[To get you into the spooky spirit, the Daily Dead team is spotlighting double features that we think would be fun to watch this Halloween season. Keep an eye on Daily Dead for more double feature recommendations, and check here for our previous Halloween 2017 coverage.]
This October, get ready to rock (queue bending guitar notes). Because Daily Dead productions brings you the rock event of the season with Heavy Metal Halloween (queue random explosion noises). Live, from whatever venue you want to call your house, we’ve got two face-melting, pants-dropping flicks that are sure to leave your guests on their knees worshipping at the altar of the gods of rock (queue the Rob Halford knock-off kind of, sort of, not really hitting a high note).
Okay, don’t worry. I’m not going to keep using the crappy concert ad gimmick, but this feature is going to lean heavy on the heavy metal. Think of this Halloween season double feature recommendation as an opening act and headliner that will make for a great show where metal is the connective thread, but each movie has its own tone and themes that will give at least a little something for everyone watching.
Our opener for the evening is the 2015 New Zealand horror comedy Deathgasm. When lonely metalhead Brodie (Milo Cawthorne) meets a kindred spirit in Zakk (James Blake), they of course start a garage band with D&D geeks Dion (Sam Berkley) and Giles (Daniel Cresswell). Naturally, they stumble on sheet music hidden at the home of one of their metal idols, and realize too late that it’s actually an incantation meant to bring forth the ultimate demon, Aeloth.
Now, if you’re anything like me, most openers are little more than an obstacle between you and the headliner. After two or three songs I’m usually looking at my watch and wondering when the hell we’re going to get to the good stuff. Deathgasm, however, represents one of those special opening acts where you’ll find yourself getting hooked right away and rushing home afterwards to dive into the rest of their catalog.
Much of this is a credit to the cast, who, also like an opening band, consist of people you’ve never heard of in your life. This being New Zealand, a few of the players had some connection to the Lord of the Rings universe, and oddly enough two of our leads once starred in some of the later iterations of the Power Rangers (I’ll let you guess which ones). But none of these are faces you’ll immediately recognize. This works in the movie’s favor, though, as we get to enjoy them for their characters without having known quantities that come with the baggage of expectations.
Plus, as we all know, you don’t need name recognition to give a good performance, and we get some fine work from the entire ensemble. Taking lead is Milo Cawthorne, who nails the sympathetic, misunderstood metalhead who just wants to find someone who shares his love of the genre. Then of course we have bassist James Blake, who balances selfish asshole and reluctant hero so well I was shocked to find that he’s only got two other roles in short movies to his credit. Filling out the group are Sam Berkley on keyboards and Daniel Cresswell on drums. While their contribution is pretty strictly comic relief, they commit to the task at hand quite well (watching Dion spend most of the third act wielding Hulk gloves as demon-fighting weapons never gets old). And last but not least, we have Kimberly Cressman, who provides some additional X chromosomes to the proceedings. While her character certainly won’t pass the Bechdel test surrounded by a sea of dudes, she’s also not just a damsel in distress, as she swings one hell of an ax.
Part of why I recommend Deathgasm as your opener for the evening is that it keeps things pretty light for those who are just there to enjoy some frivolity in the early goings. That’s not to say that the movie goes light on the red stuff. There are stabbings and dismemberments aplenty, along with some gnarly sight gags with people bleeding out of every (and I mean every) orifice. But this movie is really more about the silly sight gags than anything else. They’re all just in it for a good time.
We take a bit of a deeper dive for our headliner, a movie made in 2015 but just getting its wide release this year: The Devil’s Candy. While they do share connection via an Oceanic continent (director Sean Byrne is a native of Tasmania), the movie itself takes place far across the Pacific in a small town in Texas, where the Hellman family have just purchased a house. Artist Jesse (a virtually unrecognizable Ethan Embry) is thrilled to have space to listen to metal and work on his painting, while daughter Zooey (Kiara Glasco) and wife Astrid (Shiri Appleby) are excited, if not nervous, to be making this change. They’d probably be a lot more nervous had they known that the previous resident, Ray (Taylor Pruitt Vince), killed his mother and father at the urging of a malevolent voice that now seems to be whispering in Jesse’s ear.
If Deathgasm is the light and fun opening act that puts a smile on your face and warms you up for the evening, The Devil’s Candy is the headliner that will blow the speakers out and knock you on your ass. If you’ve seen Sean Byrne’s previous work The Loved Ones, you know he’s capable of delivering stories that go to some very dark places without ever plunging into bleak or nihilistic. And The Devil’s Candy is no exception. This is a movie that features mental illness, satanism, and child murder, yet somehow leaves you walking away feeling uplifted. I know that sounds insane, but seriously just watch this movie.
Of course, as with our last act, much of this credit goes to some stellar performances, the core of which is the duo of Ethan Embry and Kiara Glasco. As Jesse and Zooey, they are this film’s emotional anchor. While they bond through their love of bands like Slayer and Metallica, neither character slips into the moody brooder stereotype. Both play their roles with such warmth and vulnerability that I was on their side from the moment they are introduced. This investment in our protagonists only makes our antagonist Ray that much scarier. At the same time, Taylor Pruitt Vince brings a level of sympathy to the role, as he carries with him a sadness throughout the movie that indicates he’s not in control of his actions. His horrible, horrible actions.
The Devil’s Candy is one of those rare movies that left me thinking about it for days after the credits rolled. It’s like that concert where after you go home, you find yourself wanting to revisit the songs you just heard over and over again, letting the experience settle deep into your gut. The climax in particular is so satisfying, I defy you to watch it and not be pumping your fist in the air by the end. And while I’ve heard some argue that the CGI in the final scene was poorly done so as to take away from the resonance of the sequence, I would argue the aesthetic was a deliberate choice to give the scene an eerie, surrealist quality that I really enjoyed.
Of course, I couldn’t cover a pair of heavy metal movies and ignored the soundtracks. Admittedly, the soundtrack for Deathgasm isn’t terribly memorable, although I don’t think it was meant to be. Most of the music features over-the-top guitar licks that complement the movie’s kinetic visual pace. The Devil’s Candy, however, includes some classic metal selections, including an end credits sequence blasting to the sounds of Metallica’s For Whom the Bell Tolls. It also has a fantastic original score that will forever change the way you hear a simple power chord.
Now, needless to say, if you’re not a big fan of heavy metal, then you may not connect with these films on the same level that I did. But I don’t necessarily think you need to love heavy metal to appreciate these stories, either. Both movies feature likable characters, terrific visuals, and enough heart to blow out an arena. And who knows? Maybe when you’re done you’ll give that old Iron Maiden album that’s been collecting dust in your basement another shot.
In case you missed it, check here to read our other special features that celebrate the Halloween season!