After a creditable slightly-above-average placing in the annual Dundead Film Quiz (team name: The Dank Tower), the festival began in earnest with Sean Byrne’s The Devil’s Candy, a tale of family strife, satanic possession, and sick guitar riffs. Strange things begin to happen when the Hellmans, dad Jesse (Ethan Embry), mum Astrid (Shiri Appleby) and daughter Zooey (Kiara Glasco), move into their new dream home. Jesse, an artist, is beset by an irresistible urge to paint grotesque images, and his obsession starts to take a dire effect on the family. When the house’s previous occupant Ray (Pruitt Taylor Vince), a strangely innocent man tortured by sinister, whispering voices, begins to take a special interest in Zooey, the rifts in the family threaten to become truly lethal.
The film is a relatively familiar story, reminiscent in some ways of The Shining. In this case, however, the threat is external, and the malign influence upon the father is harmful while never becoming murderous. A clever connection is drawn between the notion of demonic possession and artistic muse. A TV preacher describes the Devil not as a being who personally does malevolent things, but an impulse that works through humankind to spread strife and misery, in the same way that a muse is often described as using the artist as a conduit. Both activities are only semi-conscious, seated in a powerful allure while requiring the coerced cooperation of their subject. This is undermined in the movie by a single scene featuring a character who clearly represents Satan literally tempting Jesse (a character who owns a gallery called Belial!), but remains a compelling explanation for the bedevilment of both Jesse and Ray.
While the film’s acting is generally fairly strong, Kiara Glasco deserves special mention for her excellent performance as Zooey. Initially doing a good job playing a typical snarky teenager, she is called upon to display true terror in the face of the grave situation, and does so with aplomb. Showing incredibly genuine, powerless fear is difficult for many grown actors, making her achievement even more impressive for her young age. The emotional core of the movie hinges upon the relationship between Jesse and Zooey, and her portrayal is an essential part of its success.
The Devil’s Candy lacks much originality in its story, and loses a considerable amount of its distinctive heavy metal theme during the middle section. The beginning and ending of the film maintain this, but it seems to forget about it after about half an hour, though it’s climax goes some way to making up for this. Every actor performs well, and the movie carries enough emotional weight to buoy up the slightly tired premise. Barring the aberrant “Devil” and some unrealistic fire effects, The Devil’s Candy is a decent horror film with enough flair to carry the audience through.
Director Frank Darabont originally wanted to screen The Mist in black and white, to accentuate the huge portions of the film’s DNA that come from the horror B-movies of the 1950s. While the studio did not allow this, he was allowed to create a monochrome version for inclusion on home media, and it was this version that was screened at Dundead, allowing for Darabont’s true vision to be seen as it should be. And it was pretty fantastic.
The Mist is an effective pressure-cooker narrative. When a thick mist blankets a small town, a group of people are trapped inside a supermarket, unable to escape because of the aggressive, alien creatures lurking in the fog. None of the characters are particularly deep, representing archetypes more than real people, but like Darabont’s later project The Walking Dead, the most deadly foe that a human can face is really another human. Those trapped all have very relatable reactions to this insane situation. Some take refuge in denial until they see the monsters with their own eyes, and somewhat reasonably protest their innocence for the dire consequences of their doubt. Chief among them is Andre Braugher’s Brent, who attempts to rationalise the irrational, and while he would be exactly right to be sceptical in almost any other case, takes himself and several others straight to their doom. What he shares with the film’s ostensible villain Mrs. Carmody (Marcia Gay Harden) is a bias born of the scorn he perceives and receives from the local people. While he is merely a jerk, Carmody embarks upon creating a full blown cult of personality, capitalising on the terror of those assembled to position herself as an apocalyptic prophet. As is common with Stephen King’s stories, her malice takes a fundamentalist Christian form, but it is curious to note that a secular alternative, perhaps extreme right-wing anti-government sentiment, would have served just as well. More important than religion is the tendency of extreme fear to make people suggestive, easily led, and capable of doing hideous things. (Carmody’s demise might be the highlight of the festival so far, as her death brought rapturous applause from an audience thoroughly sick of her self-righteous preachments.)
It is an odd irony that relatively recent CGI special effects have dated much worse than practical effects from decades earlier. While neither of these can remain completely convincing for long, the computer-generated beasties in The Mist are its weakest element. This may seem appropriate for a film so heavily influenced by low-budget movies of the past, but do serve to undermine the horror of the piece. In spite of this, the aping of this style is very well done, particularly in the gut-wrenching ending. While suggested in King’s novel, Darabont makes it explicit, and the starkness of the ending brings to mind Invasion of the Body Snatchers, Planet of the Apes or Night of the Living Dead. The breakdown of Thomas Jane’s David is difficult to witness, especially after a film that, while not exactly light-hearted, does portray a sense of self-awareness about its outlandish story.
The Mist is a rare example of an adaptation that makes a significant change that absolutely pays off. Among more recent monster movies it is knowing and often genuinely funny, and whether in colour or in black and white is an excellent film. The characters are broad without becoming cartoonish and every actor does a great job in bringing them to life. Balancing the dissonant tones of the film is a challenge very much achieved and, while Darabont’s other King adaptations The Shawshank Redemption and The Green Mile have received more acclaim (perhaps deservedly so), The Mist remains one of the very best horror movies of the past ten years.
The Devil’s Candy (2016)
Written and directed by Sean Byrne
Starring Ethan Embry, Kiara Glasco and Pruitt Taylor Vince
The Mist (2007)
Written and directed by Frank Darabont (based on the novel by Stephen King)
Starring Thomas Jane, Marcia Gay Harden and Laurie Holden