Not many filmmakers can take the credit for bringing a beloved genre favorite out of retirement. But Josh Hasty can. When he cast horror icon PJ Soles in his new flick, Candy Corn (read our review – here), she has credited Josh with jump-starting her return to acting. It was the return horror fans didn’t know they needed, but quickly embraced. I was lucky enough to speak with Josh, and we discussed Candy Corn, his career, small-town life, and of course, horror movies.
PH: Hey Josh! Thank you so much for taking the time.
JH: Of course. Thank you for having me.
PH: Absolutely. I read that you’re from Cincinnati.
JH: That’s right.
PH: I grew up in Ohio, and I actually attended UC for a few years, so small world. What was the inspiration for Candy Corn?
JH: The inspiration was to make a slasher film that sort of gave a nod to all the things that I love about the season, about the holiday, about the genre. And just go back in time to the early 80s and just make something that I hadn’t seen before: without trying to reinvent the wheel, without trying to do something you’ve already seen a million times, which is sort of go back to that place in time and create a new slasher within the genre that I love.
PH: I thought executed it very well. I loved the movie.
JH: Thank you.
PH: The cast is a who’s who of horror genre favorites. How did you choose the cast, and did you already have some in mind when you wrote the characters?
JH: As far as the main characters go, the big names obviously, it’s kind of funny how that worked out. I wrote the script with PJ and Tony in mind. Whenever I showed Justin Mabry, one of my executive producers, the script for the first time, I was like, “Hey, when you’re reading this, try to think of some people that we might be able to cast that would be like PJ Soles for Marcy, and Tony Todd for Bishop Gate.” And I gave other references, but those were the two where I was like, picture those people in those roles. And so when I said that to him, he was like, “Well, I’m friends with Ben Scrivens from Fright-Rags, and he’s friends with PJ. Maybe we can get her to read the script.” That was a process because she wasn’t doing a whole lot at the time. She was really focusing on family and doing appearances at conventions and stuff, so it took a little convincing even for Ben to get her to even look at the script. But once she did, she fell in love with it, and we were on the phone immediately. She was on board.
So, that sort of set the tone for like well, we got her. Maybe we can get the other dream person, Tony Todd. We had Courtney Gaines on board very early on. He came on board because his manager was the same manager that represented Pancho Moler at the time. Pancho and I were friends from when we both worked on Rob Zombie’s 31, and so Pancho was instant. He was sort of inherently on when I decided to do this. And the part was written for Pancho. Because of that, he got Courtney interested, and Courtney, of course, wanted to read the script first. He really loved it, and actually came on as co-producer and helped raise a lot of money, and really believed in it. Because of all of those things, that’s ultimately how we got Tony’s attention. It was having PJ on board because he really respects PJ, and knew she wasn’t taking on anything and everything. So that caught his attention.
Obviously having Courtney not just act in it, but also be a producer, a very involved producer, that meant a lot. And it turns out, Tony is a huge fan of Pancho. It just sort of worked out. All these actors, they’re amazing. And they don’t just say yes. It all boils down to the script so we got him the script, and fortunately, he really loved it, and Tony came on as an executive producer as well. That’s how we got those icons if you will, of horror involved. Everybody else… a lot of them were cast before everybody I just mentioned for the most part, excluding Pancho. And really it was just people that had a look that I was going for. It didn’t matter to me if they had done a lot before, or anything, like Madison Russ, had never acted in anything before. She does dance and stuff. I just really liked her look, and after talking to her, and hearing her voice on the phone, I was like yeah, this will work. She did an amazing job. We didn’t have a lot of money so we couldn’t just go and pick anybody and everybody that I wanted. We couldn’t just get the kids from Stranger Things or whatever. We really had to get creative, and once I knew I was in that box, I was like, well what’s really important to me is spinning that aesthetic of these classic late 70s, early to mid-80s slashers. We’re not trying to win Oscars here. This is a fun movie. We’re trying to just entertain you and have a good time. As long as the actors that played everyone else, the other police, or the kids, or the people in town, or whoever. The most important thing to me was, do they have a good look that fits this role? Are they going to be easy to work with? Are they going to show up and just do their job? Fortunately, everyone did, and it made for, I think in my opinion, the perfect cast that I wanted, given everything that I just said.
PH: It’s like Courtney was made to play that part. He’s played a police officer before, and he was just so smooth in this role.
JH: With Courtney, he… it’s so great because everyone sees him as Malachai, as far as horror fans go. Everyone sees Courtney Gaines screaming, “Outlander!” and being crazy. And he told me that ahead of time. It was really great because at the very beginning, Courtney obviously he was one of the first actors on the project at all, but he was the first big-name we had on the project. So he would talk to me as a producer, talking sort of about himself as an actor, like “Everybody wants me to be this crazy over the top thing. Tell me what you want. I’ve worked with a lot of first-time directors like you, who are just excited. They have a solid script, but they’re just excited to work with somebody from their childhood, or whatever, and they just don’t give me any direction. I just show up and do whatever. You clearly have a vision of what you want. Don’t be afraid to just tell me if what I’m doing isn’t right, and tell me what you want.” And that really gave me the confidence.
By the time PJ and Tony showed, and whoever, I mean, I was just like… all right. The production of this was so long and spread out, I had spent so much time working with Courtney that I had the confidence to just be like, “Nope, that’s not right. This is exactly what’s in my head. This is how we need to do it.” Not that I didn’t let the actors do what they want, but especially with Courtney, he knew, “I’m just going to do this. This is what everybody wants so I’m just going to do this unless you tell me otherwise.” And I did. So we kept toning it down and toning down his character. And it’s funny because some people will watch it for the first time, and people that I trust, and they’ll say like, “I don’t know about Courtney’s character. It kind of threw me. Not what I was expecting.” And I was like, “Good.” And then the more they watch it or think about it, they start to realize that there’s so much more there than just crazy cop or whatever. Courtney’s done that stuff. He’s a great actor and he’s working on a lot of stuff. When you’re just talking to the general core audience, it’s Malachai, you know what I mean? And so there are a lot of films where he’s done that crazy, goofy whatever, and I was really glad that he gave me permission to just tell him, “No, that’s not right. Tone it down. Tone it down.” In the early stages of filming, we did a lot of takes where it was just like a totally different character. And I really like it because when you look at Sheriff Bramford, he is weathered. And he’s older, and he’s been around the block. It was exciting for me to see Courtney play that different character, let alone in my own film.
PH: What draws you to the horror genre?
JH: I think that it’s just… there’s something nostalgic, I think, for all of us. That’s why we collect things. That’s why we love Fright-Rags t-shirts. It’s why we collect VHS. There’s just nostalgia to it, I think, that reminds us of not only being younger and carefree, but it was just fun. You were sort of oblivious to the problems of life, and there was just a special feeling that came from watching horror films. I grew up in the town where Candy Corn is shot. Sheriff Bramford’s house is my father’s house that I grew up in.
PH: That’s so awesome.
JH: So growing up there, fall time is just the best. And it looked just like John Carpenter’s Halloween, or Dark Night of the Scarecrow. All these farmland, small Midwestern houses. That was my life. I grew up in Haddonfield, basically. My dad was obsessed with horror, and he would show me movies and stuff and whatever, and I don’t know. There was just something about like, “Oh my God. That could happen here.” And as a kid, it’s adrenaline I think. It feeds that. I know that there’s this psychology test out there that would actually tell you what I’m stuttering over right now, but basically it’s something that feeds the adrenaline inside of you. Why we like roller coasters, or whatever, but it starts like that. And for me, and I know a lot of horror fans are, it just becomes an obsession. And at some point it turns into, it’s just you. It’s just a part of your genetic makeup basically.
For me, there are certain sub-genres I like less than others and more than others, but I can pretty much watch any subgenre of horror and find something I love, or find something I’m inspired by. I don’t know. That’s what I do love about Twin Peaks, and all of David Lynch’s stuff, and all of John Carpenter’s stuff, and Wes Craven. They created a world, you know? Where you could just go away. You could just go away to this world, and their characters talked the way those characters talk in that world, and they dress the way they dressed and act the way they act, and it just is what it is inside of that 90-minute frame. I feel like that’s just sort of been lost along the way. So for me, I wanted to get back to that and create something that made, hopefully, some people feel the same way I feel when I watch these classic films. Yeah, I don’t know. I wish I could give you the perfect, clean answer.
PH: No, that’s great! As someone who grew up in the Midwest who is now living in Phoenix, I love movies set in the Midwest. I love the scenery, I love seeing Fall, I love the feeling that it is actually Halloween. Those are the movies that I seek out this time of year. It’s films like this, with the setting, and the tone, that I seek out because it is very nostalgic to me of living in Ohio and going to haunted houses, haunted corn mazes. That’s what I love. So I appreciated that so much.
JH: Thank you. I love that you got that because that was the goal. We were supposed to shoot in June, in LA. And I refused to do our exteriors in LA. There are some things you have to do for certain reasons, but I refused it. And we finally were able to shoot, and we shot all of our exteriors in the film, over four days in Ohio, at exactly the right time that I wanted to. Basically everyone was on standby until I thought the foliage was perfect. If you don’t have that, what are you doing making a Halloween themed movie?
PH: It also was not lost on me that you wrote, directed, edited and composed the music for this. That’s impressive. The music was great.
JH: Thank you.
PH: What do you have coming up next?
JH: I’m in the early development of the next project I’m wanting to do. Everybody asks if I’m doing a Candy Corn sequel. I do plan on that at some point, it’s obviously left wide open for a sequel not on accident. And I actually have two more scripts written. I want to do that at some point, but I spent so much on Candy Corn that I didn’t plan on, and I just want to focus on something else for a little while. I’m always writing, and I always have scripts and treatments that are coming to me and I’m dabbling in.
But there’s one in particular that I’m really excited about. It’s a total departure from Candy Corn and anything like that. It’s still horror, but it’s just a totally different subgenre and everything. I’m working with Justin Mabry, who did all of the special effects and make up on Candy Corn. He made Jacob’s mask and did all the kills and everything. We are, right now, just sort of bouncing around concepts and designs for what we might be able to do on this next one, and I’m getting a lot of interest right now. People reaching out because of the success of Candy Corn, who want to give me money, which is funny because that’s why Candy Corn took so long to get done because nobody wanted to give me money. But now they do, so I think it’s going to be a matter of Justin and I working together and putting together this idea of what I want to do and then hopefully over the next couple of months decide how we’re going to move forward and get back to work.
PH: Awesome! I’m excited about what you have coming up. I only have one last question for you. What is your favorite scary movie?
JH: My favorite horror film, favorite film period, is Rosemary’s Baby. I’m obsessed with Rosemary’s Baby.
Thank you so much to Josh for taking the time to speak with us. Be sure to check out Candy Corn wherever you stream movies or buy it on Blu-ray from DREAD.