MONSTERZERO NJ’S SATURDAY NIGHT DOUBLE FEATURE: THE DEVIL’S CANDY and BLISS

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Been a long time since the last MonsterZero NJ’s Saturday Night Double Feature, but after re-watching Joe Begos’ Bliss, I realized it would make a great double feature with Sean Byrne’s The Devil’s Candy. Both flicks feature tortured artists, supernatural influences on their art, hard core music and neither skimps on blood and gore. So, on to the sex, gore and Rock n’ Roll!…

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THE DEVIL’S CANDY (2015)

(Remember, clicking the highlighted links brings you to other reviews and articles here at The Movie Madhouse!)

I’m a huge fan of Sean Byrne’s The Loved Ones and was obviously looking forward to seeing another flick from him…and finally, after eight years, it’s here. The Devil’s Candy is Byrne’s newest film, made in 2015, it’s only now getting a proper release on VOD and in select theaters from the cool folks at IFC Midnight.

The story here is of heavy metal loving artist Jesse (Ethan Embry), who moves to an old rural farmhouse with his wife Astrid (Shiri Appleby) and chip-off-the-old-block teen daughter Zooey (Kiara Glasco). While Jesse and Astrid know that the couple that formerly lived there died in the house, what they don’t know is that it is also home to some kind of malevolent influence. If it’s not bad enough that Jesse’s art starts to take a dark and ominous tone soon after moving in, Ray (Pruitt Taylor Vince), the child murdering son of the previous owners, wants to come home…and he has set his demented sights on Zooey.

While not quite as intense as The Loved Ones, and lacking it’s twisted sense of humor, this is still an atmospheric, disturbing and sometimes brutally violent horror flick. The mix of heavy metal music and demonic horror, obviously works as the two have been paired up since Black Sabbath took to the airwaves in 1968. While the demonic influence elements are nothing new, they are very effective as used by Bryne, draped in his thick atmosphere of foreboding. The most disturbing elements, though, are obviously Ray’s need to “feed” The Devil his favorite candy…children. He stalks Zooey right out in the open and the distraction the malevolent entity feeds Jesse by way of his art, leaves poor Zooey unprotected. It creates some very unsettling scenes as Ray gets closer to obtaining his goal, including one in Zooey’s bedroom that is absolutely bone chilling. This all leads up to not one but two harrowing sequences with Zooey and the rotund pervert, each more intense than the last. There are some drawbacks. The film comes in at a very tight 79 minutes and it sometimes feels too quickly over for it’s own good. We wish we had a little more time to let certain scenes resonate and be given a little more time to let the disturbing nature of what is transpiring sink in before moving on to the next dramatic moment. It is also never quite clear whether it is this demonic influence that led Ray to kill, or was it his homicidal habit that brought the entity into the house…if not…why is it there? On a technical level the film looks great and while there is some week CGI during the climax, the rest of the FX work is solid and there is a really atmospheric score from Mads Heldtberg, Michael Yezerski and the band Sunn O)))

If anything helps one past some of the flaws, it’s a really good cast. Ethan Embry has become a fixture in some good horror/thrillers lately such as the frustrated son in the awesome Late Phases, or the ill-fated gun dealer in The Guest. He is really good here, not only as metal head/family man Jesse, but in portraying Jesse’s gradual transformation from attentive father into obsessed artist. As his frustrated and scared wife, Shiri Appleby is solid as a woman whose family life is disrupted from both within and without. She has a suddenly moody and unfocused husband at home and a hulking child killer lurking about after her daughter. Appleby makes her a bit more than a damsel in distress, though she isn’t given as much to do when all hell breaks loose as we’d have liked. Kiara Glasco makes a really good impression as Zooey. A teen who walks to the beat of her father influenced drum but is her own person. She’s a tough kid and a little rebellious and the young actress has a great chemistry with Embry, so their father/daughter relationship really works well on screen. She has a couple of tough scenes to portray and does a good job. Making this all come together is a really disturbing performance by veteran actor Pruitt Taylor Vince (recently seen as “Otis” in The Walking Dead). Vince really makes Ray a creepy person who makes you uncomfortable every moment he’s on camera. It really makes you fear for Zooey, especially when he catches up to her…more than once. He makes your skin crawl. A solid cast just as in Byrne’s first flick.

So maybe writer/director Sean Byrne hasn’t quite equaled The Loved Ones in his sophomore feature flick, but he has delivered another disturbing, atmospheric and bloody movie that is of a different sort than his previous twisted love story. This plot may be a bit more commonplace, but he uses the familiar tropes very effectively. The theatrical cut…wikipedia lists a 10 minute longer festival cut…may be a little too short for it’s own good and there are some unanswered questions, but a really strong cast and a director who knows how to turn the screws makes up for a lot of it. Highly recommended. especially if you loved Sean Byrne’s previous work.

-MonsterZero NJ

3 and1/2 (out of 4) screaming guitars!

 

 

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BLISS (2019)

Dezzy (Dora Madison) is a down on her luck artist and drug abuser who is having trouble finishing a piece that could turn her life around. She vents her frustration in a night of debauchery, involving alcohol, a new drug from her dealer and a threesome with friend Courtney (Tru Collins) and Courtney’s boyfriend Ronnie (Rhys Wakefield). Not only does this get her working on her painting again, but gives her an insatiable appetite for blood.

Joe Begos writes and directs this sometimes hallucinogenic tale of artistic block, depravity and vampirism. Begos’ first two features Almost Human and The Mind’s Eye were homage heavy flicks, though very entertaining. Here he shows he can do something outside of his influences and do it well, even on a very small budget, which seems to suit Begos. While not a traditional vampire tale, as Dezzy has no fangs and doesn’t turn into any creatures of the night, it has some gory demises once Dezzy’s thirst drives her to kill. Whatever she is, can be killed by a wooden stake, as Courtney demonstrates by finishing off one of Dezzy’s victims, and apparently sunlight can be lethal, too. Vampires or not, this is a tale of excess and Begos sometimes put’s his audience inside Dezzy’s head trips and it gives us a sense of the state of mind the troubled artist is in. It’s a trip and a disturbing one for all the right reasons. The gore is very plentiful and well orchestrated and the film itself has a raw feel to it that works very well, as it revels in the seedier side of Los Angeles nightlife. A contemporary vampire tale substituting ancient curses and cloves of garlic for sex, drugs and rock n’ roll.

While there are quite a few supporting players, it’s very much a one woman show and lead Dora Madison (Exists) rises to the occasion. She dives into the role with a passionate yet very real performance. One doesn’t feel like they are watching a movie character, but a real person whose artistic nature has her living a life of excesses and extreme stimulation, and this is before she is transformed into a creature of the night. Her role requires a lot of nudity, drug use and hedonistic behavior, not to mention outbursts of rage, anger and violence when she realizes something is very wrong with her and her bloodlust takes hold. The actress performs it all very well. The supporting cast, such as Collins as Courtney and Jeremy Gardner as Dezzy’s “friend” Clive all create interesting people who seem to dwell more within the underground lifestyle of L.A. A good cast of interesting characters.

Overall, Begos is once again proving he is a filmmaker to watch. His homages to The Thing (Almost Human) and Scanners (The Mind’s Eye) were solid flicks that paid respectful tribute to their inspirations. Here Begos shows he can operate outside his influences and presents a tale of a young woman’s downward spiral into madness, depravity and murder all in the name of artistic expression. It’s trippy, gory and dirty and sleazy in all the right places. Looking forward to Begos’ upcoming VFW about a group of war veterans under siege at a VFW hall.

-MonsterZero NJ

 

Rated 3 and 1/2 (out of 4) fangs, even if Dezzy doesn’t have any.

 

 

 

 

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HORROR YOU MIGHT HAVE MISSED: BLISS (2019)

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BLISS (2019)

Dezzy (Dora Madison) is a down on her luck artist and drug abuser who is having trouble finishing a piece that could turn her life around. She vents her frustration in a night of debauchery, involving alcohol, a new drug from her dealer and a threesome with friend Courtney (Tru Collins) and Courtney’s boyfriend Ronnie (Rhys Wakefield). Not only does this get her working on her painting again, but gives her an insatiable appetite for blood.

Joe Begos writes and directs this sometimes hallucinogenic tale of artistic block, depravity and vampirism. Begos’ first two features Almost Human and The Mind’s Eye were homage heavy flicks, though very entertaining. Here he shows he can do something outside of his influences and do it well, even on a very small budget, which seems to suit Begos. While not a traditional vampire tale, as Dezzy has no fangs and doesn’t turn into any creatures of the night, it has some gory demises once Dezzy’s thirst drives her to kill. Whatever she is, can be killed by a wooden stake, as Courtney demonstrates by finishing off one of Dezzy’s victims, and apparently sunlight can be lethal, too. Vampires or not, this is a tale of excess and Begos sometimes put’s his audience inside Dezzy’s head trips and it gives us a sense of the state of mind the troubled artist is in. It’s a trip and a disturbing one for all the right reasons. The gore is very plentiful and well orchestrated and the film itself has a raw feel to it that works very well, as it revels in the seedier side of Los Angeles nightlife. A contemporary vampire tale substituting ancient curses and cloves of garlic for sex, drugs and rock n’ roll.

While there are quite a few supporting players, it’s very much a one woman show and lead Dora Madison (Exists) rises to the occasion. She dives into the role with a passionate yet very real performance. One doesn’t feel like they are watching a movie character, but a real person whose artistic nature has her living a life of excesses and extreme stimulation, and this is before she is transformed into a creature of the night. Her role requires a lot of nudity, drug use and hedonistic behavior, not to mention outbursts of rage, anger and violence when she realizes something is very wrong with her and her bloodlust takes hold. The actress performs it all very well. The supporting cast, such as Collins as Courtney and Jeremy Gardner as Dezzy’s “friend” Clive all create interesting people who seem to dwell more within the underground lifestyle of L.A. A good cast of interesting characters.

Overall, Begos is once again proving he is a filmmaker to watch. His homages to The Thing (Almost Human) and Scanners (The Mind’s Eye) were solid flicks that paid respectful tribute to their inspirations. Here Begos shows he can operate outside his influences and presents a tale of a young woman’s downward spiral into madness, depravity and murder all in the name of artistic expression. It’s trippy, gory and dirty and sleazy in all the right places. Looking forward to Begos’ upcoming VFW about a group of war veterans under siege at a VFW hall.

-MonsterZero NJ

 

Rated 3 and 1/2 (out of 4) fangs, even if Dezzy doesn’t have any.

 

 

 

 

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HORROR YOU MIGHT HAVE MISSED: +1 (2013)

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+1 (2013)

+1 starts out as what appears to be another Super Bad or Project X style teen party flick then cleverly adds a touch of Invasion Of The Body Snatchers and a pinch of Groundhog Day to deliver an interesting and engaging, offbeat thriller. Our story starts with the break-up of Jill (Ashley Hinshaw) and David (Rhys Wakefield) over an indiscretion of David’s and David’s subsequent hope to apologize and get her back at a massive house party. Meanwhile a meteorite crashes in the neighborhood and something comes out and attaches itself to the power-lines and soon sporadic power outages begin to occur. David and his bud, Teddy (Logan Miller) arrive at the party only to witness Jill arrive with a new beau and David is more determined then ever to get her back. His apology to her is an epic fail, but at the same time he starts to see what appears to be duplicates of the people at the party reenacting things that the original party guests did only a short while earlier… including one of himself. Teddy soon discovers this too and as the evening progresses, more and more people start to realize that, for some reason, there are now two of everyone with one group slightly behind in time in their actions. Worse still, as more and more blackouts occur, the closer in time the duplicates become. Now the ‘original’ party guests are beset by fear and paranoia as to what will happen when the doubles catch up to them, while David sees a chance to possible fix something with Jill’s doppelganger that he failed to do with the original…but will that make things worse?

Director Dennis Illadis…who also wrote the story on which Bill Gullo’s script is based…creates a clever and entertaining mash-up of some familiar story-lines that one would not expect to see thrown together and it works. He starts us off light enough with a basic party movie with the traditional break-up/attempted make-up scenario, but things get gradually more and more strange as our mysterious alien entity and then our ‘behind the times’ clones show up. The film then switches gears quite effectively to creepy thriller and then things heat up and get intense and violent for the final act when duplicate and originals are set to collide. There are some very clever uses of the scenario that has been presented and the atmosphere is very unsettling once the story gets going and our characters start to realize something really weird is happening. There is also some nice suspense and tension to the proceedings courtesy of director Illadis.

The cast are all quite good and handle the material well, especially our leads and their characters having to deal with this very real Twilight Zone situation that makes their own personal dramas even more complicated as it is now occurring twice and there is the temptation to intervene… not to mention the sheer terror of realizing you are seeing some kind of alternate version of yourself right before your eyes. The only real problem with the flick and it’s gimmick is that ultimately, it doesn’t really go anywhere or give us any real answers to the questions it poses and as the credits roll, we feel entertained…and the film is that…but we don’t really feel like the time watching was all that substantial an investment, as the movie sort of runs it’s course and is over without anything really major being accomplished. There is never an explanation and that works fine, but it also robs us of having something with a little more weight to think about after the movie ends. Despite some interesting directions the scenario could have gone, it kinda gets wrapped up in a neat little bow for it’s finale and therefor, doesn’t stay with you once it’s over. Its a clever and effective diversion, but not one that will stick with you.

All in all +1 is an entertaining and effectively creepy film that balances party flick hi-jinx and drama with the suspense and violence of a horror movie and its quite clever about it, but like any good snack, it’s a delicious combination of flavors, but not really filling enough to be considered a full meal. A fun, spooky flick, but nothing that will stay with you very long after. Recommended though, as it is a fun 90 minutes. Also stars twins Colleen Dengel and Suzanne Dengel as both versions of Allison, who has an interesting solution to her being presented with her exact duplicate.

3 plus ones!

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REVIEW: THE PURGE (2013)

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THE PURGE (2013)

The Purge is one of those movies that comes up with a fairly interesting premise then does something incredibly routine with it. The story takes place in the near future where crime in the United States is almost non-existant thanks to “The Purge”, one night a year where for 12 hours between 7 P.M. and 7 A.M. all crime including murder is legal and anyone who wishes to vent their internal anger and hatred can do so…while those who can afford it, hunker down in their fortified homes and watch it on TV. It’s seen as a release of negative emotion and a way to thin the poor and middle class who can’t afford home lock down systems as sold by James Sandin (Ethan Hawke). James and his family live in a very rich neighborhood in a very large house which is the envy of even their wealthy neighbors. James fully supports The Purge as he feels it makes the country a better place to live and also makes him able to afford his large house through the sales of his home security system designed to keep The Purge out and those that can afford it, safely in…or so he thinks.

This is where writer/director James DeMonaco fails to make good use of his premise. Sandin and wife Mary (Lena Headey), gadget loving son Charlie (Max Burkholder) and hot teen daughter Zoey (Adelaide Kane), complete with school girl outfit, get ready for the event to begin and not long after it does, a man (Edwin Hodge) shows up at their door bloodied and begging for help. Sensitive Charlie let’s him in and soon the house is surrounded by those pursuing him, a masked group of well armed youths who give the Sandins the choice of sending their prey out or they will come in and kill everyone. A good portion of the film is the moral dilemma that splits the family, should they hand over the man who Charlie is helping hide in their home, or do the right thing and try to protect him. It’s no secret that the thugs outside eventually will have reason to come in and start the blood flowing. And that’s kinda it.

The film takes an interesting premise and settles for basically being yet another home invasion/siege film where a family sheltered from violence is forced to use it to save their own lives. And the slight twist in the last act, and the stupid subplot involving Zoey’s boyfriend, really doesn’t do anything to make the film any more interesting. It’s just another routine variation on the latest horror trend which is masked kooks trapping people in their own house that seems to have started with the much better The Strangers and the French thriller Them (Ils), thought you can even trace it back to John Carpenter’s Assault On Precinct 13 from 1976. DeMonaco directs the film competently and there is some tension and suspense, but we’ve seen it all before right down to the dumb decisions characters make in order to keep the plot moving.

The cast are fine with Hawke giving his usual sturdy performance though Headey is wasted as Mary, mostly looking upset or crying for the most part. Burkholder can be a bit annoying as Charlie and Adelaide Kane, whose character disappears for long stretches without explanation, reminds me of a young Eliza Dushku before she developed the intensity she showed in Buffy. Not as impressive, but she might have potential. As for our villains, only the leader (Rhys Wakefield) takes his mask off and is a stereotypical arrogant, elitist yuppie with his group being your typical masked giggling and skipping loonies we’ve seen a lot in films recently. Maybe if they weren’t so busy acting like giggling, skipping children, they wouldn’t get gunned down so easily by a family that’s never had to kill before.

Overall The Purge is not a terrible movie, it’s just one with a good idea that limits itself to a very routine and thus very forgettable use of that idea…and so it’s a very routine and thus very forgettable movie. It was however a box office hit, so a sequel is on the way. Maybe they will make better use of their concept this time… maybe…

2 and 1/2 bullets!

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