Tuesday, October 26, 2010


Helen Lyle is a graduate student doing a thesis on urban legends. To make her thesis stand out, she looks into the Candyman legend by going to its source: a gang infested housing project called Cabrini Green. To summon him, you look in a mirror and say his name five times. He appears behind you and kills you with the hook that replaced one of his hands. Helen is fascinated with this mythical figure and how the inhabitants of Cabrini Green attribute the evils of their everyday lives to him. When she's attacked by a man who assumed the Candyman persona to incite fear, he is captured and arrested, shattering a little boy's belief in the mythical figure. The real Candyman appears to Helen and proves he's real by framing her for an attack and a kidnapping, quickly unravelling her entire comfortable life. He wants her to be his victim to create more fear and belief of him to make him more powerful. She questions her sanity and struggles with how to stop him. How can she defeat an incorporeal being that no one else can see?

I first saw this film when I was about 7 years old. It haunted my dreams all throughout my childhood, but also sparked my interest in all things horror. I saw it again just last week and I realized how much I didn't understand as a child. The movie is actual quite complex and cerebral, unlike a typical slasher film. Nothing really scary or particularly horrific happens until about half way through the movie. I really like this aspect because the beginning could be a Silence of the Lambs-like thriller, but the last half is soaked in gore and makes the viewer evaluate what is real and what isn't. For the first half of the movie, Candyman is pretty much dismissed as a legend. His appearance coincides with Helen's rapid downward, life-destroying spiral. The viewer questions Helen's sanity and oscillates between believing that Candyman is real and that Helen is actually doing these horrible things because of her mad, fractured mind. This part of the film is interesting because she loses absolutely everything. All of her friends, including her husband, either die or turn against her. In one scene, the very detective that praised her for pressing charges against her attacker badgers her and treats her like a common criminal. The role reversal gives a surreality to Helen's situation. Virginia Madsen is amazing as Helen and gives her so much real emotion and dimension. She is a flawed character, but remains sympathetic and relatable. It seems so easy for her entire life to slip away that it might happen to anybody.

The film is also politically and socially aware. Candyman is a kind of Bloody Mary-type character mixed with Freddy Krueger, but his history is tragic. In life, he was the wealthy son of a slave living just after the Civil War. He died after being tortured by a group of racist rednecks because he fell in love and impregnated a white woman. His back story lends sympathy to his character, as well as showing the deep roots of racism in history. To me, Candyman embodies the toxicity in a society where rumors, stereotypes, and racism are prevalent. Tony Todd does an excellent job in his role, being both menacing and distant. His voice sends chills down my spine. His performance is reminiscent of the Cenobites from Hellraiser, which is hardly surprising since both films were based on Clive Barker's stories. At one point in the film, Helen discovers that the apartment building she lives in was originally built as a housing project identical to Cabrini Green. Her building is slightly different in that plaster is used to cover the cement walls. This shows that the difference between the rich and the poor is only superficial and not a result of character, but circumstance.

The music for the film is composed by Philip Glass and it suits the mood of the film perfectly. The main theme sounds like a tune from a music box. It's a haunting tune that recurs throughout the story and serves as a perfect counterpoint to what's going on onscreen.

This film has stayed with me for a long time and I think it's worth seeing for any horror fan. It may be a little dated, but it still has profound things to say and still terrifies. I like that it's not just a slasher film, but one that makes us scrutinize our own society.

My rating: 9/10 fishmuffins

1 comment:

yllektra (force-oblique) said...

I think I saw this film when I was still in Junior Highschool or something and though it was visually stunning!
I really liked it!!
And Virginia Madsen did a great work depicting a woman bordering on madness!