Candy Corn is the dark tale of a wrongful death avenged by a brutal killer on Halloween, and if you haven’t seen it yet, I highly recommend you watch it today on VOD, as it perfectly captures the dreary mood and chilly atmosphere of autumn in a small town where a circus of sideshow freaks has just arrived.
It’s Halloween Eve in Grove Hill, Ohio and a traveling carnival is in town for the weekend. A local outcast, Jacob Atkins has been hired as one of the freaks in the event’s main attraction, “Dr. Death’s Side Show Spook House Spectacular”. Meanwhile, a group of local bullies are planning their annual public hazing of Jacob, but, as you can probably see coming, this year things go too far and Jacob is murdered.
Released in 2019 from Epic Pictures, the feature film stars horror icons P.J. Soles (Halloween, Carrie), Tony Todd (Candyman, Final Destination), and Courtney Gaines (Children of the Corn), with Pancho Moler (31, 3 From Hell) as the scene stealing Dr. Death.
Soles and Todd both have relatively small supporting roles, but neither of these veteran performers resort to “phoning it in”, but instead give their all to each scene they’re in, reminding us just how much a talented actor can do with just a look or an expression. They give the film its gravity.
Gaines, who is also a producer of the film, really steps up to deliver a truly great performance as the weary Sheriff Sam Bramford, comfortable in the belief that real bad things don’t really happen in this town, though it’s his own son, Mike, who is Grove Hill’s biggest asshole.
But it’s Moler who ultimately owns this movie, introducing a righteous new antihero in his brilliant performance as Dr. Death (pictured above), a champion for all the “freaks” and the leader of their righteous vengeance against the bullying haters of the world. Jacob gets the gory glory, but Dr. Death gets all the best lines in the film. Moler is magnetic and unforgettable.
Jimothy Beckholt is lead bully Mike and is fittingly slimy and loud mouthed. He plans his annual attack on Jacob to be bigger and better than previous years “because it’s fun and it’s easy”. His dad is Sheriff Bramford, so he feels entitled and untouchable, emboldened to push his abuse to new levels.
Madison Russ is Carol, who at least tries to stick up for the mentally ill victim of Mike’s harassment, even going to the sheriff at one point. She tries to be a voice of reason against Mike’s mindless hate for the “big ogre”, but it’s too little too late. Her eventual rendezvous with Jacob in a movie theater is one of my favorite sequences in the film, as she’s chased down while a black and white horror flick is projected onto the big screen behind her.
This throwback slasher introduces a new Halloween icon, fueled by vengeance, in the fatefully wronged Jacob Atkins (played by Nate Chaney), resurrected as a killing machine that is basically the monster to Dr. Death’s mad scientist Frankenstein. We cheer Jacob on as he brings twisted justice to his former bullies, as Hasty wisely keeps the masked Atkins mostly in the shadows for the majority of the film, revealing him slowly with each kill, leaving us wanting more.
The makeup effects team includes Justin Mabry (sculptor of the Michael Myers mask in Halloween 2018 and co-owner of Trick or Treat Studios), Chris Gallaher (Vice, Fear the Walking Dead, Curious Case of Benjamin Button, Passion of the Christ), and Erik Porn (Pineapple Express, Scream Queens, American Horror Story), and there is definitely enough blood and creatively grisly kills to satisfy the gore hounds.
Writer and director Josh Hasty (Honeyspider) is clearly inspired by equal parts of Rob Zombie and John Carpenter, and he shows off those influences proudly, with Zombie’s grainy ’70s-esque film look and voyeuristic framing style mashed up with Carpenter’s methodical long takes and deliberate, slow panning camera moves. And it’s all played deadly straight, invoking genre films of the early ’80s. The somber, piano-driven soundtrack score by Hasty and Michael Brooker is also quite reminiscent of Carpenter.
Vintage-flavored Halloween atmosphere is permeated throughout the entire film, with decorations and pumpkins in the background and horror movies playing in pretty much every scene. Even the Sheriff’s Department is way into the spirit, with Halloween cutouts in the windows and jack-o-lanterns inside.
It seems Jacob always had a taste for the titular trick or treat candy, but this Halloween he’s going out for a different kind of treats. And Candy Corn itself is a treat that will keep on giving for many Halloweens to come, as audiences continue to discover it and undoubtedly add it to their annual October viewing list.
Following its closing night screening at our own Halloween International Film Festival in 2019, Candy Corn is currently available to stream on Showtime and on Digital on Amazon Prime, and on Blu-ray from Dread/Epic Pictures.
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