This movie surprised me. Everything about it is classier than I expected. From his reputation you’d think this Candyman guy is just a B-list Jason or Freddy type. But it turns out he’s more a classic movie monster like Dracula or the Phantom of the Opera. And his movie has more subtext than all of Freddy and Jason’s pictures put together, including JASON X. Hell, throw in a couple Child’s Plays too. And one or two Halloweens. And one Silent Night Deadly Night. No Texas Chainsaws though, that would tip the scale.
You know why we have to deal with Jason? Because of some horny counselors not doing their job. Freddy, because of some overzealous parents who took the law into their own hands. Dr. Phibes because some doctors fucked up a heart operation. But we got Candyman because of a bigger reason: America’s history of racist oppression. This is the only slasher/ghost movie I know of that deals with the legacy of slavery and racism (only BLACULA comes close).
Candyman (who is never given another name) was the son of a slave who was an inventor of a machine used in the mass production of shoes (the shoe gin, I’d call it). Anyway that’s Candyman’s dad, but Candyman (who wears really nice shoes, come to think of it) was a talented portrait artist who fell in love with one of his rich white lady subjects, and for that he got lynched. Actually, not just lynched – they cut his hand off and rubbed honeycomb all over his face. Which explains why now, in ghost form, he has a hook jammed into his bloody stump and a beehive in his ribcage. Then they burned him and spread his ashes over what would become Cabrini Green, the notorious Chicago housing projects.
So Candyman haunts Cabrini Green, and race and class issues haunt the whole movie. The main character is some white lady (Virginia Madsen), who’s working on a thesis about urban legends when she hears the story of Candyman murdering somebody in Cabrini Green. She decides it will make her thesis more interesting to go find out about this murder. And the whole movie has the tension of the upper class white woman going sticking her nose in other people’s business. It makes you uncomfortable to see her bothering (and in some cases endangering) the black cleaning staff at the college, some poor single mother in the projects, and a little kid. And it seems like they’re supposed to be impressed that she’s working on a thesis. Good job, white lady.
The movie draws a parallel between “the bad part of town” and the haunted house from old movies. Her best friend played by Kasi Lemmons (director of EVE’S BAYOU) says “I won’t even drive past there.” But together they go to the scary projects (filmed on location), walk past the gangbangers and drug dealers (played by the actual residents) and explore the abandoned, graffitied apartment where a strange murder took place. These ladies figure Candyman is an urban legend like the other ones they’ve studied, but Candyman begs to differ. The fact that Madsen is casting doubt on his existence forces him to “shed innocent blood.” Because if people stop worrying about him existing then by some kind of supernatural technicality that means he won’t exist anymore.
The famous thing is like the old “Bloody Mary” urban legend: look into the mirror and say “Candyman” 5 times and he’ll appear. This isn’t as big of a part of the movie as I expected. But I like how Candyman enters the world through the mirror and Virginia Madsen enters the apartments through the mirror. She discovers that one flaw in the cheap construction of the projects is that you can remove the medicine cabinet and climb into the bathroom of the apartment next to you. Writer/director Bernard Rose says that came from a real murder that happened in some projects. I don’t know if it really happened or if it happened to his uncle’s friend.
According to my math this movie came before the URBAN LEGEND movies, making it URBAN LEGEND 0: CANDYMAN. It has the various spooky touches based on urban legends, the college professor giving a lecture on urban legends, etc. Everything except the suckiness.
There’s alot of things that make this movie stand out, like the score by Philip Glass, the creepy use of live bees, and the real fancy coat Candyman wears. But my favorite thing is that crazy shit happens that you assume has to be a dream, and then it’s not. About halfway through the movie the white lady sees Candyman for the first time – he walks up to her in a parking garage, of all places. And then all the sudden she wakes up laying in a puddle of blood in the bathroom of the single mother she bothered in Cabrini Green. The mother is screaming in the other room and on the floor there’s a bloody meat cleaver and the severed head of the lady’s dog. Virginia picks up the meat cleaver and goes to investigate. She finds out the mother is screaming because there’s blood everywhere and her baby is gone. When she sees Virginia obviously she assumes she killed the baby and she jumps on her. You’d think it couldn’t get much worse then this but then Virginia fucks up by hitting the poor lady with the meat cleaver.
Even this far into the mayhem I was thinking this would turn out to be a dream or a delusion, but before I knew it she was at the police station covered in blood, crying and begging for a shower while she gets strip searched. Her cheating college professor husband shows up, horrified, and you have to laugh picturing some poor bastard cop having to explain to this prick how his wife ended up in jail.
So it really doesn’t follow the standard formula of this type of movie at all, and it gets kind of surreal. There’s some pretty brutal and gorey death scenes but it doesn’t have the kind of tension of a chase movie like TEXAS CHAIN SAW or HALLOWEEN. In fact Virginia Madsen never runs from him because when she sees him she gets hypnotized (they say they really hypnotized her in these scenes, no shit!) and then he does weird shit like open his mouth and bees fly out (he really put bees in his mouth!). So maybe it’s a little slower than a Freddy or a Jason, but it’s a good trade.
My one complaint is that you don’t really know why people call him Candyman. There’s one part where she finds a bunch of Halloween candy with razor blades in his lair, but if he was fucking with trick or treaters they must’ve cut that subplot out. We never see him carrying a bunch of candy in his pockets or anything. And I doubt he eats alot of candy because he’s pretty slim. Unless maybe he eats it but the bees in his rib cage digest it for him. Anyway, a guy with a huge bloody hook hand with a million bees crawling all over him and flying out of his mouth, I don’t think anybody’s gonna fixate on a subtle detail like he has a pile of candy on the floor. They’re gonna call him Hookman or Hiveman or something. Candyman – that’s just poor nicknaming. The only logical explanation I can think of is if his real name is Steve Candyman or something like that. But if that’s the case they should’ve mentioned it.
VERN has been reviewing movies since 1999 and is the author of the books SEAGALOGY: A STUDY OF THE ASS-KICKING FILMS OF STEVEN SEAGAL, YIPPEE KI-YAY MOVIEGOER!: WRITINGS ON BRUCE WILLIS, BADASS CINEMA AND OTHER IMPORTANT TOPICS and NIKETOWN: A NOVEL. His horror-action novel WORM ON A HOOK will arrive later this year.