Exclusive interview with writer / director Josh Hasty and actress PJ Soles to talk about Hasty’s highly anticipated debut feature film “Candy Corn”
Candy Corn is the debut feature film made straight from the heart and soul of director Josh Hasty. A low budget horror film two years in the making, this film looks as good as anything you would expect from Hollywood. Starring horror icons Courtney Gains, PJ Soles, Tony Todd and Pancho Moler, and filled with superb practical effects, Candy Corn is the kind of film that has the potential to be a new cult horror classic!
I got a chance to talk to director Josh Hasty and actress PJ Soles about what an incredible experience it was. You rarely hear about such a happy set experience, and you can tell from talking to Josh how much this film means to him. I wish we didn’t have to wait months to see it, but it was amazing hearing what these two had to say, and I look forward to its release. Enjoy!
INTERVIEW WITH JOSH HASTY AND PJ SOLES
Los Angeles Zombie Girl: Good Morning Josh and PJ! I have been hearing about this film for quite a while and I’m so glad it finally got finished!
PJ Soles: Good Morning! Yes, it’s been two years in the making!
LAZG: So, what is Candy Corn about?
Josh Hasty: Candy Corn is about a young guy named Jacob, who lives in a small town in Ohio, and is hazed every year for Halloween by some local hoodlums. This year things go a little too far and he gets revenge on them in a very creative way.
LAZG: Is the film making any kind of statement about bullying?
PJS: Yes! Bullying is bad!
JH: I don’t want to say that it’s an anti-bullying movie, because it’s first and foremost a Halloween movie, but, definitely my main message and mantra with this whole thing is, who are really the freaks? They refer to him a lot in the film as a freak because he’s part of the freak show, but they are the bad ones. I would call it more an anti-shitty people film! Courtney (Gains) called it a zeitgeist film, and I think a lot of people who read this script were interested in that, because it’s kind of a story for our times, but also timeless.
PJS: It is also simply a horror movie, and I don’t think it should come under any kind of scrutiny for having an agenda. I think it should just be a good scare. People always like to read things into every movie.
LAZG: Truth! I love horror films for just that — horror. But many films do have an underlying message or metaphor. Josh, you are the writer, director and producer. You wear a lot of hats! How did you get started in horror and film making?
JH: Like all of us, I have been a fan of horror for as long as I can remember. Funny enough for my first horror project ever, right out of high school, I did a contest that AMC was hosting that Rob Zombie was judging, and I thought it would be so cool if Rob Zombie could see something I did. So, I made this little short film and I lost. Then 10 years later, I ended up doing the documentary for Rob for his film 31. I didn’t get started specifically to make horror, it’s just what I loved. I also loved filmmaking, the craft of it, learning everything I could about it, and it just sort of happened. And since I love horror, it was natural for me to do horror type projects out of that passion.
LAZG: PJ, it’s so great to talk to you too! Carrie and Halloween are two of my all-time favorite horror films! I really loved to hate you in Carrie. How did you get started as an actress?
PJS: Carrie! Now that was a film about bullying, but back then I don’t think Stephen King intended it to fall under that mantra. Carrie was my first film, and I didn’t intend to end up in horror films, that’s just where I started. I did other films like Stripes and Rock and Roll High School that are not horror films, but I think that because horror was my starting point, it attracted obviously John Carpenter who had seen Carrie. I was then asked to be in Halloween. So then again Rob Zombie probably loved Halloween and Carrie, so I got a small cameo part in The Devil’s Rejects. And because of those, Josh thought of me for a part in his movie, especially because it’s around the time of Halloween.
People in the horror community think of me as a scream queen and a horror person, but for me I think of myself as an actress. I’ve done so many other types of movies, but more often or not people will buy a picture at my table from HALLOWEEN for them and a picture of me and Bill Murray in STRIPES for their dad!
But how it all started: I was in New York City, I was a model and actress, doing commercials, but everybody kept saying you have to come out to LA. After only two weeks from New York to LA, which is a miracle, I got a casting call with Brian DePalma and George Lucas. They were seeing everybody in town that was young, I got put on Brian’s list, and that’s what started my career. After being in Carrie, then casting agents were yeah, I’ll see her. It was hard to get into casting in the 70s, you had to have a significant credit, have the right agent to go up on a call. I was very lucky.
LAZG: PJ, tell me about your part in Candy Corn.
PJS: I play Marcy, and I am the dispatcher at the sheriff station, working with Courtney (Gains) who is the sheriff. What I really loved about it is the 80’s vibe and Josh came up with my whole look. The script came to me through Ben Scrivens at Fright Rags, who I adore. I love all their t-shirts and designs. I also loved that Josh was carrying the banner of having made the documentary of the making of Rob Zombie’s 31, so I thought all right! I don’t read every script, there are too many, but this one I read, and I loved the part. I was hesitant at first, as Josh can tell you, because I hadn’t done a movie in a while. I’m getting older and I can’t remember things. I wasn’t sure if I could remember all my lines, and he said, “You’ll be sitting at a desk, and you can write them on a pad.” So, I said OK. I don’t think I had to though.
I’m so glad I took a chance on this, because I just adored working with him, and I loved Courtney. I just loved the design and look of my character, the costume and the hair. I was so fascinated because that’s what I try to do with all my characters; make them very original. I normally put that effort into it, but Josh did it for me! I just have this feeling in my bones that this is going to be a really great movie!
LAZG: Josh, what made you go with a cast of horror icons?
JH: Thank you for noticing! Well, they are just my favorites! I can say this now, because the movie is shot and done. It’s no lie, but I wrote each of these parts for the people that play them, at least with them in my mind, not actually thinking I could get them. You must keep in mind that when this project started, it was crowd-funded, and we only raised enough to shoot two days’ worth of film and it hit a wall. That’s why it took so long, because funding was so hard and a lot of the funding that came to me, which it did, required me to hand over all my creative freedom and kinda just be a first-time director who should just be happy to be at the party.
I wasn’t interested in that. I have a very clear vision on everything from A to Z with anything I do, especially this film. When I wrote this, I had these characters in mind. PJ came to mind for Marcy, and of course Tony Todd when I thought of the character Bishop Gate, who he plays.
The last thing I wanted to do was have a bunch of icons just for the sake of having icons. Once Courtney came in, then PJ, some of the producers I had at the time said, “What if we got this person or that person?” And I very quickly told them, “Do you realize that’s not the point?” I didn’t want it to be about showing off, like look at all the people we got. I wanted it to be people that I cared about, that inspired and influenced me.
There’s a sort of selfish aspect to be a director. Name any director, and they’ll tell you they pick the actors they do because they love them. Whether they inspired them, or they really like their work. So that was the case on every level, especially with PJ, Tony and Courtney. It was very surreal. Ben Scrivens sent the script to PJ, and he told me she hasn’t done anything for a while, and he gets asked to send her scripts all the time. He said, “I never do it, but this script is really good so I will, and can I come on as an executive producer?” His excitement changed the tone and I thought, I might really be able to get these people.
Once PJ and Courtney were on board, Tony was more interested, and it just sort of snowballed. Pancho isn’t really an icon yet, but he’s on his way. We worked together on 31 and we stayed in touch. He was the first one cast in the whole film. He and Courtney had the same manager at the time, and that’s how we were able to access Courtney.
Getting to PJ, Tony and Courtney wasn’t easy, and I was super humbled, obviously still am, and I was more in shock I think when they took the time to read the script. All three of them are so amazing. It’s such an exciting thing to be a part of being the guy that created these characters. I care so much about them and to have PJ asking questions about Marcy’s backstory, or Courtney literally asking, “What’s this guy’s favorite color, did he go to school, is he from this town?” All four of them came to me with those questions and ideas, and I was able to surrender my version of these characters to them. It’s amazing now to watch it in its entirety and finished form.
LAZG: Who did the costumes? Everything is very so fun and colorful! And PJ has some very big hair!
JH: In the beginning, we were still crowd funding, we didn’t have enough money for much of anything and the only characters that were cast were Courtney and Pancho. Together with my fiancé and her aunt, we literally made all the wardrobe. The ones that we made then are the ones in the film. All the sheriff uniforms I created myself. But then when it comes to Lester, Dr. Death, the character Pancho plays, and Jacob the main guy in the film, those were created by a lady name Cody Varona, a fashion designer in LA for a lot of rock stars. She does stuff for Rob, Guns and Roses, Meatloaf, Marilyn Manson, all these, fashion forward rock star icons if you will. I wanted that look with them because it’s at the carnival and it’s very theatrical. Even with a fashion designer, I was very specific with every little detail.
PJS: Josh is the writer, director and costume designer. But he also did the music, and he’s also editing it! It’s a complete work of art for him!
LAZG: Wow Josh, you are a busy guy! Is Candy Corn a gory slasher film, or more of a horror thriller?
PJS: Let’s just say you don’t normally get molars in your package of candy corn. (Laughs)
JH: It’s got a little bit of everything, I’m pleased to say. Our makeup effects team who did all the kill scenes are unbelievable. The makeup department supervisor was Justin Mabry who owns Trick or Treat Studios, and he made the mask in the film and did all the kills — and there are quite a few. He put together an academy award winning team that has done everything from Benjamin Buttons to Pirates of the Caribbean, and they just won the Oscar for Vice for the work they did on Christian Bale a few weeks ago. They are unbelievably top-notch. There are moments that are gory, but it’s not gory just for the sake of being gory. I wanted it to be real. Like PJ said, she’s not just a horror actress, she’s an actress. And even though this is my first time out so to speak, I don’t just love horror, I love cinema. I love every single thing about the medium of film making.
I hate the word slasher, but I love slasher films. So, one of the things I wanted to flip on its top, was when it comes to this film, there’s a lot more to it than just that. There are slasher elements, but there are drama and thriller elements. I didn’t want to subscribe so hard to just one horror genre and say that all the kills need to be the same. The makeup effects team were crazy good and a dream for me, because when the kills are gory, they are so REAL. But for example, I love the film Puppet Master, it’s one of my favorite franchises, but that doesn’t fit Candy Corn aesthetically. So, we had to find that balance.
I turned down a great offer to finish the film at one point, because they didn’t want to do practical effects. They loved the story, they loved the cast, but they were like, “Practical’s just dead now, it’s not the 70s anymore.” I told them that’s the problem, that we need to get back to that! Practical is coming back. CG was so cool, because look what you can do and save money, but it’s not the same. When we show people these kills, it’s so confusing, because they look so real and they say, “What the hell was that? Did you actually do that to that person?” Folks are just so used to seeing the digital computer stuff.
Justin Mabry gave me the confidence to make a movie that looked authentic. I didn’t want to take a bunch of horror icons, hash together a quick story, and cover them in blood. I wanted to make a really great horror film, that gets back to the roots of films like what John Carpenter did in Halloween, or Rosemary’s Baby, The Hills Have Eyes. These movies that had story and purpose and took us on a journey inside their world. I am so excited for people to see what we did!
LAZG: I am getting excited to see it more now too!
PJS: You see the practical effects reflected more at the horror conventions too. There are more and more venders who will paint up people’s faces, or do slashes across the throat, or do workshops on special effects. I think it’s an artform that is being recognized and the younger kids are really interested in it.
JH: The problem is that the people that aren’t on the ground like us, they are the people that are ultimately making all these decisions. They say, “We need to stop doing practical, let’s do CG” and it’s all about money. It’s cheaper and they don’t care about the art. So what’s great about something like Candy Corn is you get people like Justin and Chris who studied under Tom Savini, and found less jobs because everyone was doing CG, then a movie like ours comes along and they can have fun.
Candy Corn is in an amazing sweet spot; we have an incredible all-star icon cast, a solid script, and brand built around this film. But we’re just underneath the threshold of having a studio telling us what we can and cannot do, because I’ve been very frugal about maintaining all those rights up to this point. I’m not saying we’re changing the industry, but it will be exciting to see how we can maybe steer just a little bit in a different direction.
PJS: I think Rob Zombie is going to be very proud of you, Josh!
LAZG: PJ, what was it like for you to work on this film?
PJS: The overall working atmosphere was amazing and all due in part to getting to watch Josh work. He’s very mild mannered, he’s very soft spoken, and he reminded me a lot of John Carpenter who has the same manners. I really appreciated that. I like a quiet set, I like a focused set, a place where you can depend on the camera crew. So, having been away from it for a while, when we filmed, I remembered, oh my gosh now I know why I loved it so much. After the crew all got over the initial “OMG it’s PJ,” and I’m thinking I could be their grandmother, it was a wonderful working experience. Once I got into costume, I felt like I was Marcy.
I have to say I will cherish my experience with Josh and with the rest of the crew. I’m grateful for getting to be a part of this. I really believe it’s going to be a wonderful film and that’s hard to say about most films. Like Halloween had no blood or gore and I’m so proud of that movie. It lives on as one of the best horror films ever, because of the thrill aspect and the artistry. And that’s what Josh has going for him, I am very proud of him.
JH: OK, well I can hang up now! (Laughs) I’m kidding!
LAZG: Josh, what has been the best part for you during the creating of this film?
JH: So many things. This film was pieced together over the course of two years and a lot of things happened. The fact that it got done was amazing. There were certain milestones that were great. My first phone calls with PJ, Courtney, Tony, those were important for me. This is a film that was literally against all odds to have been made. It’s very low budget, it was shot in Ohio and LA, we’d have money and then something would fall through, one step forward, five steps back, yet here we are. When I look back on the process for me it was each time something got finished, I was able to say, this is still alive, it has a pulse, it’s real.
What I really loved was just working with this cast, all the cast. We have people that it’s their first movie and you would never guess it. Then when you add in people who have been on sets with some of the greatest directors that have ever walked the planet and are part of three of the biggest franchises in the history of horror cinema. So, to be on set with them, I just went into a zone, trying to turn off that OMG it’s Courtney, Tony, PJ, and just get things done!
PJS: But that’s also because we’re just normal people, and we’re usually nice people.
JH: They are very nice. (Laughs) It was nice to have the respect of people at this level and have them bring stuff to the table and have them really care about the characters. Even when you have everything written, in indie films things fall through at the last minute and you don’t know until the last second what you are going to film before you shoot it. So, to get there and watch the chemistry, between like PJ and Courtney, a lot of people that worked on it said there was some sort of energy — that it felt like we were making something special and that it feels good. That feeling overall was my favorite part of filming this.
LAZG: When will everyone get to see Candy Corn?
JH: We don’t have a set date yet. We just wrapped in December, and we are down to the wire to get it finished. We have a few advanced screenings set around the country, but the biggest release will be in the Fall!