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.
“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.
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.
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.
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 FLESH
“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!
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.
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’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
“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.
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.
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.
Blurbs-of-interest: Tony Todd played Bludworth in Final Destination‘s 1, 2 and 5, was in Hatchet and the first sequel, iMurders, 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.