Valley of the Mid-Price Franchises: CANDYMAN

Until recently, I’d never really considered Candyman to be a slasher flick – it’s frankly too high-end in both production unities and the overt themes of urban decay and the racial politics of a poor community being basically ignored by the surrounding world. But it’s also about a homicidal loon with a gnarly hook that he uses to shred innocent victims with… Beware spoilers.

candyman 1992CANDYMAN

4 Stars  1992/18/95m

“We dare you to say his name five times.”

Director/Writer: Bernard Rose / Writer: Clive Barker / Cast: Virginia Madsen, Tony Todd, Xander Berkeley, Kasi Lemmons, Vanessa Williams, Dejuan Guy, Michael Culkin, Stanley DeSantis, Gilbert Lewis.

Body Count: 5


I clearly remember trailers for Candyman when it came to the cable movie channels in the early 90s – a hooked hand smashing through a bathroom cabinet. “Ah, just another serial killer thriller,” thought 14-year-old me. Or not.

University of Illinois graduate students Helen Lyle and Bernadette Walsh are looking to publish their research on urban legends, with an apparent emphasis on the myth of the Candyman, a Bloody Mary-esque character who appears if you say his name five times in front of the mirror and then turn out the light, gutting you with his hooked hand. “It happened to my roommate’s boyfriend’s buddy’s girlfriend,” says a student they interview.

Helen finds out about a more recent murder in the (until recently real) projects of Cabrini-Green, Chicago, which is attributed by everyone but the cops to Candyman, and convinces a skeptical Bernadette to go and investigate the locus. They dodge gangs and meet Anne-Marie, the neighbour of the murdered woman, who heard her screaming through the walls. Ruthie Jean had called the cops to report somebody was breaking through her walls but they refused to believe her. Helen discovers that the apartments have been built so that fixed bathroom cabinets serve as access to the adjacent dwelling, which is how Ruthie Jean’s killer gained access to her apartment.

candyman 1992

On a high from this discovery and the belief that a regular murder has been scapegoated off to the legend, Helen goes into investigation overdrive at the cost of her own safety. She and Bernardette are schooled on the origins of the legend by a pompous professor (who returns for the sequel): Candyman was a talented artist from a relatively affluent background who committed the sin of falling in love with and impregnating a white woman. He was attacked, his painting hand cut off and the wound slathered in honey so that he was stung to death by bees, then his body was burned in a pyre.

A young Cabrini-Green resident, Jake, tells Helen of a boy whose genitals were cut off in a public bathroom in the projects. Helen goes with her camera to the toilets where she is attacked by a gang, led by a man who identifies himself as Candyman. The police believe the gang used Candyman’s name to enhance their credibility and this feeds into Helen’s belief that the legend is just that – until she has a strange encounter with a baritone-voiced, hook-handed man in the parking garage, who isn’t happy she disputes the legend.

candyman 1992

Helen wakes up disoriented in Anne-Marie’s bathroom, lying in a pool of blood. She staggers out to find the guard dog decapitated and Anne-Marie hysterical over her missing baby. The two tussle and the cops barge in just as Helen is crouched over the woman, wielding a meat cleaver to defend herself with. Suspected of abducting and killing baby Anthony, Helen secludes herself at home, where she is later attacked by Candyman, who guts Bernadette when she drops by, and frames Helen for the crime, who is then packed off to an asylum.

Candyman certainly doesn’t follow the standard Friday the 13th template of sexy teens being slain by the killer. While the babysitter tale plays like something out of an Elm Street rip-off, the bulk of the film has a lot more to say than the usual sex=death cliches. As one of very few non-white slashers in an American production, Candyman stands out as being probably the first urban-set horror flick, and could easily have been nothing more than a the usual textbook opus of attractive young people being killed one by one, but thanks to Clive Barker’s story (The Forbidden, originally set in Liverpool), there’s far more depth at play.

candyman 1992

The central motif around white people not venturing into Cabrini-Green – seemingly even the cops – has allowed Candyman to sew the seeds of fear throughout the community, reflects the plight of the real neighbourhood, plagued by crime right up until its eventual destruction in 2011, and probably scores of other housing projects across the nation, left to fester. The horror in Candyman is as much from the fears rooted in the reputations of such neighbourhoods as it is the eponymous villain, who doesn’t even appear until halfway through as it is.

Cast member Kasi Lemmons later said it was about taking responsibility for the monsters we create, insofar as the Candyman’s lynching created the demon, but society’s disregard for urban areas and housing projects eventually manifests in areas that the rest of society is afraid of. This is one of very few slasher films where the various levels of text could be written into a hundred different theses exploring the myriad of themes at play. As a piece of entertainment, it is scarier than much of its kin and, miraculously, is yet to suffer the indignity of a remake… but then let’s turn to the sequels, shall we?

*

CANDYMAN: FAREWELL TO THE FLESHcandyman 2 farewell to the flesh 1995

2.5 Stars  1995/18/91m

“Evil comes when you call his name.”

Director: Bill Condon / Writers: Clive Baker, Rand Ravich, Mark Kruger / Cast: Tony Todd, Kelly Rowan, Veronica Cartwright, Bill Nunn, William O’Leary, David Gianopoulos, Fay Hauser, Joshua Gibran Mayweather, Michael Culkin, Timothy Carhart, Matt Clark.

Body Count: 7


The inevitable sequel starts splendidly with pompous writer Phillip Purcel recapping the legend of Candyman, Helen Lyle, and then being dared to test the myth in front of an audience. He’s later assaulted by a young man whose father was possibly killed by Candyman. Purcell then pays for disrespecting the legend in a grimy New Orleans bar restroom. It’s interesting that the opening victim isn’t a nubile young woman for what feels like the first time ever, but a middle-aged British guy. Hey, maybe this won’t suck as hard as everybody says!

candyman 2 1995 michael culkin tony todd

Quite why or how Candyman has switched locus from the Chicago ghetto to the Old Quarter of New Orleans is a mystery – maybe he can be summoned anywhere – but we meet idealistic young art teacher Annie, sister of the man who assaulted Purcell as has been duly charged with his murder. Her mother Octavia (the awesome Cartwright), is counting her remaining days after a terminal cancer diagnosis, and her husband Paul just wants to be there for her.

Annie’s students are curious about the Candyman legend and she tries to prove it’s bullshit by saying his name five times into the mirror. Nothing happens – everyone chills. Then he appears later, guts Paul before her eyes, and pretty much says much of the same garb he said to Virginia Madsen last time.

candyman 2 1995

It eventually transpires that Annie is Candyman’s great-great-granddaughter (or great-great-great), and while her father died trying to put an end to the terror by tracking down the hand mirror that his spirit was originally swallowed up by, Octavia has tried to avoid her children discovering the familial connection at all costs.

To be honest, I wasn’t sure what Candyman’s endgame was in this one, but it didn’t feel like Annie was really in that much danger. Like Helen, she becomes the prime suspect when various people start to lose their insides, although this time someone finally believes her when CCTV is discovered proving that one idiot who did the name thing is gutted by an invisible foe.

candyman 2 1995 kelly rowan

Candyman’s status shifts to a sort of folk hero for this one, which has far less to say on the social divisions – in any subtle way at least – and suffers here and there from evidence budgetary constraints. Todd is still menacing and scary, the grue doesn’t hold much back, and New Orleans always makes for an appealing filmic backdrop. Rowan’s role is limited by its through-the-motions writing, and she doesn’t seem that traumatised by the pretty fucking gory murder of her husband right in front of her.

The biggest issue here is that the film doesn’t move far enough (bar geographically) from the template of the first one, and so feels like a retread.

*

candyman day of the dead 1999

CANDYMAN: DAY OF THE DEAD

2 Stars  1999/18/94m

“Blood is sharper than the blade.”

Director/Writer: Turi Meyer / Writer: Al Septien / Cast: Tony Todd, Donna D’Errico, Nick Corri, Wade Andrew Williams, Alexia Robinson, Ernie Hudson Jr., Mark Adair-Rios, Lupe Ontiveros, Robert O’Reilly.

Body Count: 15


It’s a sharp decline in quality for the third – and to date final – outing for Daniel Robitaille, as the series is dumbed down to little more than a second-rate Elm Street knock off (even featuring an actor from that movie), with bad FX and some dismal acting, as Baywatch alumnus D’Errico is cast as the grown-up daughter of Kelly Rowan’s character from the last film. Which makes her Candyman great-great-granddaughter. With her blue eyes, blonde hair, and whiter-than-white complexion…

Caroline is an artist, aware of her family history, and is talked into proving the legend is fake by saying his name five times before a mirror at an exhibition of Robitaille’s art work. Where that’s been all this time, nobody bothers to explain. Nor do they explain how he’s back after apparently being destroyed at the end of Farewell to the Flesh. These things are, however, the least of the Candyman 3‘s problems.

candyman 3 day of the dead 1999 tony todd

The action has moved again, this time to Los Angeles during Day of the Dead, and Latino culture is front and centre, with Nick Corri’s love interest helping her out after the first murders. There’s a scene where his grandmother makes Caroline talk to an egg, which is then broken into a dish. Admittedly, the extreme close-up of a bee crawling out of it is cool.

Instead of various characters being dumb enough to utter the name, Candyman gets his kicks by killing off Caroline’s friends and acquaintances who say they don’t believe the legend: People are skewered again, a naked woman is stung to death by bees, hook in the mouth blah blah blah, and Candyman takes out nine goths who worship him, all the while telling Caroline to be his victim.

candyman 3 day of the dead 1999 tony todd

Watch out for a cop car scene ripped off from the previous year’s Scream 2, the hilarious dance-shuffle the cop does into the room right at the end, and best of all D’Errico’s little-girl scream when she discovers the first bodies. This was so unbelievably bad I played it a dozen times until I could laugh no more. She also keeps calling Corri’s grandmother ‘A-boiler’ rather than ‘Abuela’.

Tony Todd fortunately got cast in Final Destination the following year, but this is a sad, sad end to a tale that started off so rich with contextual depth. Good for a laugh but cheapo sequels don’t come much more embarrassing than this.

candyman 3 day of the dead 1999 donna d'errico

Blurbs-of-interest: Tony Todd played Bludworth in Final Destination‘s 1, 2 and 5, was in Hatchet and the first sequeliMurders, Jack the Reaper, and Scarecrow Slayer; Xander Berkeley was in Deadly Dreams; look out for Ted Raimi as Billy (the boyfriend in the urban legend re-telling), Rusty Schwimmer (Jason Goes to Hell) as the policewoman, Ria Pavia from Hide and Go Shriek Veronica Cartwright was also in The Town That Dreaded Sundown re-do; Nick Corri was Rod in the original Elm Street and later appeared in Teacher’s Pet under his real name, Jsu Garcia.

R&R Rated R

club dread 2004

CLUB DREAD

3.5 Stars  2004/18/113m

“A vacation to die for.”

A.k.a. Broken Lizard’s Club Dread

Director/Writer: Jay Chandrasekhar / Writers: Kevin Heffernan, Steve Lemme, Paul Soter, Erik Stolhanske / Cast: Kevin Heffernan, Brittany Daniel, Jay Chandrasekhar, Steve Lemme, Paul Soter, Erik Stolhanske, Bill Paxton, Jordan Ladd, Lindsay Price, M.C. Gainey, Samm Levine.

Body Count: 15

Laughter Lines: “There’s always one guy like you who wants to shit in the apple pie. But you just shit in the one apple pie that knows how to shit back.”


Pitch this one halfway between Scary Movie and Behind the Mask. A huge flop at the box office (taking less than it’s production budget worldwide), Club Dread probably just came at the wrong time. Slasher movies being considered the lowest form of horror as it is, parodying them is likely seen as too easy a route to take in comedy as well.

Coconut Pete’s is a Spring Break-type paradise island for hedonistic youth, run by the titular stoner ex-rock star (Paxton, who is awesome), a sort of Ozzy Osbourne by way of the Beach Boys, and a staff made up of the Broken Lizard guys: the DJ, tennis pro, divemaster, ‘Fun Police’, and Lars, the new masseur. There’s also Jenny the aerobics instructor (played by ex-Sweet Valley High twin, Daniel).

club dread 2004

We’ve already seen a ménage à trois interrupted by the machete wielding psycho at the start, and festivities of the resort are soon hijacked with more bodies – including the human PacMan maze, Pete’s head of security taking on the killer (see Laughter Lines), and the best gag, a fleeing employee attempting to speed away in a golf cart that the killer out-walks.

The killer instructs the staff to carry on as normal if they want to stay alive, prompting their investigations to occur off the record. Lars and Jenny do most of the footwork, while divemaster Juan avoids the affections of slightly-unhinged guest Penelope (“Peena-loap”), and the group try to work out how the murders relate to Pete’s music of yore.

club dread 2004

The film was so limited in its release that I never got to see the theatrical cut, which ran 103 minutes. The unrated DVD version does go on too long and begins to drag as the BL gang milk their own jokes at the expense of giving their characters any depth. The film somewhat bows under the weight of the straight-bloke humor, complemented by requisite nudity, and none of the [few] female characters are written much comedic to do or say.

Why it ultimately failed is anyone’s guess. Something doesn’t work, but it’s not particularly easy to identify what – it just feels like it belongs to another time and place.

Blurbs-of-interest: Bill Paxton started his career with parts in Night Warning, Deadly Lessons, and Mortuary; Jordan Ladd was also in Madhouse.

Give auntie a kiss

nightmare maker night warning 1982

NIGHT WARNING

3 Stars  1982/18/93m

A.k.a. Butcher Baker Nightmare MakerThe Evil ProtegeMomma’s BoyNightmare MakerThrilled to Death

Director: William Asher / Writers: Alan Jay Glueckman, Boon Collins, Stephen Breimer / Cast: Susan Tyrrell, Jimmy McNichol, Bo Svenson, Julia Duffy, Marcia Lewis, Britt Leach, Steve Eastin, Cooper Neal, Bill Paxton, Caskey Swaim.

Body Count: 8

Laughter Lines: “It doesn’t make a whole lot of sense for a fag to rape your aunt.”


More of a prelude to the glossy 90s psycho thrillers like The Hand That Rocks the Cradle and Single White Female than any kind of Halloween clone – this title was highlighted as a Video Nasty back in 80s Britain and has yet to be re-released after a failed attempt to resubmit (as The Evil Protege) in 1987.

Tyrrell impresses as the over-protective aunt of Billy (McNichol), having raised him since his parents were killed in a suspicious car accident fourteen years earlier – which featured decapitation-by-log before Final Destination 2 did it. As Billy approaches 17, Aunt Cheryl decides she’ll do just about anything to ensure that he never leaves her, including screwing his chances at a basketball scholarship by drugging him before an important game.

After she stabs to death a gay TV repairman who rejected her advances and tells everybody he tried to rape her, the homophobic Detective in charge of the case suspects it was actually a closeted Billy instead. Sooner or later, she loses it entirely and begins killing anybody who comes close to learning the truth, in a twisted play on themes from Friday the 13th.

Despite being bundled in with grue-fests, there’s nothing particularly repellent here. In fact, Night Warning is one of the classier slashers from the early period, with more thought going into character motivations rather than a string of nubile teens lined up for the slaughter. Look for a young Bill Paxton as the jerky jock who gets the carton of milk poured over his head.

Blurbs-of-interest: Tyrrell played another unstable matriarch in Far From Home; Julia Duffy was also in Wacko; Bill Paxton was also in Mortuary around the same time, plus Deadly Lessons and Club Dread; Britt Leach was in Silent Night, Deadly Night; Caskey Swaim was the arsey paramedic in Friday the 13th Part V: A New Beginning.

Aromatherapy

reeker 2005REEKER

3 Stars  2005/15/87m

“Evil is in the air.”

Director/Writer: Dave Payne / Cast: Devon Gummersall, Tina Illman, Scott Whyte, Derek Richardson, Arielle Kebbell, Michael Ironside, Eric Mabius, David Hadinger.

Body Count: 8

Laughter Lines: “Are you afraid of the dark?” / “No, I’m afraid of psycho desert crackheads who hunt small animals with Dahmer’s garden tools.”


Spoilers in the road ahead. Commencing with a great double-shock opener which gives new meaning to the term roadkill, this strange little film, with echoes of Dead End, the terrible Soul Survivors, and even The Sixth Sense, strands five college kids during a ride share for a desert festival at a seemingly abandoned roadhouse.

The phones are out, nobody’s around for miles, and whomever was there before them was obviously a bit mad – and might still be there. They’re soon joined by Michael Ironside in his enormous RV, looking for his absent wife. Apparent ghosts also appear, though only to us, the characters can’t see them for the most part.

A bad smell fills the air and an incorporeal cloaked figure manifests to start killing everybody one by one with a variety of almost comically oversized and bizarre contraptions, forecast each time by the stench – one poor soul is pulled down into an outhouse toilet, recalling Sleepaway Camp II. The characters fall as expected, leaving the predictable pair to duke it out with their hunter. The blind guy falls back on his other senses to help save the day.

reeker 2005

The twist – obvious to anyone who has seen the aforementioned titles – is nicely realised and elevates Reeker from being confusingly dumb to a little bit smart, wrapping up its loose ends without the need to staple gun on a last second shock.

Going the funny-gruesome route was the right move and there are some genuinely LOL moments from Scott Whyte’s paranoid frat boy, and Ironside is dependably amusing. A pre-Ugly Betty Eric Mabius also turns up as a nasty drug dealer. Watch to the end of the credits to read the disclaimer from the filmmakers calling out critics before they whip up any clever puns on the title to say the movie stinks.

*

NO MAN’S LAND: THE RISE OF THE REEno man's land rise of the reekerKER

2 Stars  2008/18/85m

“Terror lurks between the living and the dead.”

Director/Writer: Dave Payne / Cast: Michael Muhney, Mircea Monroe, Stephen Martines, Valerie Cruz, Robert Pine, Desmond Askew, Gil Birmingham, Michael Robert Brandon, Ben Gunther.

Body Count: 10

Laughter Lines: “Bad smells are nature’s warning.”


Reeker‘s semi-clever twist was clearly enough for creator Dave Payne to forge ahead with a sequel with bits of a prequel to prevent in from becoming a Xerox of the first one. Both play like reverse Final Destination instalments though: The cast members of gorily offed by the blurry Krueger-esque creature, and the high concept FX work is showcased at the end as the event that caused their induction into limbo is revealed.

It’s back to the secluded diner again, with a trio of bank hopeless robbers in the mix, father and son issues between local Sheriffs, and not-so-funny comic relief is inserted to try and thicken and lend depth to the characters, but little of it works after the opening manoeuvre, which veers off in a not so predictable direction.

The ultimate catastrophe is good, but not different enough to that of the first film, rendering it all a bit void. Askew is good as the leader of the rubbish robbers though.

Blurbs-of-interest: Michael Ironside was also in American NightmareVisiting HoursHello Mary Lou: Prom Night IIChildren of the Corn: Revelation, and Fallen Angels; Arielle Kebbell was also in Red Mist; Desmond Askew was in Turistas.

Like, Cold Prey, dude

shredder 2001

SHREDDER

3.5 Stars  2001/15/83m

“Icy dead people.”

Director/Writer: Greg Huson / Writer: Craig Carlson / Cast: Scott Weinger, Juleah Weikel, Lindsey McKeon, Billy O’, Brad Hawkins, Holly Towne, Peter Riggs, Candace Moon, Ron Varela, Seth Reston.

Body Count: 13

Laughter Lines: “There’s folks around here don’t want you near that place. It’s dangerous… evil.”


Likeable characters and a scrappy production approach elevate this Idaho-lensed ancestor of Iced over and above most straight-to-video efforts, which throws a group of snowboarding college kids into a condemned ski resort where a mystery-loon in skis has it in for them.

Friend-zoned nice guy Cole thinks he and rich Daddy’s girl Kimberly are going alone to Rocky Summit, but she has invited her cousin and some friends (who say ‘dude’ and ‘whatever’ a lot), and intends on meeting her real object of lust there. Alas, he boarded into a wire trap and lost his head during the credits.

shredder 2001

The locals are quick to warn the outsiders of the ‘restless spirits’ that curse the mountain, and there’s a relevant backstory of a young girl who skied a tree after being chased by a trio of drunk snowboarders some years earlier. The teens play drinking games, flirt, bribe the horny local sheriff into letting them stay, and get picked off one by one by the rule-stickler skier, who axes them, hangs them, and impales-via-icicle.

The film makes the most of its chilly seclusion, with characters huddled in the lodge with only lanterns and sleeping bags; bodies are found in snow-angel formations; a camcorder ejects a tsunami of blood, and there’s a good chase scene, where a severed head becomes stuck on the end of a ski-pole. Shredder also elects a final boy for its third act, shaking things up a bit.

shredder 2001 lindsey mckeon

The identity of the killer is fairly obvious and, once revealed, means the character was able to teleport around the locus like lightning. But this is a teen slasher film, rarely will you find one that stands up to logistic scrutiny. The lean 83 minute runtime has excised all the chaff so it’s certainly not boring and also rocks a pretty fun soundtrack, although some early-CG FX work leaves a lot to be desired. IMDb lists the film was being released in 2003, but I remember picking it up in Blockbuster in 2001, when I was looking to rent The Pool.

Don’t go in expecting another Cold Prey and you should have a good time with this.

Blurb-of-interest: The adorable Billy O’ was previously in Lovers Lane.

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