This is a brilliant psychological slasher film based upon the short story, ‘The Forbidden’, from ‘The Books of Blood’ collections by British writer, Clive Barker, the same guy who brought us ‘Hellraiser’. Candyman is very different to Hellraiser, though it shares its brilliance; it scares the audience in a very dissimilar way.
Virginia Madsen stars as the protagonist, Helen Lyle, a graduate student conducting research into urban legends and folklore. I might add, this film was made way before ‘Urban Legend,’ and deals with these stories in a much darker and richer way.
Helen stumbles upon the story of Candyman (played by Tony Todd) while interviewing freshmen about the local superstitions; anyone that says his name in the mirror five times then summons him and is murdered by Candyman’s hook, which is jammed into his bloody stump.
Helen disbelieves this and finds it very amusing; she then calls his name in the mirror and unleashes the being. This borrows from the legend of ‘Bloody Mary’, where you also have to look in the mirror and say her name thirteen times. The great thing about this movie is that the character of Helen, thinks herself above these ‘tales,’ so calling Candyman really doesn’t threaten her. After all, she’s educated and simply thinks that the society of Cabrini-Green have made up this character to deal with the horrors of their everyday lives.
Then, when Candyman appears to her, darkness descends onto the film, and we are cleverly put into Helen’s position of not knowing what’s real. The creeping fear in this piece, adds the question is Helen really experiencing the horror of Candyman, or slowly descending into madness?
Another layer to this film is the fact that the killer is a black male. Helen’s best-friend is black, Bernadette (Kaci Lemmons) and Cabrini-Green is made up of mostly lower class black people. After all, Candyman is born of extreme racism, so the film could be read that the victims are being punished for what their ancestors have done. The writer plays with different fears, the fear that America is born of slavery and the fear that you shouldn’t travel into certain areas; there is no horror movie house, no creepy castle. The place that scares these characters is the inner city.
The film takes you to a different emotional realm. The music, composed by Philip Glass, is beautiful and gothic, as is the film itself, for example, the beautiful exterior shots of Chicago in the opening credits compared to the sinister Cabrini-Green.
The main reason I love this film is because of the emotional roller-coaster it takes you on, and how you become attached to the character of Helen, played brilliantly by Virginia Madsen. Portrayed as strong minded and brave, while at the same time feeling insecure that she isn’t everything her husband still wants (he’s a complete idiot). Following her story, the audience really sympathises with the character and her need to prove her sanity.
This is an amazing horror, and stands apart from the rest. Director, Bernard Rose, adds many subtexts to the piece which makes it a layered film that can be viewed many times.