I’m writing this review after rewatching a film which I remember fondly from my youth in the 1990’s. It has reminded me of the fact that when I watched this aged 14 in 1994 I was far too young to rent this 18-rated film from the local VHS rental shop, and that I absolutely shat my pants with fear – metaphorically of course!
In short, this reporter woman called Helen (Virginia Madsen) is looking into urban myths. She comes across the legend of “Candyman”, which is not all to different from other urban legends like “Bloody Mary”. The theory is that if you say “Candyman” five times while looking in the mirror, he’ll appear and kill you. She does some journo digging with family of the victims and other high society socialites she happens to be in circles with. The more she learns about him, the more she becomes obsessed with finding out the truth, but also, the more she starts seemingly becoming nuts. While doing her investigation people around her are murdered and she becomes suspect number 1 in the killings. Soon everyone is looking for her, but she’s fallen into a world of madness and murder all thanks to “Candyman”.
This is a beautifully shot psychological horror with mystery and suspense, which I was too young to be watching aged 14. It has plenty of gore which my mum wouldn’t have been happy with me watching in my youth, but has since become a staple of my film diet. This film has had a lasting effect on me throughout my life, even today, if presented with the opportunity, I’ll randomly jump behind friends who are looking in the mirror and try to summon Candyman to see if it scares them or just makes then think I’m a dick.
The film stars Tony Todd, who has some great credits to his name and seems to randomly pop up to give some serious presence to films he’s in. This was my first experience with him as a lead but I’ve since seen him in all sorts both on TV and big screen new and old, such as “Final Destination” (2000), “Wishmaster” (1997), “The Crow” (1994), “The Rock” (1996), a remake of “Night of the Living Dead” (1990). He plays Candyman with a lot of power and character, making him a truly fearful presence. He drives the film forward as much when it’s just his voice guiding Helen, as he does when his 6’5″ frame is visible. Opposite him, as the reporter Helen Lyle, is Virginia Madsen. Madsen is no stranger to the screen either, playing Princess Irulan in “Dune” (1984), and Louise in “Highlander II: The Quickening” (1991) – as well as a vast amount of films and TV shows. She is great in the film, she plays a character who goes from intrigued and innocent, to becoming a victim, and then completely flips it around to become a powerful mystery that strikes fear into people.
Directed and written by Bernard Rose, and based on a Clive Barker story “The Forbidden”, this is not just a modern horror with roots in historical urban legends. There is a disurbing and haunting feel to it which is provided by a combination of Phillip Glass working on sound, and Anthony Richmond on cinematography. Barker’s original story “The Forbidden” underwent a lot changes to be brought to the big screen, the book was set in Barker’s hometown of Liverpool, England, but the film brings the action to Chicago. While scouting Chicago, Rose came across the Cabrini Green housing estate, which was poorly constructed, had a high crime rate, and randomly sat in-between more affluent housing areas. A strange fact that I learned, the recess between the bathroom mirrors that Helen discovers is actually a real thing that was built into the Cabrini Green housing, and it was actually exploited in real life for robbery and murder. In order to secure Cabrini Green a deal was struck which would put real life residents in the role of extras in the film. Deals had to be made with some of the gangs on the estate too, which was risky business and for that reason a police presence was never far away.
Another notable change was the character of Candyman himself, he was originally written as a white male so to have Todd in it was a complete contrast, especially when you consider that this is in part a love story as much as it is a horror. As such this became an inter-racial love story, which was ahead of it’s time in some sense. While this was a good thing, there were also negative receptions to it and the film too, as it stereotyping the crime ridden slums as a mainly black part of town.
The film is a poetic, visceral and disturbing work. More than just an out-and-out horror film this becomes so much more thanks to a tight cast and some excellent work behind the camera too. I always remembered this being a loud film, and rewatching it again I concur with my teenage memories – it’s loud, it’s haunting, and it’s smacks you across the face. The musical score really compliments the pace and suspense of the feature. As a child I’d have given this film an 8 or a 9 because I loved gory horror films, but having rewatched this as an adult with a wider appreciation of film, and then compared to other films it’d have to give this a 7 instead. Not because it’s in any way poorer than I remember it being, because it really is a great film. More because my appreciation of film has grown and I’ve seen a massive array of films since – I have to be realistic and consider all the other films I’ve seen when rating this beauty.
This is a cult classic that has stood the test of time. Original, well delivered, and a lot of fun