I'm writing this with my cat sitting in my lap. Has nothing to do with the movie. But they have nine lives, right? Good enough credentials.
The Candyman Can
As a kid, I was (and still am) a huge fan of all things horror. Among the countless subgenres within horror, possibly my absolute favorite within the masses were Slashers. Watching thousands of times over all the installments from the likes of Friday the 13th, A Nightmare on Elm Street, Halloween, Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Child’s Play, and of course Candyman! If a movie was drenched in blood and splattering guts throughout the runtime, I was likely watching it as a kid. Honestly, I’m still watching it constantly.
Strangely enough, out of all the Slasher flicks I watched as a child, none of them affected me quite as much as Candyman had. I’m not entirely sure as to why, possibly with the concept of bringing a terrifying urban legend to life was what struck a chord with me. When we’re young, the realms of fantasy and reality blur dramatically. Being the early age I was when I was introduced to Candyman, I interpreted this horror villain as another “Bloody Mary/Boogeyman” type who if summoned would wreak havoc in my own life. And that scared the utter sh*t out of me.
Looking back and wondering why the Candyman was the one horror figure to truly strike fear in me while I was more than fine with icons such as Jason Voorhees and Freddy Krueger, I think a significant reason why Tony Todd’s monster frightened me so much more was how the movie itself plays into the child-like perception of blurring folklore with reality and doing a wonderfully terrifying job of it. Most children did fear the Boogeyman… I was crapping my pants at the idea of Tony Todd showing up at my house to start a murder spree with his hook hand. Fun stuff!
Grad student, Helen Lyle (Virginia Madsen), begins her research on a local urban legend known as Candyman (Tony Todd). Rumored to be a vengeful spirit known to wield a hook in place of his right hand and to slaughter anyone who summons his presence by saying his name five times in a mirror. During her investigation of the myth, Helen accidentally angers the legend by spoiling the belief in his name from those who were haunted by his myth. Now Candyman seeks retribution by making Helen into his newest victim to instill fear in his name once more.
In this article, I wish to warn anyone reading that I will be touching on some spoiler territory. Mostly minor details, however there are some major plot points that I discuss as vaguely as possible, but still reveal crucial information on the story as a whole. So if any readers haven’t seen this horror classic, then I strongly urge that they hop onto Netflix to check it out before venturing any further into my review. Thank you for your time and I hope you enjoy my article!
The concept of a Boogeyman-esque figure tormenting some unfortunate youths in nightmarish ways while trying to kill them is nothing remotely new, even back in the year 1992. We’ve had our Freddy Kruegers and Michael Myers’ running around terrorizing good looking young people for years at this point. So what exactly separates Candyman from getting lost in the crowd? Aside from Tony Todd’s sexy, yet haunting baritone voice. Maybe it has to do with the story being less about yet another scary baddie attempting to murder our hero, while it is more about the antagonist turning her into a tragic villain in order to become an urban legend like himself. Crafting her narrative to instill fear upon anyone who dare spread her tale for years to come.
Not only does Candyman want to kill Helen, he wants to immortalize her as a monster while strengthening his own legend again among his believers. To me, that is so much worse than simply being murdered. Think about having your own name being twisted into something so horrific that anyone who uttered it long after you’re gone would strictly affiliate it with suffering and pure evil. That’s quite demented actually, in the most delightfully sadistic type of way. These are a few of the reasons why I believe Candyman is such a strong piece of horror writing, doing something with the hero that isn’t often seen as it mercilessly destroys this poor woman’s life all because she stepped on the toes of a very vindictive folklore come to life.
Because the film crafts a more uncompromising psychological edge to its story, it feels as though I’m never quite sure what terror will be bestowed onto Helen next or how far things will go before it’s too late for any form of “happy ending” to take place. Continuously worried that even if she does make it out of the Candyman’s clutches, what will remain of her life once everything is said and done? As events keep unfolding, matters only get worse and worse for Helen. Hell, once Candyman actually does show up, his first act to punish the naïve investigator already seems quite impossible to ever recover from. After Helen succumbs to Candyman’s hypnotic trance, she awakens in an unfamiliar bathroom covered in blood whilst a screaming woman cries for her missing child outside the door with no one else to blame except Helen; resulting in her incarceration along with a full blown police investigation featuring Helen as the prime suspect of the crime.
Sweets to the Sweet
As I said before, things gradually escalate for our unfortunate heroine as Candyman in a bizarre way loves Helen too much to ever let her go. Because of Candyman’s romanticized sadism he’s inflicting on Helen, she begins to lose everything she holds so dear in her life; her husband, her home, her friends, her education and potential career, her own sanity begins to break as she isn’t entirely sure what is real and what is all in her head. Losing anything that ever mattered as the whole world begins turning on her with Helen’s public image becoming that of a deranged madwoman who has kidnapped and possibly even murdered a baby.
Helen’s tale grows more and more grim as the Candyman drags out his mental torture, attacking her in almost every way feasible except in truly attempting to kill her. As though he could do that at any time he desired, but what he really wants is to turn her into either a monster or a tragedy in the eyes of the people. In a way, by the end, Candyman succeeds in his efforts. Which to me is a breath of fresh air to have our villain accomplish his sinister goal to have our heroine meet a gruesome fate. Not many horror movies follow through in providing a conclusion where the villain technically wins and the hero loses, but this particular horror film had the guts to do it and executed the tragic end well enough to where we still feel satisfied with its exiting payoff.
Helen, the Sweet
Virginia Madsen, in this movie, I feel is a fairly underrated ‘Final Girl’ type that deserves more attention than currently given. Not to say that she’s totally forgotten by any means, however it seems in the grand scheme of horror, Madsen isn’t often celebrated nearly as much as say Jamie Lee Curtis as Laurie Strode, Heather Langenkamp as Nancy Thompson, or Sigourney Weaver as Ellen Ripley. Which is a shame seeing how strong a lead she proves herself to be in this truly solid performance of hers. Capturing an infectious spark in her character’s energy as the first half of the film largely relies on following Helen along with her investigation of the Candyman legend and her exploration through the gang ridden, suburban Chicago territory of Cabrini Green. Madsen is downright charming as hell playing this ambitiously determined woman simply trying to make her mark in the world through her writing, inspiring us as the audience to keep focus on her journey.
A gut feeling screams to me that if this particular Slasher were made even ten years later, say in 2002, this lead character would be written as an obnoxious teeny bopper who’s personality resembles that of the most vapid b*tch on the cheerleader squad one could ever imagine. I’m personally so glad that Candyman was still made in the age of Slashers where characters were written and portrayed to actually be likable rather than to cause distain for the audience so they only yearn for their demise. Helen possibly represents one of the very last in the era of likable Slasher leads for a very long time after 1992. Especially once Scream came around in 1996. Yes, Helen’s story is tragic, especially once the third act hits as we watch all this tension building inside of Helen as she begins to mentally buckle from the weight of her tormentor’s terrible destruction. With that said, just because it’s a bleak tale does not mean our leading lady should be annoying in order for me to not feel sympathy for her character. We still have to spend over an hour and a half with this woman, we shouldn’t be miserable and pleading for her death, we should be rooting for her from start to finish. Exactly what this script and this talented actress does effortlessly well; making us care.
Say His Name 5 Times…
So let’s get to the most obviously iconic aspect about this film, the titular horror villain himself performed to perfection by Tony Todd. There is a good reason why the Candyman has remained one of horror’s greatest icons after nearly thirty years and it is solely to do with Todd’s hypnotically terrifying performance. He’s unnerving to watch, to even listen to him speak immediately sends shivers down my spine with his haunting voice. Truth be told, it’s quite the accomplishment how much of an impression Candyman leaves on the viewer seeing how he legitimately doesn’t physically appear in the film until approximately forty-five minutes in. The only semblance of the character’s presence prior to the halfway point is through Helen’s investigation and with Todd’s opening monologue, which still to this day makes me sh*t a brick.
Setting Himself From the Rest
When we take a look back at all the biggest baddies within the Slasher genre, what are their overall motives when we break things down to the most basic of concepts? To kill, right? What does Michael Myers want? To kill anyone and everyone who crosses his path. How about Jason Voorhees? More or less the same. Freddy Krueger? Roughly still just wants to kill. Leatherface? Take one guess. That’s right… Kill! Now we analyze what the Candyman wants, in a sense, yes he still wants to kill Helen. Yet killing her is not his true end goal as death is only a single step towards immortalizing her as a monster like him. Candyman’s mission is not to end Helen’s life, but to utterly destroy it and mold it into a tragedy to be remembered by society throughout the years. Memorialize her into a ghost story to enforce the fear of those who believe in him so they both may live on forever as whispers amongst the people.
One would think when hearing Candyman’s objectives that his character would be coming from a place of malice, when in actuality he is sourced strangely from a place of love. I know that sounds completely absurd, but throughout the picture as we listen to Candyman urging Helen to be with him and accept her fate, it is clearly not in a spiteful manner. We especially can see from Tony Todd’s facial performance that he’s not angry at her, instead he seemingly feels remorse for putting her through this pain she must endure to be with him. The more we think about his origins and watch this character show compassion for this woman while also making her life a living hell, it makes one wonder just how much he even enjoys causing this mayhem. At first glance, Candyman certainly does relish in pain and fear, yet simultaneously I don’t believe he personally holds much satisfaction in killing anyone. At least not without purpose. Jason Voorhees will kill anyone in front of him without hesitation and never once regret it. With Candyman, I get the impression he only wants to commit murder if it means becoming closer to the woman he loves. This complexity adds a layer of genuine sorrow as Candyman is less a villain and more of a tragic figure.
Another strong key component that adds to the film is the gritty urban setting of Cabrini Green, which once was a real life housing project that was notorious for its heavy abundance of criminal activity; the film’s production actually took place on location as well. Apparently at the time of shooting, the environment was so bad that one day the film crew discovered a bullet hole in the camera operating van. Luckily there were never any other issues or injuries that I’m personally aware of, but to even step foot in a troubled neighborhood such as that must have been pretty nerve wracking.
Although filming in Cabrini Green was undoubtedly dangerous, it seems that the risk was well worth the reward as filming on location provided a legitimate grounded nature to the world we’re witnessing. We, as the audience, can easily connect to this world and fear it’s very realistic dangers surrounding our characters. Watching our leads walk through the gang ridden areas of Chicago, entire corridors covered in beautiful graffiti, instantly instilling a visually bleak tone to this world. Because of this brutal reality evoked from the location, when the story begins implementing the surreal and supernatural elements, we’re still able to make that leap as it feels the realms of reality and fantasy merge together seamlessly.
Even though I would ultimately classify this as a very loose variation of the Slasher subgenre, it still very much so has the incredible gore, makeup, and practical special effects that treat the eyes that is so particularly popular from Slashers. For the most part I would say that every effect utilized is solid and looks great, however the visuals that truly stand out from the crowd are ones not made with latex and lathered in corn syrup. What exactly am I speaking of? That would be the use of bees and hypnotism, both of which arguably supply the greatest effect to the visual suspense, outside of Tony Todd being Tony Todd of course!
Throughout the story, Helen is falling under a strange hypnotic trance from the Candyman. Watching the actress’s performance, one would swear that she was truly entranced. And that’s because she literally was hypnotized in those scenes, to the point where actress Virginia Madsen swears there are full days of production she seriously could not remember. Could she have performed those scenes on her own and done just as flawless of a job doing so? Probably, but the authenticity of our lead actress deeply succumbing to the real life act does add a level of unease as we watch our hero appear so helpless and defenseless against the Candyman.
The Money Shot
What’s one of the most remarkable stunts I’ve ever seen in a movie ever? Besides the hundreds of incredible near-death stunts performed by Tom Cruise, I mean. Tony Todd and Virginia Madsen completely covered in a swarm of bees. Naturally as I watch that scene, every time it creeps me out because anyone can tell with 100% certainty that these are not fake bees created through CGI or even miniature animatronics and the actors are legitimately there covered in hundreds of insects. A scene that maybe, possibly could have been achieved through the use of dummies sculpted to look like our leads. However, the fact of the matter is that both Todd and Madsen went all the way in committing to this beyond terrifying visual to bestow onto the big screen. Completely covering their faces, crawling all over their skin, in their ears, and even inside of Tony Todd’s mouth. It’s truly an incredible sight that I commend both actors tremendously in pulling off. I would have never in a million years agreed to do something as bold as that… Well, if they threw in a copy of Mannequin Two: On the Move then I’d think about it maybe.
Again, separating itself vastly from the horror mold by constructing yet another impressive element of filmmaking; that being the score which resembles nothing remotely reminiscent of a prototypical horror movie soundtrack. Sounding more of a melodic choir and orchestra evoking somber tones and dread rather than music only crafted to erupt the eardrums with sporadic combustions of violins or screeches. Every note sung and every key of the piano struck is performed with a heavy heart, yet filled with such beauty. Any time I hear the musical score from Candyman, I am immediately engrossed within the sheer melancholic melody of it all. Beautiful, plain and simple, this music is just beautiful! Contrasting against the horrific tale woven in the best possible way. So, I must say, thank you Philip Glass for being unbelievably skilled at what you do!
Candyman has stood the test of time for many reasons; it’s freaking scary, the themes of race and high class society vs. the lower class are well threaded into the writing while not being too overstated, Tony Todd is an excellent villain with a voice to make you either swoon or scream or both, Virginia Madsen is an underrated horror icon, the effects are some of the creepiest ever put to film, and the score is simply a delight and a half. If and whenever the Jordan Peele produced remake does eventually make its way into theaters, thanks Corona Virus, the latest installment of the franchise will have some major shoes to fill. Candyman was one of the scariest films of my childhood, was actually released the year I was born, and it still remains a thoughtfully terrifying experience. In the off chance that someone hasn’t seen this classic before, I strongly recommend buzzing your way into this hive of horror sweets!
Stick around and click on the links that I will soon leave right below as I plan on delving deeper into the Candyman franchise!
Candyman 2: Farewell to the Flesh
- 'Candyman 2: Farewell to the Flesh' (1995) A Buzzing Movie Review | HubPages
1992's 'Candyman' is one of my favorite horror movies to come out of the 1990s! So how does the 1995 direct follow-up stack against its predecessor? Are we treated to more of what makes the titular horror villain so iconic or are we going downhill to
Favorite Candyman Tale
That’s All Folks!
Candyman (1992)… What do you think about this horror classic? Like or dislike? Agree or disagree? Wonder how much you would declare to be paid for each sting received by a bee on your paycheck? Comment down below and let me know! Also, if you so happened to have enjoyed my review then please do me a favor and share this article around the social media world. Thank you all so much for reading and have yourselves a deliciously good day!
© 2020 John Plocar