Studio: Dread Presents
Director: Josh Hasty
Writer: Josh Hasty
Producer: Josh Hasty, Courtney Gains, Matt O’Neill
Stars: Courtney Gains, Pancho Moler, Jimothy Beckholt, Caleb Thomas, Madison Russ, Cy Creamer, Justin Mabry, Patrick Ryan, Sky Elobar, Matt O’Neill, Nate Chaney, P.J. Soles, Tony Todd
After bullies beat a local misfit as a Halloween prank, a mysterious carnie resurrects the outcast to become a vengeful supernatural killer.
It’s not like “caution” flags weren’t waving in the wind.
Off the bat, “Candy Corn” is a Dread Presents release. With ho-hum titles including “Lasso” (review here), “Black Site” (review here), and “Hoax” (review here) under their banner, Dread’s slate on the whole has been less than impressive to say the least. In my review of “Artik” (review here), I even mulled avoiding future Dread movies entirely in the interests of optimizing my entertainment.
Not helping initial impressions was “Candy Corn’s” pitiable 1.4 user rating occupying its IMDb page on debut day. That low early score was based on only 19 votes. Still, didn’t the filmmakers have friends and family who could stuff the ballot box like every other indie outfit hyping homegrown productions with fake praise?
“Candy Corn’s” key hook for horror fans calls on the casting of genre icons Courtney Gains (“Children of the Corn”), P.J. Soles (“Halloween”), and Tony Todd (“Candyman”). All due respect, but real talk. Those names haven’t been motivating selling points since those movies in parentheses hit their heydays. We’re talking about a crop of convention circuit celebrities akin to Malcolm McDowell and Eric Roberts, i.e. actors out of their prime who have never turned down any B-movie whose checks clear.
What I’m getting at is, “Candy Corn” offered every indication upfront that it would be a forgettable fright flick of low-grade proportions. Even with sidewalk-scraping expectations, I still came away from the film thinking there were more fulfilling ways to spend those regrettably lost 80 minutes, such as shopping for groceries or folding the laundry.
“Candy Corn’s” setup is simple enough. As part of a warped Halloween tradition dating back to childhood, four small town “people” plan to haze mentally handicapped misfit Jacob. “People” is in quotation marks because this premise would make the most sense if the quartet were in their teens, yet their ages are ambiguous. With one exception, they could pass for grown men in their thirties, making their unwavering ambition to bully some boy as quizzical as it gets. Chalk this up to questionable casting not meeting a slim screenplay’s needs.
One of the aged punks has a girlfriend, Carol, who limply attempts to dissuade the dumbkoffs from pranking poor Jacob. Her Jiminy Cricket falls silent pretty quickly. She’s so yawningly disinterested in following through on her conscience that she passively stands still and watches as her boyfriend and his buddies beat Jacob to a bloody pulp.
We still get a chance to feel sorry for Carol, or at least the actress who portrays her. Madison Russ gets an even shorter end of the dismissive characterization stick when her final scenes pointlessly parade her around in underwear, bringing her reduction into passé horror trope full circle. Look for Madison’s father, “Star Trek: Voyager” actor Tim Russ, bizarrely sitting silently as a diner extra in the opening scene, presumably because he had nowhere better to be after dropping off his daughter on set.
Since everyone involved in Jacob’s inadvertent murder is a careless cad, “Candy Corn” gives us no one “good” to get behind. That changes somewhat with the introduction of Sheriff Sam. Courtney Gains pulls out the movie’s most promising performance as Sam, making up for iffy believability as a local authority figure by being passably personable. Gains marks a genuine bright spot in “Candy Corn’s” cast, even though he isn’t written to be much more than a stereotypical horror movie sheriff, e.g. dismissing concerns then calling for curfews while constantly catching up to information the audience already has.
As for the other two tips on the familiar face triangle, P.J. Soles plays a cartoonish police dispatcher because apparently no one saw fit to tune her to the same stroke of seriousness as everyone else. Turn your head away from the TV at the wrong times and you’ll miss Tony Todd’s appearance entirely. He too fills a throwaway role seemingly included exclusively to give him something to do, never mind that the plot doesn’t need him.
The diminutive ringmaster of a traveling carnival gets his mitts on Jacob’s body and, for vague reasons only hazily explained, turns Jacob into a supernatural tool of vengeance using occult magic and a monster mask. Just go with it, it doesn’t matter.
Of course, what comes next is a predictable one-by-one cycle of standard stabbings, satisfactory spine-rippings, and “okay, I guess” tongue-tearings as Jacob takes revenge on his tormenters. In the meantime, everyone who isn’t among that group goes on goose chases with varying degrees of needlessness.
“Candy Corn” loads for bear with excessively lingering shots, even entire scenes, it absolutely has no narrative use for. Once it becomes completely clear who the killer is, and who his targets are too, the sheriff tasks one of his two deputies (which seems like a lot of law enforcement for a population of 1,300) with setting up roadblocks to seal off the town. Other than chewing up runtime as another meaningless montage, what does that effort intend to accomplish?
In another sequence I can’t fully figure out, menacing carnies capture one of Jacob’s killers and force him to watch a weirdo stage performance that lasts three seconds. When we next see the guy, he’s been released from his restraints to stumble around the midway in a state of confusion. What was the point of tying him up in the first place? Neither he nor “Candy Corn” seems to know what anyone is supposed to be doing.
It’s not all bad news. As a Midwest native, I can confidently confirm “Candy Corn” gains considerable mileage out of shooting in Ohio. Sidestepping the usual tactic of having sunny Southern California stand in for Anytown, USA, the camera captures a genuine Fall feeling of overcast skies, long rural roads, and chilly suburban streets. From the rundown diner to the sideshow carnival, “Candy Corn” stages scenes in familiar places, but each location looks good. While other aspects of the production are routine or redundant, appealing atmosphere offers a significant incentive to keep eyes on the screen.
Somewhere out there must exist people who are passionate about the Dread Presents banner. Otherwise, the label wouldn’t be in business long enough to make it to “Candy Corn.
However, it’s become abundantly clear I will likely never be counted among their numbers. Honestly, I knew that prior to this film even though I hadn’t fully admitted it to myself. “Candy Corn,” a mediocre movie that puts the hollow in Halloween so to speak, merely cements that notion as a certainty.
Review Score: 35