candyman | bernard rose | virginia madsen | xander berkeley | tony todd | thriller | united states | united kingdom | murder | death | slasher | kasi lemmons | vanessa williams | ted raimi | dejuan guy | urban legend | based on | novel | clive barker
Director: Bernard Rose
Writer: Bernard Rose
Starring: Virginia Madsen, Xander Berkeley and Tony Todd
This film is one that took me awhile to see all the way through. I would catch it in parts on the movie channels. It was most likely in college that I did. I’ve now seen it a few times with one of the times at the Gateway Film Center for their Horror 101 series as well as with Jaime in prep for the remake/sequel version coming out. The synopsis here is The Candyman (Tony Todd), a murderous soul with a hook for a hand, is accidentally summoned to reality by a skeptic grad student researching the monster’s myth.
This begins with Helen Lyle (Virigina Madsen) interviewing a student. She is asking about an urban legend killer named the Candyman. We see the story as she claimed it was played out. The boy that comes over is Billy (Ted Raimi). They say Candyman into the mirror 5 times and the girl is murdered. Helen then meets with her friend of Bernadette Walsh (Kasi Lemmons) who is interviewing a male student who tells a similar story. This is their thesis project on urban legends.
Helen then goes to a classroom, where Trevor (Xander Berkeley) is teaching a class on urban legends. He is married to Helen and she is annoyed with him for teaching this lecture. It seems there was a promise not to. During this as well, Helen notices a student who seems interested in Trevor and won’t look her in the eye.
Later while Helen is working, a janitor comes into the room and overhears the taped interview about Candyman. She relays that her friend knows about this killer and goes to get her. What she relays is much different from what she has gotten from the students. There was a murder in a local project called Cabrini-Green. This causes Helen to search out newspapers about what happened to Ruthie Jean.
She tells her plan to Bernie, which is to go to this project and take pictures as well as interview anyone that will talk to them. Bernie is against this, feeling they are exploiting the dead woman. She also doesn’t want to go there as it is a rough place. The gangs run it and the police don’t tend to respond quickly.
Despite her fears, the two women find the apartment and take pictures of the building as they go. Interesting enough, Helen’s condo was built like this project building. She knows that if they didn’t correct the issue behind the bathroom mirrors in hers, then it should create a passageway here. We see that she is right and goes through. She comes across a mural of a man with an open mouth and a gift of candy.
As the two women go to leave, they are confronted by Anne-Marie McCoy (Vanessa Williams). She lives here and knew the victim. She agrees to talk with the two women. She was one that called the police during the attack. She has a young son and doesn’t like where she lives, but has to survive.
Helen also goes back to the project and is attacked. She convinces a boy who helps her, Jake (DeJuan Guy), that Candyman isn’t real. There is a killer here using this name and striking fear in the residents. There also could be a supernatural entity here that dates back long before Cabrini-Green was built. This is true horror as The Candyman, targets her.
As I said in my opening, I’ve seen this film a few times all the way through, with one of my last viewings at the Gateway Film Center. To be honest, I believe I’ve caught more of the sequel more as it feels like it was always on one of the movie channels growing up. I do believe I caught at least part of it in college during the summer or FrightFest on AMC in October.
What I will say, I do enjoy this movie and it gets better with each watching. This falls into the supernatural slasher category for me, but not necessarily in the traditional sense. This brings a bit of A Nightmare in Elm Street, in that Candyman is like Freddy Kruger, he needs the fear of people to exist. He tells Helen to be his victim and I think that is great. When she ruins the killer in the project, people don’t believe in him. He needs her to take that place. What doesn’t work for me though is her being what his lover looked like in the past. This could be part of the story from Clive Barker, The Forbidden, or taken from something like Dracula. I don’t think it is needed though.
Something that works for me as well is this film could almost be viewed that Candyman might not be real. No one ever sees him until they are murdered, so that could be that Helen is doing the killings. We see her slipping into madness and blacking out, two things that could point to her being the killer. The ending might need to be disregarded for this reading, but as a horror film, it comes with the genre. I think the story is great that it can be read as a supernatural killer or a woman with a psychotic break.
Next, I’ll take this to the social commentary which is the racial issue that this brings up. Now I’ll admit, I’ve never been to Chicago, but this movie doesn’t play up it is there. What the film does well with the setting is showing us two different worlds. We have Helen and Bernie. They are graduate students doing research. To show the duality, we get to meet characters like the two women working at the college, Anne-Marie or Jake. The condo that Helen lives in is like Cabrini-Green; just the project is more rundown. Helen and Bernie explain the gentrification that happened as well as the natural barrier as to why Cabrini-Green was built. Showing how different the worlds are, when Ruthie was being killed, the police don’t show up until after. When Helen is attacked, the police show up much faster.
What I will say after having viewed this a few times, I do feel there is a bit of an issue with the ending. I love the set up we have here. We get to know our characters and we see that they’re out to prove themselves. I like Helen interfering and thinking she has helped the projects. We see that isn’t the case. I’m even down for Candyman to mess with her. My problem though is the movie feels like it loses its way when she gets back to Cabrini and seeks out Candyman. I don’t like how it ends personally and it is lackluster in the defeat of the villain.
The acting in this film though is good which I think helps it a lot. Madsen is solid in her role. She is so sure and in control of herself in the beginning. The moment she meets Candyman though, she loses that and we see her slipping into madness. Something that goes with it, she is pushed to try to prove she isn’t crazy and the lengths she goes is believable. It isn’t that much different from her trying to prove her thesis. Todd doesn’t get a lot of screen time until about the middle of the film, but his screen presence is great. He is perfect for this role. Berkeley is such a jerk as Trevor and from the beginning makes you wonder about his commitment to Helen. It is hard to believe he’s telling the truth. It also feels like he’s not helping her mental state. I also thought that Lemmons, Williams and Guy were solid in their supporting roles as well.
Now I have to say that the effects in this film were good. Everything looked to be practical which if you know me, I love. The blood looked good. I thought the hook and Todd’s chest looked real. The bees that cover him and Madsen were real, which adds another layer. If I do have something else to add here would be the cinematography. I think we get some great set ups for shots. The editing works well here as well.
I also thought the score to the film was great. The score is much more gothic which keeps the project an even creepier feel, matching it almost to the castles of Europe in a way. I love the choir used for the film and there is one recurring tune that is quite haunting. It is one I listen to on a regular basis, especially the theme.
Now with that said, I would recommend this film. It is a supernatural slasher film in a sort, but I feel it is much more than that. I feel it could almost be read as a woman who is losing her mind, murdering people yet believing it is a man who is haunting her with visions. The acting of the film is good, which helps to build this feeling. The effects of the film were also well done. The editing and the score also helped for this film to have not only a creepy, but a surreal feel. Candyman is a solid entry into the horror genre as an icon. This is a good film and worth a viewing. One of the best from the 90’s for sure.
My Rating: 9 out of 10