We Dare You to Say His Name Five Times
It’s the 4th of October 2022 and that can mean only one thing, it’s time for another instalment in our KOween 31 Days of Halloween feature. Today we are taking at look at the original version of the Supernatural Horror movie Candyman from 1992.
We are reviewing a horror movie a day for the entirety of October 2022 leading up to Halloween. These reviews will be shorter and more straight to the point than my standard format. We will feature a range of movies from classics to a few indie darlings. You can check out the entire KO-Ween feature by clicking right here.
Based on a short story called The Forbidden by the fantastic English horror writer Clive Barker. Bernard Rose’s Candyman changes the setting from Liverpool, England to the projects of Chicago, Illinois. Apparently Bernard Rose was a fan of the short story by Barker and asked him for the filmmaking rights. After witnessing the poverty, and the racial prejudice that caused it, of communities in Chicago, he decided to set the movie there.
Against a backdrop of crime and violence, Rose created a horror story unlike any around at that time. Candyman was a horror movie with a social conscience. It presented real life issues facing poor, marginalised communities in America and pointed the finger at the people responsible for causing them. It was controversial and somewhat misunderstood at the time. Indeed, it is a movie that probably fits in better with a modern day, more socially aware, horror landscape than that of the early 90s.
Set in and around the projects of Cabrini Green, Candyman is unique in its presentation. Characters are struggling to survive in a community that is beaten down by racism and poverty. A boogieman created by the very same racism that was holding them back now haunts their homes and community spaces. Bernard Rose opened a door into this everyday struggle and also created a bloody good horror movie to go along with it.
Repeat his name five times in the mirror and he shall appear. This was the legend of the Candyman. Helen Lyle, a university student played by Virginia Madsen, is researching urban legends and learns of the tale of the Candyman. Over two dozen murders have been attributed to the Candyman, including a recent murder in a local project.
Helen and her friend Bernadette, played by Kasi Lemmons, decide to head to Cabrini Green. They are working on a thesis that aims to prove that residents of Cabrini Green use the Candyman as a reason for the violence around them. A sort of coping method. Before they head off, they decide to say Candyman’s name five times in front of a mirror… You know, just for good measure.
Becoming more and more obsessed with the legend of Candyman, Helen makes numerous trips to Cabrini Green. She learns from a professor that Candyman was the son of a slave. A fantastic artist, Candyman fell in love with, and impregnated, a white girl. The white girl’s father organised a lynch mob to kill the Candyman. The mob caught up with him, cut off his hand and smeared him with stolen honey. The honey attracted bees which stung him to death. His body was burned and his ashes were scattered over the land which became Cabrini Green.
Helen, when visiting Cabrini Green, is informed of a developmentally disabled boy who was castrated in a public toilet by the Candyman. Helen decides to visit the toilet only to be attacked by someone claiming to be the Candyman. The attacker is arrested, identified by Helen and turns out to be a local gang leader. The police assume that he is likely responsible for all of the murders attributed to The Candyman. If this is to be believed, the legend is obviously dead and there was a more tangible explanation.
As Helen walks through a parking garage, the actual Candyman appears to her. He tells Helen that she is responsible for diminishing the legend surrounding him. Now Candyman will have to shed innocent blood to once again remind people of the legend of the Candyman. Helen will play a pivotal role in bringing fear back to the name Candyman.
I am a huge fan of Candyman. With that in mind, I am obviously going to be pretty bias here. I genuinely believe that Tony Todd, as the Candyman, gives one of the most memorable, and fantastic performances in horror history.
He is genuinely terrifying without ever really needing to resort to tried and test horror tropes. He has a quiet, sinister, demeanour that stays with you after the movie is done. It helps that Tony Todd is a huge guy standing 6′ 5″ and looks every bit the intimidating boogieman of legend.
This plays into the larger picture when it comes to Candyman. The movie never feels like it has to go out of its way to be scary. The setting of Cabrini Green is a monster in and of itself. Bernard Rose and Virginia Madsen scouted locations on Cabrini Green and were left disturbed by the experience. Shooting on location required deals being made with local gang members to include them in the movie in exchange for protection. Hell, even one of the methods used to highlight the death of a character in the movie was something that happened in a Chicago project in real life. The impact of racism on a community and the cycle of poverty was as much of a villain as the Candyman himself.
This was all something that Bernard Rose wanted to point out. Racist white people created the horrors of the Candyman in the same way that they created the horrors of Cabrini Green. The White Saviour aspect underlined the reality that communities in America are facing issues that require fundamental shifts in societal attitudes. Everyone is responsible and it starts with all of us pushing for change.
Many misunderstood these messages at the time confusing them as potentially racist. This is obviously understandable. There was, apparently, the suggestion that the movie perpetuates fears middle class white people have about black communities. The reality, however, is perhaps more how white people are scared to look at the issues racism has created for black communities. Many white people like to convince themselves that these places are dangerous or violent. This is obviously a myth in the same way Candyman is. The reality is they are regular places trying to survive against the discrimination and difficulties placed upon them by a racist society.
The acting in Candyman is generally fantastic, all things considered. In my opinion, there isn’t a weak performance in the entire movie. Tony Todd, as mentioned earlier, is incredible as the Candyman. He offers up one of my all time favourite horror performances. Virginia Madsen is also excellent as Helen. The cast is fairly large though, despite this, all the side characters are great.
Nothing in Candyman is played for laughs or with that typical cheesiness that often accompanied horror movies of this era. It is deadly serious and all the better for it. Bernard Rose wants viewers to realise that, regardless of this being a movie, much of the horror present is very real.
Cinematography is great, despite being presented in a raw and authentic manner. Cabrini Green is a depressing place albeit full of life. The area is rife with boarded up windows, poor construction and dilapidated buildings. The camera perfectly captures the everyday plight of the ordinary people attempting to survive against a backdrop of poverty and institutional racism. There are some interesting set designs including a creepy gothic church that really stand out. The obvious contrast between the richer areas of Chicago and the projects highlight the disparity between how the communities in the area lived.
Candyman evidently featured some real commitment to the cause of authentic filmmaking. Real bees were used for pretty much every scene featuring them. There was, obviously, a 100% commitment to the cause from all of the crew when making Candyman.
Virginia Madsen was, apparently, highly allergic to bee stings so this was likely terrifying for her. Tony Todd actually had to have bees placed in his mouth for one scene. He was stung over 20 times during production but, smartly, managed to negotiate a $1000 bonus for each sting. Not nearly enough if you ask me.
The bees weren’t the only unusual method employed during filming. For scenes where the Candyman talks to Helen, Viriginia Madsen was actually hypnotised to reflect the effect Candyman had on her. That shows a level of creativity, and something of a reckless disregard for your cast, that you don’t see much anymore. I believe the pay off is significant, however, as those scenes are fantastic and truly impactful.
Honestly, I think it is. Candyman has held up tremendously. It isn’t going to have the same impact that it had 30 years ago. But Candyman is still an unsettling film that will stay with you. The issues presented were very real then and they are still real now. Candyman’s social commentary would be just as relevant in a modern setting.
The biggest negative I can say about Candyman is that the sequels just didn’t hold up. Although Tony Todd reprised his role, the stories were often similar and just nowhere near as poignant or scary. The recent remake is even worse. I watched as I am a massive fan of Candyman and I quite enjoy remakes of older movies. I was hoping for something good but I absolutely hated it. A series with important social commentary was replaced, chiefly, by a boring slasher with a bland lead, a glib ham-fisted message, and absolutely no finesse.
Candyman is a fantastic horror movie that stands up even today. A terrifying antagonist with a troubled past coupled with an important social message regarding racism and the cycle of poverty add up to make a horror that was way ahead of its time.
Fantastic acting and a standout performance from Tony Todd combine with a compelling narrative to keep you interested. The scares are frequent and the ominous atmosphere and tension never let up. The societal implications may make Candyman a difficult watch for some people but the issues are very real. A few scenes are pretty hard hitting and the movie never really pulls its punches. A long run time may put a few people off but Candyman is a movie all horror fans should watch at least once. Do yourself a favour and ignore the recent remake, it sucks, watch the original instead.