Focus On : Candyman


“Candyman, Candyman, Candyman, Candyman………Candyman.”

As far as modern book-to-film adaptations go, Clive Barker has been pretty damn prolific over the years. If it were a race, he’d be holding his own admirably and keeping a steady pace, beaten only by heavyweights Lovecraft and King, with Ketchum and Koontz bringing up the rear. It’s no fluke that so many of his novels and short stories have been adapted; Barker simply knows horror and can write antagonists that lesser authors can only dream of.

Several of his adaptations have spawned an array of sequels and Hellraisers Pinhead‘ and his cenobite cohorts are arguably some of the most recognisable faces of the genre, iconic to even a casual observer of film. Even Nightbreed; one of his least successful adaptations, and a criminally overlooked gem, has been given the attention it so deserves of late as the quest continues to create the most complete cut of the film, which is testament to how much adoration his work receives, the world over, and deservedly so.

Now a full two decades old, Candyman remains one of his most successful and profitable movies and thrust Tony Todd, as the titular Candyman, into the Robert Englund-esque ranks of genre royalty. Although it reeks of the 90′s, mostly due to the stylistic choices in clothing and decor, Candyman has a classic, timeless quality to it and that’s down to the story at its terrifying centre. Taken from his Books Of Blood, Candyman is one of Barkers finest forays into book-to-film adaptations

Helen, an attractive graduate student writing a thesis on urban legends decides to investigate a local legend which just so happens to be the catalyst for a terrifying journey into her own psyche and what might or might not be real. She soon learns of a wronged man with a hook for a hand who, when his name is said five times into a mirror, appears from nowhere to take the life of the person that summoned him. A non-believer, Helen foolishly decides to do the exact thing said to summon the monstrous legend and delving deeper and deeper into the story begins to have dire consequences on the people in Helen’s life and on her own sanity.

Candyman’s strength lies not only in the strong source material, but in its ability to play on a supremely primal fear in all of us. In the same way that home invasion and haunting horror movies have been so successful in recent years, Candyman plays on the fear of feeling unsafe in your own home; the one place that’s supposed to be impenetrable by all the outside threats usually associated with the genre. It’s highly unlikely that an inbred, cannibalistic hill tribe, a masked slasher out for revenge or a terminally ill serial killer, hellbent on torturing you for your past indiscretions would bother the average person going about their business in their own suburban home. Candyman, on the other hand, depends only on those idiotic or arrogant enough to repeat his name five times and therein lies the films simplistic genius. What’s scarier than not being safe from your attacker anywhere, least of all your own home; your safe haven?

Helen is our every[wo]man. A heroine with whom we can all relate. She encompasses or experiences all the familiar Barker tropes; rejection, prejudice, betrayal, trauma and fear of the unknown, all wrapped up with a neat little supernatural bow. Virginia Madsen lights up each of her scenes; managing to be cocky, naive and innocently beautiful all at the same time. As the principle character a lot was asked of her, including but not limited to, being covered from head to toe in blood, having to act whilst covered in live bees and veering between showing the required amount of restraint as the very ‘proper’ student, to the frightened-for-her-life victim, to the calm and accepting antagonist by the end frames. Reportedly hypnotised for some of her scenes, whether true or not, it certainly adds a layer of magic to the performance. It’s difficult to imagine that the role almost went to a then unknown Sandra Bullock who, while she’s become a mostly terrific actress in her own right, almost certainly wouldn’t have been right in this role. Even more disconcerting is the knowledge that Eddie Murphy was considered for the titular role that eventually went to Todd.

Tony Todd, as the legend come to life, has a tremendous cinematic presence. It’s sad, now, that he’s almost become a parody of the promise he once showed, simply making appearances on the back of his role here and the praise that went with it. He’s a hugely charismatic actor and, along with Barker and Rose, created a monster of almost Biblical proportions, all bass voice and quietly threatening demeanor.

As with a lot of Clive Barkers stories, Candyman is chock full of ambiguity and shades of grey. Is the Candyman truly bad or just a victim of circumstance, forever trapped in a cycle of vengeance due to his treatment whilst alive? Is our doe eyed protagonist Helen really as undeserving of her fate as she makes out? Is everything really playing out as we see, or is she insanely delusional? Is Helen doomed to repeat the Candyman’s curse for all eternity, proving her existence to non-believers and exacting bloody revenge against those who’ve wronged her? It asks a lot of questions of the viewer and provides only as many answers as absolutely necessary, as with all intelligent films, and in my opinion, is all the better for it. This is not a film that spoon feeds the viewer, like so much modern horror.

Bernard Rose’s direction, while not breathtakingly original, serves the material exceptionally well. Candyman is not a story that needs elaborate shots and inventive technique, the dialogue and visuals are all we need. He has a keen eye for the macabre and has created a wealth of memorable set pieces, from the blood soaked toilet stall, to the depressing, graffiti-laden Cabrini Green tower blocks, to the unintentional bonfire/funeral pyre during the final third, they’re all hauntingly memorable.

This is a film that is devoid of CGI and owes all its effects to the skill of the team working on it. For the most part it thoroughly shames any film reliant on computer effects that’s come in the two decades since. The Candyman’s hook is a triumph of design too. Simple but disgustingly visceral; it’s a truly frightening creation.

With a majestically gothic Phillip Glass score giving proceedings a beautifully moody and deeply foreboding atmosphere, all organs and choral voices, Candyman trundles along at a near perfect pace, ramping up the tension with each frame. It’s epic, visionary filmmaking at its finest and an often overlooked classic.

Candyman is a surprisingly poetic film. It’s hauntingly mesmerising and at its core is a tragedy of almost Shakespearian proportions. As is his specialty, Barker created a very human monster in the Candyman, and succeeds in not only pulling the viewers emotions in several directions in quick succession, but demanding our attention and making us question our own morals, values and core beliefs, whilst simultaneously scaring the living crap out of us. This is cerebral filmmaking at its peak and more than deserves a place in the annals of horror greatness.

2 Comments on “Focus On : Candyman”

  1. Matt Blythe says:

    Is it really 20 years ago? I remember going to see it on the big screen with my Bro. He was seriously freaked out by it… cos “it really could happen”.

    But then my Bro has always had been a bit mixed up about when one should apply will suspension…

    One quote of his that I shall always cherish is (when someone jumped out of a collapsing building and didn’t even twist an ankle), “Oh, that is completely unbelieveable!”
    To which I replied, “That’s where you are going to draw issue with this film? Not the robots the size of a house that can change into a car?”

    Candyman is one of my favourite horror films. If you haven’t seen it, shame on you. Rectify this at once!

  2. Matt Blythe says:

    (I missed an ‘ing’. Shhh, don’t tell anyone. They may not notice)

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