The odd thing about Josh Hasty’s “Candy Corn” is that it feels like the first chapter in an anthology or movie series. I don’t know how far they’ll take this concept, but I’d love to see more Halloween based tales of revenge as coordinated by this traveling carnival and its vindictive ring master. I’m not going to say that “Candy Corn” is a masterpiece, but as far as Halloween movie treats, it’s a very good horror film soaked in the Halloween aesthetic.
In the small town of Grove Hill, a group of local bullies take their traditional ‘Halloween hazing’ of young mentally disabled Jacob Atkins (Nate Chaney) too far, beating him to death behind Dr Death’s Sideshow Spookhouse. The ring leader and head carny Lester uses voodoo to resurrect Jacob as a zombie-like avenger, even as the local Sheriff tries to work out who is behind the brutal spate of small-town killings. As Jacob seeks revenge from the undead, some of the town’s secrets are unearthed.
Although Hasty references John Carpenter’s “Halloween” a lot, “Candy Corn” is a solid amalgam of “Pumpkinhead” and “Night of the Scarecrow.” There isn’t a lot explained within the ninety minute run time, but Hasty does hint at a larger mythology and world behind Dr. Death’s Sideshow Spookhouse. While the movie is based around Jacob’s gory revenge as a vicious zombie, the movie belongs to Pancho Moler. Moler, who you may have remembered from “31” and “Three from Hell” steals the movie out from under everyone in the cast as the enigmatic Lester. Lester, with face painted like a skull, and a black top hat, is the puppet master behind the events that unfolds, and is given the most depth out of anyone in the film.
I’d love to see a movie series revolving around Moler’s character, as he gives Lester so much depth as well as an interesting motive. He’s not a hero, but he’s definitely not a villain either. He’s merely someone with immense power who is viciously vindictive toward humanity and will do anything to make people pay for their cruelty. That said, “Candy Corn” feels under developed in certain areas, where the pacing slows down to a halt and actions are just inexplicable.
What is Bobby’s hold over his girlfriend? What is the hazing ritual about? And what the hell did Bobby’s father tell him over the phone when the sound cuts out to the score? Hasty implies a big revelation is set to unfold, and nothing comes of it. And did Lester have a grudge against the sheriff? If so, then why? That and so much more keeps “Candy Corn” from rising in to legendary status. Pancho Moler is a powerful actor, and in “Candy Corn” he brings what could have been a stale side character in a commanding anti-hero with a huge bone to pick with the world.