Candyman Still An Urban Treat
By Kristin Battestella
I picked up a used copy of 1992’s Candyman for my husband’s horror collection. Even though he hadn’t seen it, I was certain it was right up his alley. Indeed Candyman hasn’t lost its touch. Pre Urban Legends and Tales From the Hood, Candyman is still the film for urban horror.
Virginia Madsen (Sideways) stars as Helen, a Professor’s wife working on her own thesis. Her sleazy husband Trevor (Xander Berkley) belittles Helen’s research, so she sets out on her own to investigate Chicago’s own urban legend, Candyman. While photographing in the projects, Candyman (Tony Todd) appears to Helen. Her visions continue and gruesome murders follow Helen. Soon the authorities suspect Helen, and Trevor thinks she’s crazy.
I can list plenty of other projects with both Virginia Madsen and Tony Todd, but for me, their definitive film is Candyman. Madsen’s ideal as the intelligent, determined yet oblivious wife obsessed with Candyman. Likewise Tony Todd is at his utmost creepy and somehow alluring as the unjustly tormented former slave. Madsen’s Oscar nominated turn in Sideways is nowhere near as memorable as her role here. Her initial calling of Candyman in her bathroom mirror and her final triumphant scenes are cult gold.
After I first saw Candyman, for years I had dreams in which the fur clad and hook toting menace appeared. Todd’s trademark role and deep voice are that creepy, and like Bloody Mary, every kid has called Candyman five times in his bathroom mirror. Fans of gore and creative, bloody murders will no doubt enjoy Candyman. What little effects given are along the lines of fire, blood, and more blood. The violence, however, is not excessive. Integral to the story, many of the spooks in the film are carried out largely by the actors. Helen trips in the dark, dirty, messy projects we know it’s a place where real and fictious horrors can happen. When Helen enters a rank and bloody bathroom-is crap everywhere? Of course not. The audience, however, knows the smells through Madsen’s reaction and the director Bernard Rose’s swift pans.
One intriguing concept from Rose is the lack of those herky jerky Blair Witch style cuts and crazies. The scene of the crime is always fully panned, giving the audience a panoramic view. It’s almost like a three dimensional video game pulling the viewer in. Likewise, Rose moves the camera shots up and away, as if we were swooning like the characters onscreen. The camera work and gore doesn’t take away from Candyman like so many modern films that over do it and deter from the story with unrealistic effects. Clive Barker’s source story is allowed to shine.
Rose also makes use of some very beautiful and haunting urban artwork. Candyman graffiti appears throughout the film. Bees also play a significant part in the film, and this subtle attention to detail makes Candyman work. The families in the projects fear the legend of Candyman and the hooligans who commit crimes in his name-and the audience feels this fear. Like it or not, the racial statements in Candyman help the fear factor. Within the film, folks gasp at the thought of a white woman in the projects. When Helen is indeed attacked, through our collective mind we plant the seed for what the gangs, gang bangers, and hooks will do. Candyman isn’t real, but this film of racial violence and black legends fills the void left by the mainstream media and run of the mill horror standards.
Despite a very satisfactory ending, two sequels followed Candyman. Both 1996’s Candyman II: Farewell to the Flesh and Candyman III: Day of the Dead (1999) are worthy for fans who still can’t look in their bathroom mirrors. Lessened by the loss of Madsen, and direct to video styles for film three, The Candyman chills have continued into the 21st Century.
Candyman is for any fan of the macabre, but particularly those horror buffs tired of the formulaic scare. Intelligent fans, underground enthusiasts, minority audiences-who doesn’t Candyman appeal to? No matter how artistically displayed, the buckets of blood, a touch of nudity and sexual innuendo aren’t made for the young kids or squeamish prudes. Also be warned that Candyman features several brief scenes victimizing children and dogs. Several editions of Candyman and its sequels are available on DVD at affordable prices, or even a bargain VHS. But do avoid Candyman cut up on television. If you’ve got a fur coat and a hook, Candyman is your perfect urban horror movie and it’s great Halloween costume.