This weekend saw the Celluloid Screams horror festival emerge from it's crypt and shamble into Sheffield's Showroom cinema for 3 days of new and classic scare flicks. I could only catch two this year, but both are worth seeing.
Some clearly marked spoilers for both films follow the basic reviews below.
Sean Byrne's The Devil's Candy follows unpleasant events a remote Texan house. We open with middle aged manchild Ray blasting out some distorted power chords in his room to drown out the Satanic voices that are keeping him from sleeping (I've been there). After his mum tells him to cut it out and warns him that he's going “back to the hospital”, she's shortly done in by a Gibson Flying V to the back of the head.
Post credits the now empty (and cheap to buy) house is snapped up by heavy metal loving struggling artist Jesse, his wife Astrid and tweenage (I don't think she's 13 yet, her age isn't mentioned as far as I recall) metalhead daughter Zooey. Jesse is reduced to painting twee butterfly heavy commissions for a local bank because his shonky death metal album cover artwork isn't exactly wowing the nearby art gallery owners. The Hellmans (ha!) are convincingly shown to be an unconventional if loving family and sympathy for them is effectively built before shit starts to go massively wrong.
And go massively wrong shit most certainly does. Ray, apparently still at large after doing in the old dear, comes back to the homestead, creeping out the adults but endearing himself to Zooey with their mutual love of Flying Vs. To make matters infinitely worse, Jesse starts hearing the same Satanic murmurings that Ray does, putting him into an occasional trance but improving his artwork in decidedly creepy ways.
The Devil's Candy doesn't do much new but it is well written, acted and filmed, with Byrne pulling off some nice compositions and the odd creepy long shot. He doesn't go to the cheap jump scare well to often and creates some memorably chilling and horrifying moments. A nice touch is that the music and imagery of metal, so often a punchline in films, is treated with respect and expertly woven into the plot. The link between metal and horror is rarely made this explicit from the film side of things.
Unfortunately the good work earlier in the film is undone by a rote and overblown ending which almost derails the whole enterprise. This coupled with a lack of originality means it doesn't come fully recommended but is worth catching if there's nothing else on. 3/5
Meanwhile, Creepy sees Pulse director Kiyoshi Kurosawa return to the horror genre with a similar sense of style to his earlier masterpiece. After a post arrest interview with a “perfect psychopath” goes catastrophically wrong, leading to his injury and two deaths, Detective Takakura retires. He and his wife Yasuko (and their giant floof monster dog Max) move to a properly dismal looking Japanese town so he can take up a job as a university lecturer.
There, a post grad student piques his interest in the mysterious disappearance of a family in a nearby equally squalid post industrial town (seriously, this vision of Japan is less “exotic neon wonderland” and more “Asian South Yorkshire”, i.e. the one that loads of people probably live in). This brings the attention of one of Takakura's former colleagues and together three investigate further, mostly by interviewing Saki, the hugely unreliable remaining daughter of the missing household.
Equally mysterious is the behaviour of Yasuko and Takakura's deeply odd new neighbour Mr Nishino (a brilliant performance from Teruyuki Kagawa, turning from aloof evasiveness to affronted hostility on a dime). Both of the couple (and Max) immediatley peg Nishino as “a creep”, but he seems harmless enough and soon he and his daughter Mio are coming round for dinner.
I'm probably not spoiling much to say that both of these elements are linked, but things do proceed in unexpected and deeply upsetting ways. Creepy has an atmosphere and style that will be immediately familiar to anyone who has watched Pulse. There is little in the way of traditional scares, instead building an atmosphere of slowing escalating dread and almost suffocating tension through unsettling sound design, camera shots that are held slightly too long and nuances of performance from his excellent cast.
Unlike Pulse, the plot is relatively straight forward and there are rich veins of dark humour threaded throughout, something the all pervading melancholy of the earlier film wouldn't allow for. Creepy isn't as good as Pulse (because frankly few things are) but is a haunting film that will remain with you for several days after viewing. 4/5
Some fairly large spoilers for both films follow.
Both of these films are essentially about serial killers, albeit of different types. They both portray real life horror and evil in separate ways.
The Devil's Candy tries to make it ambiguous about whether Ray, who has been killing children to feed to Satan as “candy” for years thanks to the voices, is actually possessed. While this old trick is generally fine with me, it's not one that Byrne pulls off especially well. Despite Jesse also hearing the voices, nothing ever comes of it. When evil is defeated at the end of the film, it is through fairly conventional (if ridiculously overblown) means. Ray is clearly severely mentally ill and Jesse could simply be coincidentally hearing the voice and going to into his little art trances through stress and listening to too much Darkthrone (not that he ever does during the film, but you know what I mean). Ray is still terrifying, a large, powerful man convinced that he's on a mission by his own misfiring brain. It may be overblown, but people like that have existed in real life.
Meanwhile Nishino is a chillingly authentic portrayal of a strange, pathetic little man using his odd knack for getting in people's heads to make them commit terrible acts on his behalf. When forced to get his own hands dirty he throws a petulant little sulk. He insists he is not a criminal, despite having several deaths he is responsible for. In one scene, when in physical danger, he scuttles around on his hands and knees like a frightened animal, a grimace of fear on his face. He's also absolutely terrifying, his utter sociopathic tendencies conveyed convincingly in an amazing performance. While watching I was reminded of the terrible crimes of real life Japanese serial killer Futoshi Matsunaga an arsehole of some magnitude. It added an extra layer of quesy unease to already bleak film.