaposition of beauty to the escalating madness.
I loved this movie too, but Scherzo Diabolico is not for all tastes. It’s a unique flick for sure, containing lots of gore and nudity and some really nasty set pieces. But as I said, the tone of the climax is sort of melodramatic and bizarre, and the plot twists are crazy and unexpected, though the initial build-up and construction of Aram’s plan is actually quite drawn out and teasing. Plus the classical score almost becomes like a weapon of its own and mirrors the personality of the protagonist: Aram is a precise, seemingly calm and passive individual, but harbors intense resentment against his lot in life, a resentment that hardly ever peeks through his acquiescent facade.
If you liked Bogliano’s other films (Late Phases and Here Comes the Devil, for instance), I see no reason why you wouldn’t like this one too, but I recommend going into it without knowing much about it, because it veers off in all sorts of nutty directions and definitely rewards your patience, though how you feel about how the third act goes is gonna be entirely up to you.
And with that, I’ll sign off on another Horror Double Feature with a flourish and a keep it creepy, my friends. Goddess out.