Face-Off: Hellraiser vs. Candyman

Yesterday saw the release of HELLRAISER: JUDGMENT (you can pick up a copy at THIS LINK), the tenth entry in the franchise that author Clive Barker began with his 1987 feature directorial debut. With HELLRAISER on the brain this week, I decided to pit Barker's film against what is probably the second most popular movie that has sprung from his imagination, Bernard Rose's 1992 film CANDYMAN. Both HELLRAISER and CANDYMAN are considered classics, and both brought new icons to the horror genre - but when they're put head-to-head, which will come out the victor? Let's find out.
At the center of this film's story is a puzzle box that when solved opens a gateway to a hellish dimension, and through this gate comes beings called the Cenobites, "demons to some, angels to others". These beings exist to give people the ultimate experience in pain and pleasure, skinning and dismembering them in the process. The people they give this treatment to stay in the other dimension with them forever - but this time, one escapes. When blood is spilled on the spot where the Cenobites took him, a man named Frank Cotton returns to our world, his body reforming piece by piece... he just lacks skin. He needs more blood to be spilled so his skin will form. But escaping from the other dimension is like escaping from prison; it's only a matter of time before the authorities, in this case the Cenobites, come hunting down the escapee. There are only the most basic of explanations given, but the concept is fascinating and unique.
Candyman is introduced as an urban legend similar to Bloody Mary - say his name in a mirror and this hook-handed killer will appear to add you to his body count. As the film digs into the legend, we learn that Candyman was the son of a wealthy former slave, an artist who impregnated a woman he had been hired to paint a portrait of, the daughter of a white landowner. In 1890, hooligans hired by the landowner murdered the painter, sawing off his right hand and smearing honey on him, causing him to be stung to death by bees. The honey earned him the nickname Candyman, he replaced his hand with a hook, and now his spirit haunts the spot where he was killed and his ashes scattered: the spot where the Cabrini-Green housing projects stand in 1992. Candyman draws power from the fear of people who believe in his legend; it has made him immortal. It's a very interesting take on urban legends and the real stories behind them. In this case, the legend just happens to be entirely true.
Pinhead achieves horror icon status almost as soon as he steps on screen, his look is so unique and striking. Even though he's flanked by other creatures that have similar styles, the intricacy of his look makes him stand out from the pack - so of course, he also happens to be the leader of these Cenobites. Doug Bradley makes him seem both frightening and regal as he handles the communication with the people who open the puzzle box, making grand threats but also being open to making deals. Maybe. He's the classiest angel/demon to ever wear bondage gear and sport rotting teeth.
Candyman doesn't reveal himself to be real until almost the midway point of the film, but he makes up for lost time in the second half, dropping our heroine into a nightmarish reality where he's always appearing to her and trying to talk her into joining him in his twisted afterlife. With this role, Tony Todd got to be dangerous and imposing while also playing seductive... although his monologues about shedding innocent blood and requests that someone "be my victim" aren't exactly alluring. It's a classic monster performance, and Todd has referred to the character as his Phantom of the Opera.
Ashley Laurence's Kirsty Cotton is a young woman with the sense not to like or trust her father's wife, Julia, even before she finds out Julia has been cheating on her dad with her uncle Frank and killing people for him. We find out how smart and strong Kirsty is when she opens the puzzle box and, faced with the existence of the Cenobites, is still able to think clearly enough to figure out that Frank has escaped from them and to try to work out a deal with them: she'll lead them to Frank if they'll let her go. She faces murderers to save herself, and when the Cenobites try to take her she's capable enough to figure out how to defeat them anyway.
Virginia Madsen plays Helen Lyle, a headstrong, intelligent, fearless woman who is just too driven to succeed - stories often punish characters that are overly determined to achieve a goal, and this is one of those stories. While gathering information on urban legends for a thesis paper, Helen dooms herself when she gets excited by the idea of having her paper published and boasts that her research will bury an urban legend expert. She's not painted in a negative light, though. We're on her side, experiencing the horror through her perspective, wanting to see her get out of the mess she puts herself in. And to ditch her cheating husband.
This is a film where a married woman goes around town picking up guys so she can lure them into the attic of her home, where she murders them because their spilled blood will cause the skin to reform on her skinless lover, who has just escaped from Hell and happens to be her husband's filthy wayward brother. Yeah, there's some seriously disturbing content here, and when compared to how despicable some of the human characters are, the emissaries of Hell start to seem like decent characters. They might rip people to pieces with hooks and tear their souls apart, but at least they have a code of honor. Frank is one of cinema's all-time slimiest characters, troubling to look at even when he has skin as he seduces his brother's wife with aggressiveness and an obviously dubbed voice.
CANDYMAN has a lot of down-to-earth elements that I find to be even more disturbing than the supernatural being the film is named after. The palpable danger as characters make their way around the rundown projects, the stories of a little boy being castrated in a public restroom and a woman killed by an intruder who broke in through the open space behind her bathroom medicine cabinet (a story made even more unnerving by the fact that it's based on a real life murder). Even the obvious infidelity of Helen's husband gets to me. An event that really shakes me is when Helen wakes up in an apartment where an infant has been abducted and the place has been coated in the blood of a dog that had its head hacked off with a cleaver. Not every horror film will take you to a place that messed up.
Whether there's a monster lurking in the attic, one that happens to be a brother and lover to characters living below, or if there are supernatural beings from Hell stalking the screen, or if there's just a homeless man eating crickets, every moment in HELLRAISER is enveloped in a thick atmosphere designed to put the viewer on edge, afraid to see what sort of awful thing might be around the corner. Viewers might not jump, but it's likely they'll be freaked out.
This is, like HELLRAISER, the sort of film that's more interested in filling you with dread and being psychologically troubling than it is in making you jump, but there are some jolts here and there, most notably in a moment where Candyman's hook comes smashing through a medicine cabinet right in front of Helen. I don't find Candyman himself to be all that scary, but I do worry about the well-being of the characters, from Helen to the baby that gets stuck in a bonfire.
This was a close one, as HELLRAISER and CANDYMAN are both excellent horror films that I have a lot of respect for. While I find CANDYMAN to be the more interesting film in some ways, HELLRAISER pulls off the win in this Face-Off by being slightly more disturbing and a bit scarier.

Do you agree with the outcome, or do you think CANDYMAN should have beaten HELLRAISER? Share your thoughts on these films by leaving a comment below. If you would like to send in suggestions for future Face-Off articles, you can reach me at [email protected].



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