Halloween season is upon us and it’s time to get creepy here on Geeks + Gamers! First place to start is on our very own podcast network, GeekPulse Radio, where you’ll find the chilling podcast Beyond the Grave (or BTG for short). Hosted by yours truly, BTG is a variety show comprised of various segments (reviews, skits, short stories, and commentary) to take you deep into the world of horror. Each week this month, I’ll be deep-diving into a different film leading up to Halloween: highlighting what makes the film so special, it’s horror legacy, fun-facts, and more. First up out of dark depths of 90s is, in my opinion, the most underrated slasher film of all-time, Candyman.
Candyman (1992) directed by Bernard Rose
They will say that I have shed innocent blood. What’s blood for if not for shedding? With my hook for a hand, I’ll split you from your groin to your gullet. I came for you…
Between the erotic synths of Phillip Glass’ score and Tony Todd’s haunting delivery of the opening lines, the first few minutes of Candyman are a simply divine introduction to this fascinating film. Few horror films are described as “divine,” but Candyman is by far the most elegant slasher film out there. It’s more than your typical slasher. The film is described on IMdB as “The Candyman, a murderous soul with a hook for a hand, is accidentally summoned to reality by a skeptic grad student researching the monster’s myth.” That description makes it sound straight forward, but that’s just the surface level of this movie. Let’s go “Beyond the Grave” to see what makes this urban legend so memorable!
What makes Candyman so dope?
As mentioned above, there is more to Candyman than meets the eye. Yes, it is, at its heart, a slasher flick, but it also is a character study as we witness Helen (played magnificently by Virginia Madsen) spiral into madness. It also has some social commentary on inner-city life and has shades of gothic romance to it as well. Many Clive Barker stories have been made into films with varying degrees of success, but Bernard Rose does an incredible job of adapting The Forbidden by staying true to it’s core elements and expanding the story around it. The film seamlessly flows from Helen’s growing obsession with The Candyman to that obsession getting her accused of murder all the way to her final redemption during the film’s climax. I loved the misdirect with the gang using Candyman’s name, Helen’s relationship with residents of Cabrini-Green, and her matching of wits against the killer himself. Helen is a dynamic ‘Final Girl,’ showing time and time again her strength and will power. It’s also her strength that becomes her weakness. Her persistence almost lands her in prison. Not only is she a great character, I honestly have to say that Madsen gives one of the better performances in horror, especially amazing at a time when movies were focused on scares over acting. Her eyes alone deserve credit. We see multiple scenes of her entranced by the Candyman sold perfectly through her eyes. Without this, it would be hard to justify her character’s fascination.
Candyman sports a great lead and intricate plot, but it’s the lavish production design that does it for me. Phillip Glass’ score is absolutely gorgeous. Also, as I’ve already touched on, it’s so hard not gush over the opening scene. Glass’ score plays as we take a look at Chicago, a setting that is key to the film, before leading into Todd’s bellowing monologue. The score gained popularity over time and eventually 7,500 copies of a limited edition were released (which I would kill to get my hands on). The score is prominent through the film and provides the film with some of it’s defining traits. Candyman has often been described as poetic and theatrical. The score is so unique to this film and contrasts with grimy, Chicago landscape. The film also has this haze over it, appearing as a long dream, similar to the 70s (it’s no wonder I love The Texas Chainsaw Massacre so much). Candyman made a lot of artistic choices that had people scratching their head because, at the time of its release, there hadn’t been any slasher films like it. Over 20 years later, this statement is, more-or-less, still true.
But how dope can a horror movie actually be if it’s not scary? Candyman definitely covers the bases here with a variety of terrors, which the film utilizes in two ways: the horror you see and the horror you don’t. Candyman is filled with disturbing imagery that has given me nightmares since I was a kid. The film thrives on building tension through it’s storytelling, like when little Jake is telling the story of bathroom mutilation. The description of details lead up to the horrifying, vile image of a little boy in a pool of blood holding his manhood. It still gets me every time. There is also a scene where Candyman murders Helen’s friend Bernadette, where the focus is on the powerless Helen who is bleeding and trying to warn her, but all you can hear are the sounds of The Candyman violently killing Bernadette with his hook. Though you don’t actually see it, the blood spattering sound effects and Candyman’s grunts are more than enough to send goosebumps across your entire body. Even though more of the focus in Candyman is on the characters and story, there is more than enough blood and carnage to satisfy any horror fan.
The Rise of Horror Icon
Just like the film itself, I’m halfway through this article barely talking about the titular character himself, the Candyman. I hadn’t noticed until my recent rewatch that Candyman is a 99-minute film and the boogeyman doesn’t make is first appearance until the 45-minute mark. Talk about building tension! Though it takes a bit to see him, his presence is felt throughout the film. Candyman does a great job playing on the characteristics of an urban legend, successfully fleshing out their own story with his grim backstory. Candyman was the son of a rich slave owner who was raised polite and civilized. He was a talented artist who was widely sought after for his portraits. When he was commissioned to paint a beautiful young girl, a forbidden love was born which resulted in her getting pregnant. Infuriated, her father had a mob chase him down, cut off his hand, and covered him in honey to be devoured by bees in what is now the Cabrini-Green projects. As the story of his sinister demise spread, Candyman grew in power, killing any brave soul that dare summon him by saying his name 5 times in the mirror. The Candyman is a mix of inspirations from classic urban legends as The Boogeyman, Phantom of the Opera, and Bloody Mary. Between his dapper attire, iconic hook for a hand, and the voice of a demonic angel, the Candyman has all the makings of an iconic slasher. But it’s the man behind the bees that cemented the killers place in horror history.
Though he had been seen in films such as Platoon and Lean on Me, Tony Todd became a horror superstar from his performance in Candyman. The iconic role lead Todd into many other horror properties, such as the Final Destination and Hatchet franchises. Though the film was swirling with controversy in pre-production, Todd was excited to create his own iconic slasher. Since then, he has championed the role, known for his numerous convention appearances and fan interactions. The casting was perfect: Todd is an imposing figure, standing at 6’5, but it’s his smooth demeanor that’s even more terrifying. Todd’s voice has become one of the most recognizable in entertainment, which was utilized big time in Candyman. Like I said before, you don’t see him for the first half of the film, but his presence is felt the whole time. His chilling voice-over introduces us to the film and immediately peaks our interest. Though the sync is a little off, the choice to use a slightly-modulated version of Todd’s voice pays off by giving him a supernatural vibe. Another cool scene is when Professor Purcell is recounting The Candyman’s tragic tale. The film doesn’t show these events, instead, it chooses to fixate on Helen’s eyes as we hear Todd’s screaming and agony in the background. The film builds up the reputation of The Candyman much like urban legends themselves, by hearing about them from others.
Another thing that sets the The Candyman apart from other slashers is his motivations. He thrives off of his reputation. The more people talk about and fear him, the more powerful he is. Yes, this is a common trope, but it’s the way Candyman uses it to relate the protagonist to our killer that is quite unique. Helen wants to be known through her work. She is sure that her thesis about The Candyman will blow her professors out of the water. Seeing this, The Candyman uses Helen’s yearning for notoriety to seduce her into joining him. Helen struggles with this temptation the whole film, as it keeps putting her dangerous situations. Many horror protagonists tend to have complex relationships to their killer/monster (Laurie & Michael Myers, Andy & Chucky, etc.), but the way they intertwined Helen and The Candyman stands out to me. Towards the third act, Helen is almost on Candyman’s side as he points out every one losing faith in her, including her own husband. By the end of the film, it’s almost as if the two have been dancing together versus the standard cat-and-mouse game in most slashers.
Fun Facts & Horror Legacy
I found a few fun facts relating to Candyman to sweeten (get it? He’s covered in honey) the viewing experience!
- Tony Todd was cast in Season 2 of The Flash as the voice of Zoom. Executive Producer Andrew Kreisberg was a Candyman fan, citing “no one does demon voice better than Tony Todd.”
- Over the course of the trilogy, Tony Todd was stung over 20 times by bees. He had real bees in his mouth in the kiss scene between Candyman and Helen.
- Eddie Murphy was the original choice to play Candyman, but was chosen in favor for the theatrically trained Todd. In addition, if Virginia Madsen wasn’t available, a then unknown Sandra Bullock was considered.
- Lots of people were upset that the setting of the story was in urban Chicago when Clive Barker’s The Forbidden takes place in London.
- Virginia Madsen is allergic to bees and an ambulance was always on-sight during an bee scenes.
Candyman has been a celebrated film for years due to it’s unique identity in the slasher genre. The film comes up on “Best Of” lists, as well as the iconic Candyman himself. The film was criticized when coming out over it’s depiction of racism and racial stereotypes, but I believe the film is even more relevant today in those depictions with the riots and gun violence that plagues the news. Also on the subject of race, Candyman stood out to me as a mixed-ethnicity kid who didn’t have too many black horror icons to look up to. I was so used to seeing black characters getting killed early off as victims. I had never seen a black slasher doing the killing which was awesome. This film did a lot of things that horror movies weren’t doing, it’s, in a way, an early arthouse horror flick. It used everything at its disposal to not only tell a terrifying story, but a compelling one at that. For a film that succeeds as a slasher flick, psychological thriller, and gothic fairy tale, Candyman is a vastly underrated gem. If you haven’t watched the film recently, or at all, I recommend checking Candyman out this Halloween season. Or you can turn the lights off in your bathroom and say his name five times, if you dare!
Follow me on Twitter @Deezus12 for more movie thoughts and be looking out next week for another Beyond the Grave style piece!