A Candyman Retrospective

A Candyman Retrospective

Jordan Peele has been on an undeniable roll within the horror genre. The fantastic Get Out was a chilling, smart and unforgettable horror film with a terrific racial overtone. His next film Us, while not as good, was another chilling horror film with great racial overtones. If anything, it makes sense that this is the man who would deliver us a remake of the chilling, smart and unforgettable horror film with excellent racial undertones – Candyman. Granted, Peele is not directing this one, but with his hand on the wheel somewhere, it’s a film in safe hands.

The first trailer for the remake dropped recently and I was shocked to find that a few people I knew had no idea that it was a remake. So, now is as good a time as any to look back at the original Candyman.

1992’s Candyman is without a doubt one of the best horror films of its time. Loosely based on Clive Barker’s The Forbidden, Candyman follows Helen, a graduate student who is writing a thesis on urban myths. She stumbles across the story of Candyman – a tall, hook handed figure who will appear if you say his name five times in the mirror, then he will, and I quote, ‘split you from your groin to your gullet’. Intrigued by the myth, and the mysterious murders in the location, the Cabrini-Green housing project, she goes to study and ultimately disprove the myth. But soon, she finds the Candyman to be not only terrifyingly real, but that her meddling has brought his wrath with him.

Where to start with this one? Candyman is a film that is great on the first watch, and then improves and deepens the more time passes. I actually didn’t pick up on the racial element to the film until I saw a documentary that looked deeper into it – this made me see Candyman in a new, and somehow more positive, light. But let’s start with the basics. Virginia Marsden and Tony Todd play the roles of Helen and Candyman, and few horror films have cast characters so perfectly before or since.

Marsden is not the typical horror heroine; she never screams, she never relies on anyone else (with possibly the bizarre subversion of her relying on Candyman towards the end) and is entirely human. She’s an interesting character who exceeds such characters as those seen in other such horrors – she may even be on par with original Alien Ripley. Equal to the task is Todd.

Not only is he physically perfect for the role – fit and well over six-foot tall. Not only does Todd’s deep voice add a great deal of poetic menace to the character. He plays it like he is the Phantom of the Opera – a deeply tragic figure, and just as dangerous. He manages to be over-the-top without being hammy with the material. It’s a perfect villain performance. The second you see him in that parking lot, speaking in that sing-song way, you are, like Helen, entranced.

Candyman is masterfully directed and written by Bernard Rose – who has not had the best filmography afterwards. It was a low budget, and I’d be lying if I said that didn’t show – the gore make-up in particular is very cheap looking. But his delivery of the film is very raw and gritty, while also keeping to an urban gothic fairytale nature of the film’s story. All the external scenes of Cabrini-Green were shot at Cabrini-Green – and honestly, it’s eye opening to how disgusting it was to expect people to live in those conditions.

The film uses graffiti and dereliction gives the film an otherworldly vibe, despite how realistic it actually it. Candyman is an excellent example of what the term Urban Fantasy means.

It’s by no means a perfect film though. Again, it can look a little too cheap at points. I think that some of the side characters, such as Helen’s research partner or the woman whose son is abducted by Candyman, are a little underdeveloped. Mostly though, the film starts off as a gripping mystery fantasy and ends as a chilling classic Hollywood monster film – such as Frankenstein, Dracula and Phantom of the Opera. Both are great and feel natural to the film.

But there is a large portion of the middle that feels like a typical slasher film – loosing the nuance for a time, and it’s a shame. I also have to accept that I hate it when horror films put people in an asylum – I don’t know what it is about that setting, but it always makes me mentally check out for some time.

For me, however, it is not the excellent execution, performances or important racial undertones of the film that seal the deal. For me, that’s the fact that Candyman is one of only a few films to genuinely scare me. Powerful imagery and an excellently haunting soundtrack are what achieves this for me. We all know of Tony Todd having real bees coming out of his mouth, and it’s as pleasant as it sounds. The film uses gore to excellent use. Normally there is a buildup – the door opens, there is blood on the floor, we follow it and see the body.

Candyman does it differently. We open the door, see the body, and then see the mess with it. We don’t have that build up to what we already know. We see a dead dog (its head anyway) so we know what has happened – then we see the blood carried through two rooms. What did he do to that dog! Is what we scream. The same happens with the disturbing ending and the castrated child earlier on – an already disturbing concept.

All of this makes Candyman a horror film with true staying power – and I want more people to see it! While it is billed as a slasher film, it is more than just that. I would even argue that it is just as important now as it was when it was first made. The upcoming film has, admittedly, an interesting angle story wise. It certainly looks better than the sequels – the first of which had some interesting visuals, but was a cliched follow-up, not really worth your time, and the second sequel was just tosh.

I am interested, but cautiously as the trailer also gave me the same vibes I got from the remakes of A Nightmare on Elm Street and Friday the 13th – although I did feel the same about the trailers to Halloween 2018, and that was alright. Peele has been on a role, and it would be nice seeing a follow-up that this fantastic classic deserves.

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Callum spends most free days with friends (mostly watching films, to be honest), caring for his dog, writing, more writing and watching films whenever he can find the chance (which is very often).