The Test of Time: Candyman (1992)

We all have certain movies we love. Movies we respect without question because of either tradition, childhood love, or because they’ve always been classics. However, as time keeps ticking, do those classics still hold up? Do they remain must see? So…the point of this column is to determine how a film holds up for a modern horror audience, to see if it stands the Test of Time.

Candyman Tony Todd Bernard Rose Clive Barker

Director: Director: Bernard Rose
Starring: Virginia Madsen, Xander Berkeley, and Tony Todd.

Last time here at The Test of Time, I examined PSYCHO II, a movie made after Alfred Hitchcock was already dead. While PSYCHO remains an undeniable classic, the brand name Hitchcock obviously is partly responsible for making it what it is. Sometimes a name has that kinda power. Now Clive Barker isn’t in Hitchcock’s class…let’s not get stupid. Like the fat old dead man, however, Barker has a particular style and brand; fans know what they are in for. HELLRAISER remains Barker’s most popular product, yet he created another series that deserves attention. But does the first film hold up against the test of time?

Under the examination: CANDYMAN.

Candyman Tony Todd Bernard Rose Clive Barker

He's going to ruin that fine coat.

THE STORY: Graduate student Helen (Virginia Madsen) is working on her thesis about modern folklore along with her BFF Bernie (Kasi Lemmons). They start doing interviews about urban legends, which leads them to the story of Candyman, a dude with a hook hand who, if you say his name five times in the mirror, will appear and make something very, very bad happen. Their research takes them to Chicago’s projects, where supposedly his last victim was killed. The more they investigate, the closer they get to the truth…which is obviously bad news for all involved.

Candyman Tony Todd Bernard Rose Clive Barker virginia madsen

"No worries. This looks safe."

WHAT STILL HOLDS UP: What works about CANDYMAN is that it isn’t just another slasher movie, another dumbed down horror film, and it isn’t one of Barker’s weird sexual movies with too much leather. No, CANDYMAN plays more like a psychological mind f*ck, one that not only has plenty of blood and gore (to keep the kids happy), but it has nudity too (again, for the kids).

Actually, this is a pretty deep flick, one that goes places that few other horror movies do. Not only does it deliver a solid choice for the villain in the great Tony Todd (probably one of the best voices in show business), but he’s a true tortured soul. His performance isn’t over-the-top as expected. Instead, he conveys a true darkness that makes you feel for the guy even as he kills folks and drives poor Helen insane. In fact, that push for insanity ends up one of the main reason why CANDYMAN works. When Helen wakes up surrounded and covered in blood. She doesn’t remember a thing, doesn’t feel like she killed anyone, but all signs point to her. When Candyman does appear, only she can see him…which obviously makes her sound all kinds of nutty.

Candyman Tony Todd Bernard Rose Clive Barker

She's fine. Just a scratch.

What’s great about the urban legend of Candyman is the mystery that comes with it…is he only a myth or something more? Is he a ghost? A real dude? Or is he part of Helen’s overactive imagination? After all, that’s the thing about urban legends, right? They exist in part because someone believes in them. If Helen was already nuts (but just damn good about hiding it), did her belief in Candyman just bring out her full crazy that remained hidden for so long? I don’t know. But the end result is pretty entertaining.

At the same time, it’s cool to see an urban horror movie not taking place in perfect California or NYC. Instead, we have Cabrini-Green, a rough looking housing project on Chicago’s North Side. It’s a nasty location, not a sexy one. When Helen and Bernie venture there to look at murder scenes, it feels fully dangerous: a bad place where bad things happened. That’s what director Bernard Rose (who wrote the script based off Barker’s story) does best. He gives you the right mood and makes CANDYMAN more than your average horror flick.

Candyman Tony Todd Bernard Rose Clive Barker

Best shot in the film. No lie.

WHAT BLOWS NOW: My main issue with CANDYMAN is that it’s a bit dull at times. I know, I know…not every movie moves at a Michael Bay speed and it’s all to build the suspense and the psychological business, but still. It’s a little on the boring side. Then there’s the end of the film, which I find a little too easy…and anticlimactic. I wanted either more or less. Actually, less because I dug the vagueness of the legend, the unclear truth.

THE VERDICT: CANDYMAN isn’t an immature horror movie. It's truly an adult horror experience, rarely dumbing things down or having elements just to be there. Sure, there’s that hot coed who moves in with Helen’s husband and there’s plenty of blood and guts, but they actually seem to exist to serve the story. And that’s pretty damn refreshing to see.


Candyman Tony Todd Bernard Rose Clive Barker

Movie magic!



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