It’s 11:30PM on a Saturday night; you and your best friend have just finished watching Candyman and still have that anxious excitement from the final jump scare. The two of you race into the bathroom (bringing the cat for emotional support), closing the door behind you. “Say it with me, say it!” your friend giggles as they flicker the lights on and off. “Candyman…Candyman…Candyman…” you begin to chant in unison; smiles fading, eyes wide. “Candyman…” before the final declaration, a wave of irrational fear rushes over you. You know it’s a movie, you know it’s a story…or is it? Whether you’re a believer or not, you know the potential outcomes of calling upon him yet here you are gazing into the mirror anyways. Why is that? Because after 28 years, we’re all still under his spell…“Candyman.”
Released August 16th, 1992, Bernard Rose’s Candyman has gone on a journey similar to many folk tales: though not always understood, has taken on new meanings and grown its legend over time. With new interpretations coming in the wake of societal shifts year after year, the film remains ever relevant beyond its creative medium. In the same vein as the titular character, the mere idea of Candyman is engrained into horror culture. Once you give into the hypnotic nature of the film, it’s with you eternally. No matter the fear, something about the film manages to entice you to return to it. So let’s explore why despite the horrors ahead; we just can’t resist saying his name.
Irresistible Cinematic Charm
Candyman is not your average horror movie. Not known for his genre work at the time, director Bernard Rose brought a certain gravitas to the project. When adapting Clive Barker’s “The Forbidden” from Books of Blood, Rose highly respected the literary roots of Candyman taking a somewhat poetic approach to the film. From the tone-setting prologue to the indulgent storytelling scenes in between horror crescendos, the film flows lyrically like a blood-soaked sonnet. Candyman goes beyond the typical aesthetic of a slasher movie, that uses its style to accentuate the storytelling elements when inducing fear rather than relying on the visual horror of the killer. Of course, there’s a little carnage but Rose treats blood like a fine Cabernet. You could compare his approach to directing a stage play as well, setting the scene with tasteful details and relying on the actors to bring forth the emotion.
Rose’s Candyman entices you by juxtaposing beauty with horror, creating a sense of intrigue that also confuses you. Cinematographer Anthony B. Richmond fills each frame with luscious beauty contrasted against the gritty urban setting, whether that be the gorgeous graffiti murals in rundown building to mundane shots driving down the freeway. This is even taken into the color theory, where we have pinks and browns coming together throughout the film. It could be seen as a reflection of Daniel Robitaille’s tragic past filled with love and pain or, the audience viewing a film filled with so much beauty and darkness.
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“[Candyman] flows lyrically like a blood-soaked sonnet. “
Speaking of beautiful darkness, I’d be remiss without bringing attention to the score done by legendary composer Phillip Glass. Though somewhat reluctant about doing a slasher movie, Glass delivered a score drenched in gorgeous organ chords and urgent choir chants. Though regarded as a classic, he more or less looks fondly at the checks he receives from it. However, I choose to admire the score’s emotional connection to Helen and the audience, entranced by sinister sweetness of the tune (“It Was Always You, Helen” and “All Falls Apart” slap particularly hard).
Curiosity Killed the Queen Bee
Of course, Candyman isn’t all sweet scenery and tasty tracks. At the core of the film are two powerful performances, one coming in the form of Virginia Madsen as Helen Lyle. Helen is a pretty underrated Final Girl, in my opinion, a character with deeper levels than her horror contemporaries. There’s more to Helen’s pursuit of Candyman than simple good vs evil. Helen is an equally capable, yet flawed character that lets her curiosity get the best of her. Helen stands in for the audience, as she is drawn in by Candyman’s charm & influence as she explores the infamous urban legend. Just the mere idea of him is enough to entice Helen to explore the roots of Cabrini Green: she knows the potential dangers ahead, but the story is just too sweet.
When Helen comes face to face with the mysterious figure, there is no going back for Helen. Though Candyman is a respectable supernatural entity who waits for consent before eternal damnation, Helen’s fate has already been sealed as she allowed herself to be taken by Candyman’s spell just by embracing his existence. This first encounter is unique to typical slasher-final girl relationships in that Helen isn’t terrified by Candyman’s presence, she’s entranced by him. Frozen in a hypnotic gaze, Helen almost gives a look of infatuation (I mean have you seen the man, how could you not). And hypnotic can be an overused word, but Candyman takes this to a literal sense. To achieve that longing look, Rose employed the used of hypnotism on Virginia Madsen. Rose and Richmond used this to full advantage, with shots highlighting Madsen’s beautiful eyes with the perfect glaze that could not be faked.
“And hypnotic can be an overused word, but […to] achieve that longing look, Rose employed the used of hypnotism on Virginia Madsen.”
After succumbing to Candyman’s seductive spell, Helen is put through a mental ringer as she is framed for murder and labeled insane. But it’s through this experience that Helen learns the legend of Candyman is bigger than a thesis paper and the part she plays in a community plagued by its perception. Helen goes on to sacrifice herself to save baby Anthony, proving that saving even one innocent life could bring a long-suffering community together. Was her sacrifice a willing one or did she give in to the hypnotic charm she was trying to resist? It’s complicated, but one of the many fascinating ways that this film separates itself from slashers as almost more of a gothic romance.
He Came For You
We all know what you watch Candyman for, and though it may take 40 minutes to get to the titular character: it’s 120% worth it. If you want to talk about building up a character, let’s talk about the film’s opening monologue where we are introduced to Candyman by Tony Todd. His voluptuous voice somehow takes over the screen as we’re shown a swarm of bees, beckoning the audience like a ghostly Emcee. Candyman clearly states his intentions taking lives, but when a voice as sexy as Tony Todd’s warns “they will say that I have shed innocent blood”: the only logical response is to shrug your shoulders and say “what’s blood for if not for shedding.” You could talk me into anything with those demonically angelic pipes, oozing out like melodic molasses. It wouldn’t be Sound of Screams month without mad props to Todd’s vocal chops.
With devilish words, Candyman haunts over the film like Dracula, tempting you with every mention of his name. His voice and this promise are the only actual seeds of Candyman we’re treated to until the 40-minute mark, but the way Candyman is written and talked about within the film makes him feel even larger than a physical presence. However, standing at 6’5″ with chocolatey skin wearing one of the slickest overcoats in all of horror: Tony Todd as Candyman is quite the physical specimen indeed.
“…if you are willing to give yourself over to its fear, [Candyman] will give back to you a uniquely bold, sensual horror story like you’ve never seen before.”
A lot of the presence emitting from Todd stems from his theatrical training, bringing an overwhelming sense of class to the character. This was big into Candyman growing into one of the few African-American horror icons, bringing needed diversity to the screen, but also horror villain we had never seen before. The character of Candyman is all about perception. Is he a vengeful evil spirit looking to up his street cred or an angel of death necessary to wake up Helen Lyle and the people of Cabrini Green? Hard to decide, but I can speak to my perception of Candyman as a character outside the film. I can’t stress enough the importance of a young POC seeing a powerful, feared villain in a horror movie that looked like me. And how that admiration has evolved as I’ve grown into an adult, appreciating not only the confidently sexy performance by Tony Todd as well as the character’s themes standing in for familiar societal issues going on to this very day.
Legends Never Die
There are many aspects of Candyman that contribute to the film’s eternal lasting power. The subversive storytelling, the delicate cinematography, the experimental score, Tony Todd’s larynx. But I have to say, the element that has the strongest lasting impact is the film’s seductive nature. There’s something to be said about a film or idea that doesn’t hide its intentions. That can ensnare you in the grip of its story, no matter how devious. A film that, if you are willing to give yourself over to its fear, will give back to you a uniquely bold, sensual horror story like you’ve never seen before. We already know the outcome, yet are seduced into the haunting world of Candyman. Is it because of our lack of fear? Or are we just under Bernard Rose’s spell? To find out, go into the bathroom and say Candyman’s name 5 times. Or rather, try not to.
28 years later and Candyman remains as entrancing as always, evident by the excitement of Nia DeCosta’s Candyman which would be coming out this weekend if not for certain circumstances. Sad face, but even more reason to revisit the 1992 classic. Have you watched Candyman lately? Give us your fresh takes on Twitter, Facebook, and Reddit!