Throwback Thursday: Candyman
Candyman (1992) movie review
Based on the short story “The Forbidden” by Clive Barker, Candyman is a horror film that follows Helen, a grad student researching a local myth surrounding several murders. The story goes that if you look into a mirror and say his name five times, Candyman appears and, using his hook of a right hand, gruesomely kills whoever summons him. The film was released in October, 1992 to a modest box office haul considering its budget. That said, thanks to a fairly decent critical reception, the film found its way to cult classic status with ease.
I hadn’t seen the original Candyman until this past week, in preparation for the upcoming sequel/remake. Now if you haven’t seen the original and you were curious how it is, well, it’s not bad. That said, I can see why the film never took off. Candyman bites off a bit more than its 90 minute runtime can handle, often delving into very interesting ideas with the inability to bring them to fruition. That said, while it is also light on scares, it is a decent watch. So yeah, go check it out. And honestly, the less you know going in, the better.
As I just alluded to, the mystery angle in Candyman is easily the most interesting thing about the film. Of course we as the horror audience know it’s not all myth… Right? RIGHT!? While I wouldn’t dare spoil this almost thirty year old film, the story following Helen’s investigation is an interesting one with several twists and turns that catch you off guard when it comes to what the audience expects from conventional horror films. And this is certainly an unconventional one at times.
That said, while the first third or so of the film feels to be compelling build up the titular characters true reveal (which is only inevitable in a film titled- well you know,) this does mean only brief and trivial jump-scares early on. The finale relies more on what I think I can aptly call ‘fear factor’ than anything else, leaving only a small chunk of the film to really fill in some good horror. In this case, ‘good horror’ included a solid scare and little else. The use of bees in that finale are certainly chilling, but let’s just say the film didn’t exactly keep me up after watching it…
Look, it’s not NOT scary. In fact I would argue that, thanks to the unconventional nature of both the story and the antagonist, Candyman delivers a truly amazing scare. But it does take half the film to really get creepy. And by the end, the film does leave a mark, but its almost more of a depressing mark than a horrifying one. That isn’t bad, as there are more than a few horror films that leave you with a different emotion than you expected. Also Philip Glass’s score helps. Its not great, but it’s certainly eerie.
That said, one performance almost totally makes up for it, as each word from Tony Todd sends a chill up one’s spine. The rest of the performances are pretty good, but this man I believe single-handedly- single hookedly? This man single hookedly willed this film into the status that it currently holds somewhere between truly iconic and B horror. Along for the ride is probably one of the all time greatest horror movie costumes I’ve seen, bringing together Candyman’s ensemble quite horrifically. In a good way.
Now the best and worst thing about Candyman is the subtext in the story itself. While the narrative plays with hos much ‘subtext’ subtext can be, often pointing out what could be more poignant if left to the audience’s imagination, there’s some interesting discussions to be had about the setting, a suburban Chicago apartment complex that ended up being fairly well known for its rise in crime due to the dismissive nature of the owners, and of course, having a black antagonist in a horror film. That’s not really that common when you think about it. While there is plenty that could be said about the intent of the story, I think the film plays on these elements fairly well thanks to the other story beats that it also ends up subverting.
Sure you could have a character who maybe is and maybe isn’t but probably is there and make that interesting, or you could tell a delicate story about a black antagonist essentially stalking a white woman- which when you put it plainly, doesn’t sound too good. But when you combine those elements, you get a VERY interesting subject to study when it comes to essentially irrational fears and the way these fears regarding race are seen. The same goes with the Cabrini-Green location, being the location that the Candyman legend began appearing, or at least began truly circulating. Is this a way to cope with the rising crime in the area thematically, or is that a conclusion that Helen unjustly comes to? Either way, I do love that you get to look at the way this film presents these ideas without having a conclusion hitting you over the head by the end.
Sadly, as good as the film is, it ends in possibly the worst note it could have ended on. The resolution is so interesting than anything past that feels redundant. Yet, horror movies often can’t resist one last scare, and like A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984), this one will have you going “Huh?” by the very end. It’s silly.
Still I think the film is decent overall. Sure it could be scarier, and adding to the runtime would help full the film with more tension while keeping the unique story being told. But the film does fine on its own thanks to a few sharp twists and turns that keep it hard too predict. Tony Todd steals every scene he is in, rightfully so; and what scares there are are still impactful thanks to some imaginative practical effects that apparently got him stung by bees twenty-six times. And you don’t really have to read into it too much unless you want to, and if you want to you can really dig in! It’s a solid watch on a number of levels, and while I didn’t love it, I am looking forward to seeing what else can come from this now iconic character. Overall, I think it could have been better, but it’s a solid watch. 6/10.
So Candyman? Crap how many times have I said that? Well I uh- I gotta go…
-review by Ryan Prince