Perhaps it is still summer in Texas on the night of this writing, but the strongly attuned of sense can feel the orange tinge of autumn vibrating passionately over the horizon… ah, who am I kidding, it’s still ninety-five degrees and that “tinge of autumn vibrating” phrase was elegant horseshit. Nevertheless, one can always imagine the crisp trappings of Fall and no imagination whatsoever is required to view a Halloween-themed horror movie. If the actual All Hallows Eve is not too distant, even better. With that in mind, your favorite Doctor sang a few verses of the Silver Shamrock song and sat down to watch a movie named after that most reviled of Halloween candies, the recently released Candy Corn. Can’t somebody make a movie named after Peanut Butter Cups? Then again, I suppose that could easily be mistaken as the title of softcore fare. “Have a happy Halloween, Halloween, Halloween…”
Our tale begins at Cooper’s Food and Beer, one of those low-slung, rural highway dives that look like a place where dreams, livers, and everything else go to die. A group of now grown-up bullies are planning their annual Halloween hazing prank on Jacob, the slow-witted town doofus. If bullying is a reprehensible form of behavior that we try and teach high school teenagers not to partake in, then what must we make of “bullies” who are well into their twenties? Slasher movies need body count fodder, of course, and the stage is set with these unrepentant jerks. The lone female in the foursome is reluctant, but that is her only worthwhile trait, and you can likely make an accurate prediction if said reluctance will lead to her salvation (The Doctor’s medical opinion: doubtful).
Jacob is employed at the traveling carnival known as Dr. Death’s Sideshow Spectacular, under the aegis of the sympathetic “little person” Dr. Death (Pancho Moler.) It is at the carnival where Jacob runs afoul of his bullies who savagely beat him after he demonstrates the audacity to defend himself. How dare he! This isn’t a prank gone wrong; Jacob displays some backbone by shoving one of his three would-be tormentors aside and is rewarded for his chutzpah by getting beaten to a bloody pulp. Dr. Death, however, is a caring mentor with a supernatural trick or two up his sleeve. This introduces the potential for a Pumpkinhead-style revenge element. Now sporting a grisly Halloween mask, Jacob is infused with the strength and wherewithal to seek his vengeance. Maybe we have something here…
If Candy Corn doesn’t necessarily want to be John Carpenter’s Halloween, it certainly wants to pay homage and copy the atmosphere. The town is named Grove Hill (Smith’s Grove, anyone?) and P.J. Soles has a small role as a police dispatcher named Marcy. Even the font and coloring of the opening credits is an obvious nod to the Halloween franchise. None of these things are necessarily a negative; slasher films have been around for so long that they are derivative by nature. In fact, in a strange paradox for an era when many movies are decried for their dearth of originality, the derivative aspect of slasher films is exactly what fans of the genre expect. Shout-outs, “Easter eggs”, and respectful nods are appreciated but they do not a movie make. Style points will always count, but the important factor is the execution (Get it? Execution is important in slasher films? Fine, I’m making another drink).
In addition to Soles, Candy Corn features two other icons of horror from the last several decades, the seemingly ubiquitous Tony Todd as one of Dr. Death’s carnies and the legendary – at least for The Doctor – Courtney Gains as the sheriff!* Thirty-five years have come and gone since a teenaged Gains appeared on the silver screen as the spine-chilling Malachai in the classic Children of the Corn. Now in his fifties, Gains appears to have added a pound or two but still retains his mane of red hair in his role as Grove Hill’s Sheriff Sam Bramford. The name itself is another likely tip of the cap to the original Halloween with Bramford being somewhat alliterative to Brackett.
Perhaps The Doctor is biased – okay, I know I am – but Gains was the best thing about Candy Corn for me. Soles does little more than nod her head and the eyepatch-clad Todd barely speaks, but Gains offers a surprisingly restrained and sympathetic performance as the sheriff. If only he’d had some help from the others, and therein lies the problem with Candy Corn. The midwestern small town backdrop is well captured and cinematographer Ryan Lewis deserves recognition. Candy Corn is a movie that looks good and features some interesting overhead shots of damp autumn streets and fall foliage that demonstrate the wanted feel of ominous underpinnings. Unfortunately, other than Gains and Moler, I felt that the performances were rather lackluster. Naturally we aren’t supposed to sympathize with the bullies; in fact, we are supposed to wait expectantly for their respective demises and cheer when they occur. It’s okay, if not necessary, to be assholes but it would only add to the proceedings if someone were a memorable asshole. Like me.
Slasher films usually attempt to inject comedic relief, and I am afraid that those attempts in Candy Corn largely failed. I hate myself, because I know that a lot of people worked hard to make this film, so I am not going to recommend anyone stay away from it. At 85 minutes, Candy Corn certainly doesn’t have a pacing problem and isn’t a bad time investment, so am I going to suggest – at the risk of being called a yellow-striped fence sitter, which is one of the nicest things anyone has said about me – to check it out and form your own opinion. Perhaps I am wrong. Or perhaps I am a chickenshit who doesn’t want Gains to show up at my laboratory in full Malachai regalia and accuse me of being an interloper and a slave to games and music. As always, dear friends, The Doctor wishes you all a clean bill of health and happy Samhain.
* According to the stat-casters at Imdb, Tony Todd has an enormous 219 acting credits to his name as of this review. Gains is no slouch himself, clocking in at an impressive 126. In addition to Children of the Corn – a movie that while somewhat dated still has scenes that induce pants urination, most of them involving Malachai – Gains co-starred in two of The Doctor’s favorite eighties films, Can’t Buy Me Love and The Burbs. While his comedic performances in those films are both noteworthy, they can never take the sting out of Malachai who is one of the truly unsettling villains in the oeuvre of horror.