It is that time of year again. The time for me to reemerge from the shadows to defend the honor of my most beloved Halloween candy, candy corn...
The debate rages every holiday season and this year I decided to take a closer look at how the film world feels about this most wronged of seasonal sweets. Turns out, they weren’t really on my side either. In fact, if anything, this harmless honey-sugar pyramid is horror’s harbinger of doom.
From Hitchcock’s Psycho to Josh Hasty’s 2019 offering Candy Corn, from kid-friendly horror to iconic slashers and possession films, the sweet treat is safe from no subgenre. In honor of the season, I’m diving deep into five films’ uses of the candy to summon destruction upon their hapless victims. Grab your complementary bag of sweet stuff and come along...
Undeniably one of the most influential proto-slashers ever made, Hitchcock’s Psycho set the precedent in many ways for every film of its kind to follow. From bravely displaying the first toilet on screen to dispatching with its leading lady halfway through, no generally accepted area of story was to be taken for granted here. It also gave us one of the most compellingly depicted villains ever put to screen in Anthony Perkins’ Norman Bates. From the first moment we meet him, Perkins’ Norman is almost designed to pull at our sympathies, even after we discover what he’s capable of. This is in large part thanks to Perkins’ own choices about how to portray the character. His body language, manner of speaking (particularly when he’s nervous), and the delicate balance between his conflicting personalities all have the impact they do thanks to Perkins’ talent and choices. One of his more innocuous yet lasting choices for Norman’s character was that he should carry around and eat candy corn during his interactions. Not all of them, mind you, but enough so we buy into his harmless persona for as long as he needs. It’s such a minor detail most may not even notice it’s happening, but as far as my (admittedly middling) research could tell me it is film’s first instance of candy corn’s use as a defense mechanism and portent of evil.
Night of the Demons (1988)
Another blink-and-you’ll-miss-it moment for Halloween’s most debated candy, this tale of teens partying in the nearby abandoned funeral parlor and doing basically everything you shouldn’t in a horror movie—including hosting a séance—begins fairly harmlessly. Before the demons come out to play it’s just a gathering of your usual eager to party teens, including the iconic weird goth girl there to tell us the funeral parlor’s sordid past and warn everyone against pissing off the spirits. And where, do you think, she warns our leading lady against leaving a lighter on the table lest she anger the souls of the departed by disturbing their space? That’s right, next to a big ‘ol plate of Halloween’s tastiest triangles. They never show up again, but they do mark the beginnings of Judy’s (Cathy Podewell) deepening anxieties about partying somewhere formerly filled with the dead, and it doesn’t take long before Angela’s (Amelia Kinkade) warnings come full force into fruition. For all its damning use of candy, Night of the Demons also deserves to be celebrated for breaking away from some firmly established tropes regarding how it handles its characters. Judy is our final girl and, thus, lives, but we are also given a surviving Black hero in Rodger (Alvin Alexis), a result I always cheer to see coming out of an ‘80s horror film.
Nightmare Before Christmas (1993)
This one is a staple of my personal yearly rotation. It’s never too early or too late in the season to watch, and always puts me right in that happy, slightly spooky mood necessary for any proper Halloween celebration. Imagine my surprise, then, when I discovered that this, too, my most beloved classic, stood on the opposing side of candy corn depiction. The scene in question is one of many that highlight what a labor of love the creation of the film really was. To notice the tiny morsels requires some unblinking attention to detail on the part of the Claymation artists involved and the viewers alike. Lock (Paul Reubens), Shock (Catherine O’ Hara), and Barrel (Danny Elfman) have just successfully kidnapped Santa (Ed Ivory) and brought him to Jack (Chris Sarandon). As they pull the string to release him from their pumpkin-stamped sack, out he pops with a lollipop and horror’s favorite danger-trees stuck in his beard. From there, of course, things get a whole lot worse for both Santa and Jack before they get better, up to and including at least one song about death each. Which, in typing it out, sounds pretty grim, but don’t worry, above all else this movie is more interested in assuaging fears than creating them. Even if it does choose to continue the candy corn slander.
Trick ‘r Treat (2007)
One of the horror community’s most beloved anthologies has, depending on where you stand with Sam, probably done the most work to undo the connection between evil and candy corn, but it nonetheless continues to use the treat as an omen for misfortune befalling various victims. Personally, I love Sam (Quinn Lord). He’s become a seasonal icon, even making it big enough this year to have merch in everyone’s favorite Halloween supply store that thrives on overtaking the shells of dead stores before it, Spirit Halloween. All Sam wants is to enjoy his favorite holiday and make sure that everyone is following the rules. Those rules are: 1) Never blow out a Jack-O’-Lantern, 2) Always check your candy, and 3) Always pass out treats. Breaking any of them could lead to a very unpleasant Hallows Evening, as we learn from each of the short, interconnected tales that make up the film. Sam doesn’t make his full-fledged appearance to enact his own justice until later, but he’s present somewhere in every short, presiding over the events and munching some tasty cones of doom while the victims get what’s coming to them (seriously, I can’t classify Sam as evil because, in addition to just wantin’ some candy, he ensures the ridding of some truly distasteful people). So, even if you don’t particularly care for this night of the thinning of the veil, at least be sure to set out a pumpkin and some treats, lest Sam leave some candy corn on your doorstep. By now, you know what it means…
Candy Corn (2019)
This one has a special place in my heart. It was the first movie I ever reviewed here at KHC, and it has stuck with me ever since. It’s a perfect-for-the-season, gruesome little movie with a killer that, while I can’t defend his actions, I certainly understand and I hope by now Candy Corn has made its way into some of your rotations. It’s your standard “revenge against the bullies who accidentally killed the kid they were tormenting” horror fare with a festive twist. There is no separation of sweets and evil here. Aside from munching on his favorite devil candy while waiting for his victims to be in just the right place, Jacob Atkins (Nate Chaney), recently-manslaughtered local outcast also leaves it behind when he’s done committing his acts of sweet, squirm-worthy vengeance. Probably he figures he’s already dead, so what’s he got to hide? Might as well leave a calling-candy. I’m pretty sure at one point he rips some dude’s spine out so, even if it is throwing my beloved Hallow-snack under the bus and into the mouths of the dead, maybe listen to its advice and don’t be an asshole to the quiet kid. Or anyone, while you’re at it.
So, there we have it. Five movies that malign a helpless seasonal snack for their own nefarious purposes. Who is to blame for the continuation of such slander? Norman’s sweet tooth probably started it, but who among us, truly, does not enjoy a candy that is also a craft? Seriously, go out and get a bag and stack them all in rows. Build your own candy corncob, and if you’re still on the sad side of the Great Halloween Candy Debate when you’re done, send it to me. I will gleefully consume every one.
Happy Halloween, everyone! May you find a fun and safe way to celebrate with only your favorite sweets in the mix.
By Katelyn Nelson