Halloween meets Freaks in Josh Hasty’s second feature, Candy Corn. The film tells the story of Jacob (Nate Chaney), an intellectually disabled young man who works as part of a “freak show.” Every Halloween, Mike (Jimothy Beckholt) and his friends beat Jacob as a “prank.” Even though they’re getting older, Mike insists that “This is a tradition… the usual Halloween hazing.” Recalling the classic Christopher Walken SNL sketch, they “prank” Jacob to death. Jacob’s ringmaster Dr. Death (Pancho Moler) casts a spell, resurrecting Jacob to avenge himself.
Candy Corn borrows much of its imagery from Halloween the holiday, the same well that Halloween the film drew from. Before each kill, Jacob’s victims spot his plastic jack-o-lantern. He leaves a piece (or in some cases a fistful) of candy corn around or in their bodies for the police to discover. Jacob’s spree cuts through a small American town where the leaves have begun to fall that looks a lot like Haddonfield, Illinois. His hulking mass and his mask also call back to Michael Myers. Candy Corn whiffs on the best part of Halloween, though. It’s missing the suspense. Once they see the jack-o-lantern, no one has the slightest chance of escaping. The engine that drives Halloween is that Michael’s victims can, and sometimes do, get away. Without that glimmer of hope, there’s no tension.
As much as it looks like it, Candy Corn sounds more like Halloween. The sound alike soundtrack the best part of this film. Hasty—in addition to writing, directing, and editing— composed a soundtrack with Michael Brooker full of synths and electronic motifs. There’s nothing quite as iconic as Myers’ theme, but Hasty and Brooker come damn close at times.
Candy Corn’s other big influence is Freaks. In the plot of both films, someone from outside the circus has hurt someone in it. Those harmed seek restitution. The story is simple, but it’s primal nature would allow it to work as well in 2019 as it did in 1932 if the execution in Candy Corn had been better. It works better in Freaks, because director Tod Browning (who was run out of Hollywood for making that film), focused the story around the sympathetic victims. Hasty focuses the story around the bullies and Mike’s father, the wonderfully named Sheriff Sam Bramford (Courtney Gaines). They’re not sympathetic. They beat someone who they know is “not all there” to death for laughs in the first act, so it’s difficult to root for them not to get murdered. They’re in the position of what would normally be innocent teens, though, meaning audiences are conditioned to root for them. Hasty is trying to invert that dynamic, but it doesn’t work, and leaves the whole thing feeling nasty rather than retributive.
Candy Corn does successfully throw out the “if you have sex you die” trend that Halloween accidentally started. Everyone who gets killed in this film deserves it, separating it from the slashers where any premarital love or drug use was an instant death sentence.
There are good performances in the film as well. Genre stalwarts P.J. Soles (one of the stars of the aforementioned Halloween) and Tony Todd are excellent, though in small roles. Pancho Moler also holds his own playing scenes with Todd as his sidekick. Unfortunately the young actors who play the killers are terribly unconvincing. There’s never a point in eighty-five minutes where it doesn’t feel like they’re acting, which reduces the tension even more.
Hasty is clearly a talent to look out for. Hopefully, we can see what he does with a larger budget soon.
Wicked Rating – 5/10
Director(s): Josh Hasty
Writer(s): Josh Hasty
Stars: P.J. Soles, Tony Todd, Pancho Moler
Release date: September 17 (VOD)
Studio/Production Company: Josh Hasty Productions, Local Boogeyman Productions
Run Time: 85 minutes