“I have seen the future of horror, and his name is Clive Barker.” That was Stephen King’s reaction when Barker’s Books of Blood, a collection of short stories, was released in the US. Barker started as a playwright during the 1960s and 1970s, opening his own theatre company, The Dog Company, in 1978. Eventually, he shifted his focus to writing horror and fantasy stories, which became popular and attracted the attention of Hollywood. He wrote the screenplays for Underworld, aka Transmutations, and Rawhead Rex but was displeased with how they were handled. Because of this, he decided to adapt his novella The Hellbound Heart into 1987’s Hellraiser, which spawned several sequels. While working on Nightbreed, he met fellow filmmaker Bernard Rose, who was interested in adapting Barker’s short story, The Forbidden. Barker agreed to license the rights, and Rose went off to adapt the story into 1992’s Candyman.
Helen Lyle (Virginia Madsen) and her friend Bernadette Walsh (Kasi Lemmons) are conducting research focused on urban legends. During their research, they learn of one such legend, “Candyman”, an ominous figure with a hook for a hand. According to legend, if you say his name five times while looking at a mirror, he will appear. Helen learns about Candyman’s origin, that he was a well-educated black man who was killed after starting an interracial relationship. She eventually proves that the Candyman is merely a story linked to the hardships the residents of Cabrini-Green go through. That all changes when she’s confronted by Candyman (Tony Todd), who uses her to restore belief in him. This leads to Helen being blamed for several murders committed by Candyman, and her trying to regain her sanity. Will she survive, or will she be seduced by the allure of the Candyman?
Candyman is by far one of the best and most memorable contemporary horror films to come out of the 1990s. The first notable thing is the acting, especially from leads Virginia Madsen and Tony Todd, both of whom are phenomenal. Madsen gives a very grounded and human performance, and Todd is both imposing and captivating as the titular villain. The supporting cast, including Lemmons, Xander Berkeley, Vanessa Williams, and DeJuan Guy, have their shining moments and give good performances. Bernard Rose, mostly known at the time for directing music videos, manages to mix urban grit with a dreamlike quality. What also adds to the horror is Philip Glass’ haunting score, which helps set the mood right from the start. The makeup effects from Bob Keen are exceptional, and the use of real locations help give the film real authenticity. Plus, there’s a Ted Raimi cameo early on, so that’s cool.
At its core, Candyman is a film that explores social issues dealing with race, identity, and the effects of fear. Candyman only has power when people fear him, hence why he uses Helen to incite fear by killing innocent people. It also explores how society tends to push to the side things viewed as a problem, such as Helen’s hysteria. While Candyman has plenty of blood and guts to satisfy horror fans, it never feels exploitative or overly grotesque. The film also never relies on cheap jump scares but rather focuses on atmosphere and building tension and suspense. Admittedly, the film does start to lose its meaning in the second half once the blood and guts start happening. Thankfully, it’s never enough to where the film devolves into schlock, and it still retains its good qualities. Overall, Candyman is a fantastic horror film with themes that are still relevant today.
Buy Candyman from Shout! Factory: https://bit.ly/2TSNLIY