★★1/2 out of ★★★★★
Though boasting some intriguing concepts and visuals, this mash-up of a cinematic valentine to 1980s fright fare and 2000s-style films with darker violence is deflated by relying on hoary horror chestnuts.
Directed by Josh Hasty
A group of small-town no-goodniks who mostly look to be pushing, or in, their thirties perform their annual Halloween ritual of hazing a certain fellow local in writer/director Josh Hasty’s Candy Corn. Why they only bully him on Halloween if they harbor so much vitriol toward him is just one of the many head-scratchers this film offers. But harass Jacob Atkins (Nate Chaney) they do, to the point of killing him — unbeknownst to them. Luckily for the late Jacob, a carnival sideshow is passing through town that happens to have an evil ringmaster (Pancho Moler of 31) with eternal life who can bring back the dead by performing voodoo rituals.
Candy Corn is a valentine to 1980s horror movies, from its title cards to its score and setting, and so on. There has been a plethora of 1980s fright flick homages and pastiches made during the past several years.The better ones — such as The Barn (2016) and Close Calls (2017), for example — offer original angles or unique takes along with their obvious nods to that era’s cinematic scare fare, but unfortunately Candy Corn falls short in that department. Though its concept of a traveling sideshow headed up by a magical ringmaster who cannot die is idiosyncratic enough, the execution of the story falls flat as the film is filled with well-worn tropes, cliches, and stock characters. There’s also a touch of the Rob Zombie school of filmmaking to the proceedings, which will likely be a divider as to where potential viewers may fall regarding their opinion of Candy Corn. Personally, I’m not big on the majority of Zombie’s cinematic oeuvre, so that aspect didn’t help enamour me to this film.
While on the subject of 1980s tributes, I couldn’t help but notice two striking similarities to the first two seasons (1990–1991) of David Lynch’s Twin Peaks television series. One of the bullies resembles in both wardrobe and acting style that iconic series’ Bobby Briggs (Dana Ashbrook), and P.J. Soles’ take on her character of sheriff’s office receptionist Marcy Taylor is reminiscent of Twin Peaks’ sheriff’s office receptionist Lucy Moran (Kimmy Roberston). The similarities seem to be more than merely coincidental, but are not so obvious that they can be considered straight-up homage.
The homage goes on with casting, with the aforementioned Soles joined by fright-fare favorites Tony Todd in an extended cameo as a sideshow troupe member and, in what I consider to be the best performance in Candy Corn, Children of the Corn’s Courtney Gains in an earnest performance as Sheriff Sam Bramford, who is tasked with solving the riddle of, and trying to stop, the murderous mayhem for which the resurrected Jacob is responsible.
On the plus side, Candy Corn is entertaining throughout, with game performances from its cast, crisp cinematography from Ryan Lewis (Dusk), and a solid score by Hasty and Michael Brooker. Hasty obviously has a deep love for the horror genre, but his screenplay leaves many questions unanswered and the pacing of Candy Corn feels a bit off — slow at times, and ranging between 1980s slasher and darker 2000s torture fare. He has some solid ideas at play here, though, and with influences such as John Carpenter and Rob Zombie, it should be interesting to see where he goes with future projects.
Recommended mostly for completists of horror movies about Halloween and for completists of current cinematic horror love letters to the 1980s, Candy Corn is now available on VOD and Blu-ray from Epic Pictures and DREAD.