Don’t let that face fool you. This guy wants to f*ck your shit up.
For some of you reading this, Candyman no doubt exists in the back of your fuzzy adolescent memories somewhere, maybe next door to Bloody Mary. After this film came out, truth or dare certainly got a lot more frightening at sleep-overs and the several sequels provided hours of fun for the whole family… okay, maybe not quite the whole family. For those of you with no memory, Candyman is rather like Bloody Mary in that he is one of those supernatural killers who can only be summoned by saying his name 5 times into a mirror. Bloody Mary is a very similar figure (but you only say her name 3 times) as any devoted Supernatural fan will remember.
I had a vague memory of Candyman and a number of the less than impressive sequels and so, when I saw the DVD copy of the original for sale some time ago for the bargain price of $9.99 I thought I’d pick it up and take it home for a giggle. Funny thing, unlike many other horror films from that era, Candyman turned out to still be horrific. Deeply unsettling and darkly disturbing. It was awesome.
Unlike your traditional horror film, Candyman has a (surprisingly) deep, complex and unsettling plot. Perhaps this can be attributed to the fact that Clive Barker wrote the short story that it is based on. For those of you who don’t know Clive Barker, go and see Nightbreed and then come back and we can discuss not only his weirdness but what the hell that movie was even about. Candyman by comparison is much easier, it follows Virginia Madsen on a quest to write her PhD thesis, which she is co-writing on urban legends. As I begin the application process for my own PhD, it seemed like a fitting time to rewatch this…. because as anyone that’s been through the PhD process will tell you, it is in itself like a horror movie.
Lets revisit the trailer:
The film has a score by Philip Glass (he was pretty big in the late 80’s/ early 90’s) which adds to the extreme unrest you’ll feel from watching. It’s often been said that music is key when it comes to films (Jaws would be another classic example) and we see the dynamic between the visual and the audio used to stunning effect here. You’d be hard pressed to find another horror film that employs sound so well. It’s certainly not a score like any normal thing you’d hear in a horror movie.
Virginia Madsen plays the title role of Helen. Helen (as discussed) is slogging it out at university, trying to get her PhD written, while kind of being locked in a passive-aggressive relationship with her Professor husband. In true 90’s Professor style, he is playing up on her and for some reason, also surrounds himself with other male academics who play at putting down Helen and her thesis like it was a sport (ah, gender and relationship dynamics in the 90’s. Bless). Helen decides she is going to go against EVERYONES good advice and investigate the urban legend of Candyman. Convinced that he is not real, she packs her big coat, film camera and a fresh pack of darts and heads off into the projects to get amongst the legends with the locals. Things quickly spiral out of control for poor Helen from there.
It’s 1992 so mobile phones didn’t exist and all the computers are DOS systems (blue screen with white block type, guys). Since people need to have something in their hands and there are no phones, everyone is smoking. The film is set in Chicago and a large portion of it takes place at Cabrini Green, in the Projects. The fact that this is a real place adds to the atmosphere of the film. Although the themes are still relevant today, the setting and the era are integral to the spookiness. We’re so technologically connected these days, that remembering how things used to be only three short decades ago, is in itself scary.
I don’t want to give too much of the story line away, so I’m just going to say that, much to the surprise of Helen, the Candyman ends up being very real and, once she summons him, he is not going to leave her (or anyone she knows) alone. Things get bloody and people start dying real fast and, before she knows it, Helen’s life has gone to Hell. Literally, figuratively and spiritually.
To some degree this is a story about redemption. So, once she has made a huge fuck-up of everything, Helen has to come back from it. It is this journey that is the most horrific and the avenue through which Virginia Madsen gives her most intense performance.
Rather than being scary, I would say that the impact of Candyman comes from the fact that you’re left with such a deep sense of despair after seeing it. This is one of those movies where everyone suffers – even the people that live. As for the people that die… well, there’s nothing good in store for those poor bastards.
Don’t believe me? I dare you to go and say ‘Candyman’ into the mirror 5 times…