Oh, Clive Barker, why are you the only human who consistently is able to terrify me? If you’ve been reading this blog long enough then you know about my fear of Pinhead. As a preteen, I tried multiple times to watchCandyman and could never get through it. Recently, my coworker looked at me and said, “You’re obsessed with Candyman.” You’re damn right I am! First of all, there’s the fact that it is incredibly rare to find a movie that scares me enough that I can’t get through it. Second of all, it just feeds my obsession with urban legends. Thirdly, there’s my (now moderate) terror of bees. What I think really stuck with me, as a pre-teen, and why the movie has such resonance years later, is how it dealt with hot-button issues. What I really didn’t understand as a kid was how the movie was really about the seduction of a white woman by a black man and her compliance in said seduction.
The movie follows Virginia Madsen’s character, Helen Lyle, a grad student studying urban legends.
She discovers a connection to the Candyman urban legend in the death of a woman, Ruthie Jean, in the Cabrini-Green housing projects. Candyman is like Bloody Mary, in the sense that you summon him by saying his name a specific amount of times into a mirror.
Candyman’s back story is that he was the son of a slave and a talented painter. He fell in love with the white woman whose portrait he was supposed to paint. Her father was furious when he found out that she was pregnant and hired goons to lynch him. They chopped his right hand off then smeared him with honey. He was stung to death by bees and he was then burned. His ashes were spread where the projects were built.
Of course, Helen and Bernadette try to summon him.
Nothing happens…at first. Helen and her friend Bernadette (Kasi Lemmons) visit the projects and discover a kind of hell. Anne-Marie (Vanessa A. Williams) and Jake (DeJuan Guy) become her Virgil as she descends into the inferno and realizes that Candyman may just be real.
Candyman (Played by the insanely talented Tony Todd–seriously, this man is like a force of nature) starts to appear to Helen.
He also starts to kill and it looks like Helen is the killer. As Candyman says, a legend is nothing without belief and occasionally, believers need to be reminded why they should be frightened.
The only word to describe Candyman’s visitations with Helen is seductive. At one point, he hovers over her bed.
He’s never loud or brash but appears to be an intelligent, cultivated man-legend–if you ignore his bloody stump.
The fur-lined coat makes Candyman appear regal and it helps that Tony Todd is 6’5″. He’s very physically imposing.
I think that the film-makers had to tread very carefully here. Let’s face it–from Birth of a Nation onward, American film has a problem with portraying attractive white women being victimized by bestial black men. I actually think they succeed at creating a character who’s a vengeful spirit but is also motivated by love. Towards the end of the movie, new graffiti appears that says, “It’s always been you, Helen.” You wonder, is Helen reincarnated or does she just remind Candyman of his lost love? Candyman was created by extreme acts of racism and you end up sympathizing with him to a degree.
Watching the movie, I really wanted Helen to succumb to Candyman. There’s a scene in the movie, where she’s at a restaurant with her friends and husband and you realize that she’s surrounded by idiots–except for possibly Bernadette. You start to think that Candyman is probably a better option for her than these dullards. Helen retains her humanity enough to save Anne-Marie’s baby, but becomes a legend herself. I mean literally, she becomes an urban legend.
What impressed my mind the most, as a kid, was the visceral horror. This movie is quite gory for a mainstream release. And it’s not always body-horror, either. What I call “the shit bathroom” terrified me as a child.
I think that the toilet full of bees is where I would normally lose it and turn the movie off. This wouldn’t be a Clive Barker movie if there wasn’t some body horror.
Yeah, I pretty much lose it when Candyman kisses Helen and he has a mouth full of bees. Bees!
What accentuates the horror is the amazing music. Philip Glass did the score, it’s mostly piano, organ, and choral music. It actually provides a nice contrast for the urban horrors that you see on screen. It’s as if the music is saying, “You can have your highrises but you can’t escape the pain of the past.”
I watched the making-of featurette on the DVD and found out that Carbini-Green was a real place. It’s a real housing-project in Chicago and scenes of the movie were filmed there. They also hired gang members to play the men heckling Helen and Bernadette when they first visit the projects. Real life and horror really can intersect, because the Cabrini-Green projects was the site of an insane amount of violence. The projects no longer stand–they were demolished recently and its residents dispersed. I’m not sure whether or not to be happy about that news.
Rewatching Candyman was like seeing an old friend again. The movie still scared me but not to the point that it did when I was little. It was kind of nice seeing it again, like we were both equals. The movie said, “See how scary I am?” and I answered, “See how scary I am?”
- Scarina--the authoress and editrix of this site. I like scary movies and have dedicated my free time to cataloging horror--the good, the bad, and the ugly. Sometimes there are books too.
There's film criticism, literary criticism, and humor here. I can be highbrow but there's lots of pop culture too. And feminism.
I fervently love "Twin Peaks" and wish it were a real place so I could move there. I can't list my favorite scary movies because they change depending on my mood, the season, and how much coffee I've had.
I'm an artist looking for ways to blend creepy with cute. I try to channel my childhood nightmares, my love of horror, and my experiences with sleepy paralysis.
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