Director: Bernard Rose
While investigating the "Candyman" urban legend for her thesis, infectiously beautiful Helen (Madsen) encounters the real deal (or does she?), which renders her life bitter-sweet through a gory chain of events in consequence.
Having the crappy "Candyman 3" fresh in my mind, I had forgotten what a mature, frightening and skilled piece of filmmaking the original "Candyman" was. Based on a Clive Barker tale (called “The Forbidden”), this ambitious, cerebral and beautifully crafted piece of horror celluloid definitely hit the spot with its well constructed screenplay, its classy, absorbing visuals (loved the use of paintings and those damn bees), its layered African-American nemesis (rare in a horror film) and its strong, drop dead gorgeous heroine, Helen (Madsen).
"Candyman" also doubled-down on the quality by constantly playing the psychological mind-bending card throughout its run. The flick addressed the fascinating question “If we believe in something, does it make it real?” and didn’t hold back in baffling my brain waves with its ambiguity and insane happenings. What made the film so much more powerful for me is that it slapped my bootie in the heroine’s shoes, making sure that I experienced her taxing ordeal as hardcore as she did. The two key "disorienting" moments in the movie where Helen blacked out and found herself in new “places", pounded my skull to the wall until my fluids leaked out. What a lesson! Ouch! I felt those scenes. Thank you so much, may I have another?
The open-to-interpretation approach in regards to Helen's position in all of this mayhem and the Candyman’s hazy nature also contributed to keeping me riveted to the screen. I appreciated that Rose had enough faith in his audience not to spell everything out for us. Yes, we get to use our brains here for a change! YIPPEE! To top that off, the film went on to be more than a psycho-horror assault on the cracker by taking the necessary time to address relevant issues on its way, such as living in the projects, poverty, racial tension and the roots of all urban legends. Thankfully, the movie never felt the need to force-feed its themes down my throat. It put them out there and let me absorb what I wanted from them.
On the sour lick, one aspect that didn’t fully satisfy me was the handling of the love story. I would’ve liked a deeper exploration in its regard and further clarification. The way it’s presented here, I was stroked but never to the point of full gratification. Being the mush that I am; I wanted to be touched by the love thang and moved by it. That didn’t happen. Lastly, I had mixed feelings about the film’s closing frames. On one end, they worked in a guttural, if not typical, horror movie fashion but on the other hand, they kind of clashed with the more intelligent questions which the movie was asking through its previous hour and a half. I’m so torn when it comes to those last frames. They felt too easy for a film that proved to be above the norm in terms of genre smarts.
Overall, "Candyman" was still-- without a doubt-- a superior horror film set in a novel setting (the projects) and showcasing one creepy, charming and deep-voiced villain with a badass hook for a hand (Tony Todd rocks!). It aimed at getting its cake and eating it too and pulled that off 99% of the time. It takes more than cheap scares and a lightning pace to make a good horror film; it also takes depth and soul. "Candyman" got that covered along with reddish goods. Let’s celebrate and bite on razor blades!
It gets “Cherry Blossom” red in the house. We get lots of folks being gutted by the Candy Boy’s hook, a dog's severed head, nasty blade gashes and lots of after-the-fact blood. Messy.
Virginia Madsen (Helen) was, in my eyes, the movie. Her credibility and sympathy factor could’ve made or broken this flick. Luckily for us, the lady was up to the task and effortlessly carried this tale on her back through her solid performance. Tony Todd (Candyman) was all-menacing charm with a soft side to him. And that deep voice…DAMN! Xander Berkeley (Trevor) played the cheating a-hole, as a human cheating a-hole. He gave what could’ve been a one-dimensional role in a lesser actor’ hands, a sense of dimension. Kasi Lemmons (Bernadette) was very natural as the best friend and I bought her character.
T & A
Virginia Madsen shows her breasts on two occasions. Once blood-soaked (not pleasant) and once all clean in a tub (ahhh…much better). The ladies get Candyman’s naked hook.
Rose is up to task, continually playing in two extremes via his directing style. His visuals were either subtle, slow and steady or quick, in-your-face and flashy. That gave the film quite a hypnotic aura. Tag to that, true moments of suspense, kool overhead shots of the city, a brilliant use of art, awesome shot compositions and effective slow motion...and you get a visual candy cane.
The astounding score by Phillip Glass contributed to the film’s eerie and surreal feel. I loved it and own it!
In a day and age (2003, that is) where a lot of horror movies seem to be snipped of all their substance by studios to appeal to 13-year old moviegoers, it was refreshing to reacquaint myself with a film that put emphasis where it mattered: characters, script, ambiguity, narrative structure, while at the same time, delivering the bon-bon we expect from a horror cupcake via the gore and the potent scares. Want else do you want? Let’s say “Candyman” five times in the mirror, in the hopes that more horror movies of this caliber will be released in the years to come.
Clive Barker had directed a short adaptation of “The Forbidden” in London before "Candyman" came about.
Watch for the Ted Raimi cameo as the motorcycle dude early on.
Bernard Rose also directed the very good “Paperhouse”.
Virginia Madsen is the sister of actor Michael Madsen (aka Mr. Blonde).