Sweets for the Sweet – 20 Years of Candyman
by Dustin Hall
“What is blood for, if not for shedding?”
This year saw not only the 25th anniversary of Hellraiser, but also the 20th anniversary of another Clive Barker creation, Candyman. The two are not, by any means, on equal footing, and it is daunting, in some ways, to do a retrospective on the pair so close to each other, when Pinhead became such a transcendent, timeless force, and Candyman has drifted into such a humble holding pattern in pop-culture.
However, to say Candyman is without any impact would be to do it a disservice. Based upon the short story The Forbidden, it was released back in 1992 to some critical acclaim, gained two sequels, and has continued to earn the respect of film fans across the decades.
At this point, the film is loaded with nostalgia, and film connections missed in the original watching. The opening features the old Tri-Star Pegasus logo, and some awkward practical effects of bees swarming over an entire city. Ted Raimi makes an appearance as a hopelessly miscast motorcycle riding bad boy, come to use his beguiling charms on the flattest starlet in recent memory (surely, what separates a 90’s film from an 80’s one). The score is fantastically Carpenter-esque, full of chanting choirs and organs piping, and there are even a couple instances of people yelling ‘psych!’ to punctuate their jokes. Ahh, so 90’s.
But, despite the foibles of the era and the turning of time, Candyman still holds its own as a story. It features Virginia Madsen (Dune) as a college graduate who is studying the lasting nature of folklore and superstition on modern society. In particular, she has a fascination with the Candyman, a legend much like Bloody Mary, an urban myth which has a particular power amongst the local population. Her investigations lead her to find that the myth has a connection to the notorious Cabrini-Green, an actual slum that, until 2011, was actually located in the North of Chicago, and was known for gang violence and terrible living conditions. Virginia finds that the Candyman, a figure with a terrible past and a fearful, vengeful spirit, may really inhabit Cabrini-Green, and her meddling has set his attentions upon her.
The best horror films tend to reflect certain personal truths and real-world terrors in their otherwise fantastical settings. The ghettos, in this case, hold as much threat and terror as the Candyman himself, and many of the characters are lucky that the only pains suffered from the gangs they encounter are black eyes and bruised egos. Likewise, Clive Barker has always been good at making stories that are relatable and analogous to some much more cerebral concept. Candyman is no exception, tying in with the familiar concept of urban myths. Candyman’s mirror transport powers are much like Bloody Mary’s and his deformed hand is much like the hook-handed man of so many tales. The power of those stories comes, typically, from some sort of truthful occurrence, or gains power from an association with a real place. The filmmakers, by using the real Cabrini-Green as an inspiration for Candyman’s origins, have given him an enduring life in the real world, with chat boards and forums speculating that the urban legend is a real, centuries old legend, rather than something from one of Barker’s short stories. The Candyman has left the film, and become a real legend after all.
And why not? The Candyman, though a simple villain in appearance, is hauntingly portrayed by Tony Todd (Hatchet), and with nothing more than a pimpin’ coat, a metal hook, and a bit of voice modulation, he leaves a lasting impression. Well, maybe a bit more than that. I mean, he’s got bees in his mouth. BEES! IN HIS MOUTH! All those bees don’t stop Candyman from dropping some extremely poetic one liners, though, or from letting out some downright sexual grunts and he hooks people from groin to grin.
With all of this quality up on the screen, its hard to believe that Candyman never became as potent of a franchise as Hellraiser, or so many other slashers out there. But unlike Freddy and Pinhead, Candyman never had a sequel that was up to snuff. His returns simply diminished too quickly. Candyman 2: Farewell to the Flesh moved the legend to Louisiana, and was a serviceable but mediocre sequel. The less said about Candyman 3, the better. For most, his tale remains a one-shot, isolated in time, and without its anchor, now that Cabrini-Green no longer stands to give credence to the legend. But Clive Barker has mentioned that he has interest in reacquiring the rights to Candyman for a revival. Maybe in 25 years time, we’ll be celebrating that landmark with a comparison between the first and fourth films. Maybe the Candyman’s legend is not yet done.