M.L. Miller aka the @$$hole formerly known as Ambush Bug here! I posted my very first horror reviews on October 1, 2010 and have been posting every Friday ever since on AICN until just recently. I’ve uprooted the show and taken it to my own site just in time for this year’s Best of the Best in Horror Countdown. It’s going to be running all through October, counting down to the best horror film of the year. Some of these films can be found in theaters, but others have unfortunately only seen the light of day on Video On Demand or simply go straight to DVD, BluRay, or digital download. I’ve tried to indicate in the reviews where you can check these films out.
As far as how I compiled this list? Well, I simply looked through my reviews over the last year since October 1st, 2016 and worked and reworked the list until I had 31. No real method to my special brand of madness. We’ll be counting down every day until Halloween to my favorite horror film of the year. I’ll also provide a second film suggestion at the end of each post that is worth nothing or missed being on the list by a little bit for those who can’t get enough horror.
So let’s get to it! Chime in after the article and let me know what you think of the film, how on the nose or mind-numbingly wrong I am, and most importantly, come up with your own list…let’s go!
#4 THE DEVIL’S CANDY #4
Why is THE DEVIL’S CANDY #4? Because this is a film that assaults the ears and eyes with imagery and sounds both beautiful and horrifying. It also shows how much of a powerhouse both director Sean Byrne and lead actor Ethan Embry truly are. It also showcases lifelong creepy character player Pruitt Taylor Vince at his most creepiest. This is just an all around great flick that’ll definitely get under your skin. You can find it here on iTunes and Amazon here!
Available On Demand from IFC Midnight!
THE DEVIL’S CANDY (2015)
Directed by Sean Byrne
Written by Sean Byrne
Starring Ethan Embry, Shiri Appleby, Pruitt Taylor Vince, Kiara Glasco, Tony Amendola, Arthur Dale, Jack Dullnig, Shiela Bailey Lucas, Marco Perella, Richard Rollin, Jamie Tisdale
Find out more about this film on Facebook here
Assaulting both the ears and the eyes with imagery and sounds out of the most depraved and diabolical nightmares, Sean Byrne’s THE DEVIL’S CANDY is an absolute treasure trove of scares!
Ethan Embry plays painter Jesse, husband to Astrid (Shiri Appleby) and cool father to Zooey (Kiara Glasco). When they move into a new home, Jesse begins hearing voices while he paints, the same type of voices the previous owner Ray Smilie (Pruitt Taylor Vince) used to hear while living in the house before he killed his elderly mother and father. Haunted by these voices and inspired to take a new dark path with his artwork, Jesse becomes obsessed, feeling the dark inspiration flow through him like a conduit in his painting. But while Jesse is being seduced by the voices, Ray returns home and that means terrible things for his family.
This is a fantastic film. Start to finish, this is an assault on the eyes and ears with all sorts of sights and sounds I haven’t seen or heard before. Director Sean Byrne (who burst on the scene with the fantastic THE LOVED ONES) delivers a film that really does take you to new and frightening places. Be they faint satanic voices muttering in the background or Ray banging away at his guitar to drown them out, this is a film to be heard loud. The hard rock influences, be they the metal Jesse listens to while painting or the audio assault Ray uses to keep the voices away is ever present here and done so in a way that doesn’t feel cheesy as in metal films like TRICK OR TREAT.
The thing is, this film uses a well worn motif of a new family moving into a new house. Next to death and being fired, I know moving is one of the biggest stressors to a person. I moved five years ago and vowed not to do it again for a while simply because it was so hard to upearth everything and put it back into order somewhere else. Maybe that’s why so many films are about this weird process. Still, THE DEVIL’S CANDY is interesting that it chooses such a familiar path, yet it never feels stale.
This is mainly because of Ethan Embry is absolutely fantastic as the lead here. The actor has had a comeback of sorts with LATE PHASES, CHEAP THRILLS, THE WALKING DEAD, and that car commercial where he is pulling a Clark Griswald. Here he proves that he can be a solid lead, playing a flawed but absolutely likable person who definitely cares deeply about his family. Through Embry’s puppy dog eyes, even covered in stubble, tattoos, and paint, he shows how much he loves his family which proves to be the beating heart of this film and makes you follow it down its treacherous path.
Pruitt Taylor Vince, who previously has only appeared as the weirdo in snippets in films is rock solid with this much more substantial role as Ray. His tortured performance as a man tormented by these voices all his life and is now on the breaking point when a new family moves into the only place he calls home is simply astounding. Vince delivers lines that are bone-chilling here and like Embry, hopefully this highlight of his talents will lead to more substantial roles of this kind. The rest of the cast is amazing as well, with Kiara Glasco delivering a really amazing turn as Zooey, Jesse’s rocker daughter. She is a young actress that will definitely go far and we will hear a lot about her in the coming years, I’m sure as her soulful performance of a youth trying to fit in despite her rebellious looks is layered and well done.
THE DEVIL’S CANDY is most astounding because this isn’t very much a ghost story as much as it is about flawed and over-stressed minds pushed to the breaking point. Ray believes he hears the devil, but we don’t see it. So those looking for a red painted horned guy are going to be disappointed. This is a film about the horrors unleashed from sick and obsessed minds, a much scarier version of horror than a ghost or monster story. THE DEVIL’S CANDY really taps into the dank and dark places inspiration often comes from and splashes it all over the screen. It captures the sometimes ugliness of the artistic process and of the human soul like few other films I’ve seen. I highly recommend THE DEVIL’S CANDY, it’s gorgeous and grotesque, poetic and unnerving, terrifically acted and splendidly directed. It’s an all around fantastic horror film that needs to be seen by any horror and metal fan.
Worth noting: CAMERA OBSCURA!
Another film that delves into the darkness within our fascination with art is CAMERA OBSCURA. It’s got a fantastic lead in Christopher Denham, a wicked story about a cursed camera, and a fight scene that rivals THEY LIVE in terms of over-indulgeance! You can find it here on iTunes and Amazon here!
Available on VOD and Digital HD from Chiller Films!
CAMERA OBSCURA (2017)
Directed by Aaron B. Koontz
Written by Aaron B. Koontz & Cameron Burns
Starring Christopher Denham, Nadja Bobyleva, Catherine Curtin, Noah Segan, Chase Williamson, Andrew Sensenig, Gretchen Lodge, Dane Rhodes, David Jensen, Charlie Talbert, Carol Sutton, Lance E. Nichols, Cassandra Hierholzer, B.J. Grogan, Jared Bankens, Landon Abercrombie, Robert Aberdeen, Tammi Arender, Jaqueline Brumfield, Rebekah Downs, Danny Cosmo, D.J. Felder, Ashton Leigh, Akasha Villalobos, & Jeremy King as Tad!
Find out more about this film @cameraobscuramovie and on Facebook here
The old cursed object chestnut is dusted off for this decent little thriller, made more recommendable due to some great performances and a rather offbeat sense of humor.
Christopher Denham plays Jack Zeller, a war vet photographer whose lens captured some truly horrific imagery during his time in service. Now back in the states, Jack tries to acclimate to regular life, but is still haunted by the atrocities he encountered there. Jack’s fiancée Claire (Nadja Bobyleva) is supportive, but wants to encourage Jack to get out of the house and get back to work. So she buys an antique camera at an auction, hoping it will spark Jack’s love of photography again. Once Jack begins taking photos, he finds that the camera only shoots in black and white and also shows photos of corpses that were not in frame when Jack shot them. Afraid he will be labeled as more unhinged than he already is, Jack begins to try to stop the cursed photos from actually occurring and is successful in preventing the death of one person, but that only shifts that person’s order of death to the next photo. When Jack sees his fiancée in one of the photos he’s taken, he sets out to prevent her death, but that means he must commit a murder to look exactly like it looks in the photo. Can Jack continue this murderous but well intentioned effort to shuffle his wife’s death until there are no more photos left or will his sanity and conscience give out before hand?
So this film is kind of like a FINAL DESTINATION movie if written by Stephen King. The secret of the strange camera is eventually explained, but while it is somewhat interesting what the camera is and who its previous owner was, the real interesting parts come when Jack is forced to recreate these images by murdering new people in order to shuffle his wife off the photos as the photos keep changing with every murder. It’s somewhat convoluted in explanation, but it plays out in a fun way in the film itself. A lot of this fun comes from the film’s lead Christopher Dunham. I first noticed Dunham when he starred in the underappreciated stalker movie FORGETTING THE GIRL (reviewed here), where Denham again plays a photographer. I predicted big things for the actor and while he hasn’t leapt to superstardom yet, he did land a role in Ben Affleck’s ARGO—though he was unrecognizable in the role. Here he is front and center and really does dazzle with star power. Reminiscent of the quirky performances of Michael Moriarty who always manages to add a little oddity in with even the most serious of roles, Denham has a self-aware sense about his performance that acknowledges the absurdity of the predicament he finds himself in, yet simply goes with it in a devil may care attitude all the way through. It’s that “ahhh fuck it” sense of giving up logic that drives Jack and makes him still likable even as he begins killing people. Denham is the reason to check out this film and I hope, once again, this leads to more roles for this talented actor.
Speaking of absurdity, the other thing that makes this film is the entire “Tad” scene where Jack goes to a privately owned hardware store run by a handsy guy named Tad. In a performance that really doesn’t belong in this more serious film, the ten minute “Tad” sequence is absolute, bright and shining GOLD in terms of goofy, off the wall entertainment as Jack and Tad wrestle around an apartment with Jack trying futilely to kill the seemingly unkillable Tad. This comedy laced scene breaks up the rather somber tone quite geniusly and while it plays off as something more at home in the editing reel from RAISING ARIZONA, I loved every second of this scene. It’s obvious the filmmakers got to the point in the film where they decided that this film was pretty ridiculously over-plotted, so why not break it up with a slapstick murder sequence that doesn’t end?
Denham’s performance also adds quite a bit in terms of attitude and wit, but for the most part everything leading up to the Tad scene is played pretty straight forward and occasionally is downright gruesome, though after the Tad scene everything kind of swirls down a drain of absurdity. Still, despite the overly complex plot and ever-morphing mood of this one, I have to recommend it because of Denham and that Tad scene. I’m telling you, watch it and after you finish guffawing, you can thank me.
THE COUNTDOWN SO FAR…
#31 – THE DEMOLISHER
#30 – PLANK FACE
#29 – LAST GIRL STANDING
#28 – DEVIL IN THE DARK
#27 – HELL HOUSE LLC
#26 – XX
#25 – THE SUBLET aka THE RESIDENT
#24 – PATCHWORK
#23 – Morgan Spurlock’s RATS
#22 – SPLIT
#21 – ANNABELLE 2: CREATION
#20– I AM THE PRETTY THING THAT LIVES IN THE HOUSE
#19 – THE GREASY STRANGLER
#18 – IT STAINS THE SANDS RED
#17 –SEOUL STATION
#16 – 47 METERS DOWN
#15 – THE TRANSFIGURATION
#14 – THE BLACKCOAT’S DAUGHTER
#13 – THE SIMILARS
#12 – IT COMES AT NIGHT
#11 – SWEET SWEET LONELY GIRL
#10 – SAVAGELAND
#9 – GET OUT
#8 – THE VOID
#7 – CAPTURE KILL RELEASE
#6 – THE AUTOPSY OF JANE DOE
#5 – IT
#4 – THE DEVIL’S CANDY
Best of lists from previous years;
2015-16 #1 – THE VVITCH
2014-15 #1 – THE CANAL
2013-14 #1 – PROXY
2012-13 #1 – MANIAC
2012 #1 – THE WOMAN
2011 #1 – THE LAST CIRCUS
Ambush Bug is Mark L. Miller, original @$$Hole/wordslinger/writer of wrongs/reviewer/interviewer/editor of MLMILLERWRITES.COM. Follow Mark on the Twitters @Mark_L_Miller.
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