Looking back at Bernard Rose’s “Candyman”

Revisiting the 1992 modern horror classic

Looking back at Bernard Rose’s “Candyman”

Released on October 16, 1992, and based on a Clive Barker short story, this is the mythic sort of horror/art film combination that is usually referenced in reviews of films that hew too closely to one of those elements to be successful as both. There’s plenty to be scared of in this film. Tony Todd plays the titular character with a menacing and imposing presence. In the original short story, Candyman was jaundiced and white, but the film’s decision to cast a black man pays dividends. Comedian Eddie Murphy was the original choice for the role of Candyman, but the filmmakers could not afford him. The locale has also been shifted from Britain to Chicago’s Cabrini section, which ensures that not all of the reasons for Helen, the film’s protagonist, to be afraid are supernatural. As the lone white woman in a housing project, she is placing herself in danger regardless of the presence of spooks. Because of this, the film builds a tension that the audience can relate to since much of the threat is grounded in reality. When the otherworldly Candyman strikes, the significant presence of blood and gore doesn’t revolt so much as it raises the tension that already existed. After we see blood spilled the fears that Helen has become grounded, even if she’s wrong about what she should be afraid of. It would almost feel racist if Helen weren’t given a black friend (played by director Kasi Lemmons) who shares her fears. As a result, the film’s prejudices feel borne out of differences in class, sex, and level of education. The opening sequence, with its Phillip Glass-penned theme and striking imagery, places Candyman into an otherworldliness that is extended when we aren’t sure that what’s on screen is real, and not just the delusions of Helen, whose sanity is in question. Candyman proposes to Helen a world of exquisite pain, and Rose’s images justify that vision by showing us the inherent beauty in things that are generally regarded as grotesque. As a result, the film sustains a mixture of class and disgust, and there’s a terrific scene where Helen is mortified to discover her high-priced condo is actually a converted housing project that drives that dichotomy home. Out of an excellent cast, Virginia Madsen stands out as Helen, imbuing her character with such poise and intelligence that when she is able to make the events of the film’s second half feel truly degrading. Since the movie is set in the world of academia and follows a grad student, neither its text about urban legends nor its perceptions of the class feel preachy. What I liked was a horror movie that was scaring me with ideas and gore, instead of simply with gore.

By Ken Warren, 2017/18

Origin: USA | UK
Released: 1992
Directed by: Bernard Rose
Starring: Virginia Madsen, Xander Berkeley, Tony Todd

Watch the 1992 movie trailer of “Candyman”

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