Following up 2009’s popular cult favorite The Loved Ones, director Sean Byrne once again rocked the horror scene with his 2017 film, The Devil’s Candy. A satanic soaked, metal fueled family drama starring Ethan Embry (Empire Records), the film’s clever use of music to convey evil influence transcends basic score work. Traversing the fine line between sound design and visual accompaniment, Australian composer Michael Yezerski (The Black Balloon) most definitely brought the heat with his incredibly effective, and incredibly metal, score for the film.
When it comes to music history, the devil has a long and sordid past with the medium. For centuries, music was primarily viewed and used as a tool to worship God. In terms of preferred tonal sounds, major keys and chords were considered holy and worthy of such a cause. But just like Poison taught us, every rose has its thorn, and for Middle Age composers, the devil truly did lie in the details.
Out of all the note combinations, on any instrument, none were so discouraged, so maligned as the tritone. Also referred to as diabolus in musica, the unstable interval resulting from any three whole tones was believed to invite nothing but trouble. Dissonant by nature, this particular musical interval creates a form of suspended tension, resolving neither up nor down. This creation of natural auditory anxiety was straight up banned in some cases, unworthy of ecclesiastical use and too tempting to Satan. A melodic vessel for his unholy deeds, the idea that Satan could slyly enter a person’s being, like a literal ear worm, is one that still haunts music to this day.
Even though the forbidden use of the tritone has faded into history, the concept most certainly has not. The idea that music could summon, conjure or invite the devil in is one that still permeates certain segments of society. Especially in the case of heavy metal, the lingering effects of cultural association still leaves a dark stain upon the genre to mainstream bystanders. Embracing the scorn with leather clad openly tattooed arms, metal’s reclamation of the sonic stereotype has allowed it to flourish, endure and redefine itself time and time again.
Now that we’ve gotten the history lesson out of the way, we can now apply it to the brilliance of Yezerski’s score and Byrne’s utilization of it within the narrative. At the very beginning of the film we are introduced to Ray (Pruitt Taylor Vince) as he’s accompanied by the deceptively simple track The Flying V. A deeply tortured man, Ray hears voices (courtesy of Sunn O)))) that are unquestioningly devilish in nature and convince him to do terrible, terrible things. In an effort to drown out the persistent whispers, Ray intently strums his beautiful guitar as singular, monotone and crunchy sound waves burst out of his Marshall amplifier (turned up to 11 naturally). An extremely rock and roll guitar, using a Flying V for this particular purpose cleverly plays off the negative connotation that mainstream society has long held with the genre.
Further riffing on this idea comes Jesse (Ethan Embry) and his family. A talented artist, Jesse‘s life revolves around his wife Astrid (Shiri Appleby) and their daughter Zooey (Kiara Glasco). Giant fans of metal both past and present, Jesse and Zooey share a unique and endearing bond over their shared love of the genre. After purchasing a new house with a dark past, the family excitedly embarks on a new chapter in their lives. However, the past quickly comes back to haunt them when Ray mysteriously shows up on their doorstep.
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It’s around this point in the film that the score really begins to become an active player in the narrative. While the beginning is dominated by subtle, low sonic impressions and insert songs from bands like Ghost, Goya and Machine Head, that all begins to change after Ray visits the house. Not only do the voices begin to intensify for him, they begin to speak to Jesse as well. Utilizing sounds to convey the evil presence, we feel and follow along as both men become increasingly and uniquely effected. While Jesse becomes transported, lost in dark inspiration, passion and artistic vision, Ray becomes a physical manifestation of the devil’s dark will.
A pivotal moment for all our characters comes when Ray stalks and attacks a young boy at a playground. Accompanied by the track The Swing, a low drone, swelling strings and muted percussive hits not only build tension but mimic our rising heartbeats. Deceptively simple, the atmosphere builds like an approaching and impending storm. Electric and engaging, guitar and tortured string noises imbue a primal and horrifying element within the track. Consistent in it’s nature while steadily creeping from below, the sonic consistency gives the scene a special kind of weight that lets us and Ray really feel and sit with what he’s doing. Driven by mysterious motivations, the event becomes less about desire and more about exhausted, reluctant participation.
As the whispers become louder to both Jesse and Ray within the film, the score keeps step with ease. At times encompassing and grandiose, and at others intimate and nearly subconscious, there’s a supremely satisfying comfort to each extreme. In the silence there are secrets, scratching at the heart of our two leading men, but in the noise…in the noise there is danger. One of the more unhinged tracks finally hits in The Churge. As we watch Ray succumb to his demons, Jesse also becomes a fully engaged, unwitting player in the dark game. Anchored by the now familiar low drone presence, spacious drum hits signal the approaching danger. As the volume increases, the tension rises, ultimately reaching its climax with blaring noise. Expansive in scale, scope and volume, all subtlety of purpose and presence is instantly gone. A sheer cacophony of electronics, guitars, vocals and violence, the moment stands powerful in its darkness.
Finally, everything comes to a head as we hear the track Consumed by Fire. At this point in the film, things are not going well for Jesse and his family. Ray has reached his breaking point with the voices that torment him and he attempts to eliminate not just Zooey, but her parents and himself as well. As the flames engulf Zooey‘s bedroom, Jesse‘s survival instincts kick into high gear. The final showdown between good and evil, the track mirrors the intensity with reverberating voices, echoing drones and firmly deliberate sustained tones. And then…we finally get the guitar we’ve all been craving in all the best ways.
As the rhythmic pace picks up, syncopated electric guitar, echoing squeals, twangs, feedback and deliberate percussion creates an atmosphere that fires on all emotional cylinders. Fire, blood, anger and evil all culminate in a scene that reeks of sheer satanic influence and heavy fuckin’ metal. While the strong visuals fuel our deep seated desire for definitive action, it’s the music that feeds the emotional narrative.
Fighting back against the whispers that have burrowed their way into his head, Jesse‘s reclamation of self becomes embodied within the sound of the electric guitar. It’s a supremely satisfying conclusion on every level and the music plays an extremely important role in the scene’s successful execution. By intricately layering highly curated tones and sonic texture, Yezerski creates a score that embraces music’s long and complicated relationship with Satan while simultaneously keeping its tongue firmly in cheek. As smart as it is effective, the overall effect becomes one devilishly tasty treat indeed.
Not surprisingly, it wasn’t long after the film’s wide release that the score became available. A vinyl enthusiast fave, Death Waltz Recording Company handled the vinyl release of the score. Pressed on clear vinyl with red blood splatter and throwback art by Ryan Tobin, the final product is one that effectively continues the strong and clear vision of Byrne’s dark and devilish masterpiece. Although not an easy listen on its own, The Devil’s Candy is one killer piece of work worthy of any avid collector’s shelf.
What are some of your favorite heavy metal scores? Want more scores? Check out our previous installments of Terror on the Turntable, where I dissect an iconic horror score each month! Talk all things The Devil’s Candy with us over on Twitter or in the Fiend Club Facebook Group!