CANDYMAN ***** USA 1992 Dir: Bernard Rose. 92 mins
“Your death would be a parable to frighten children with”. The opening story of the fifth volume of “Books of Blood”, Clive Barker’s “The Forbidden” was a bleakly evocative story of urban folklore in a miserabilist vision of a Thatcher-era Liverpudlian housing estate. Bernard Rose’s popular film adaptation, effectively shifting the story to modern-day gang-controlled Cabrini Green in Chicago, sustains a similar sense of pervasive dread. Establishing the mythology of its imposing – yet undeniably erotic – boogeyman via an opening distillation of modern American slasher films featuring Ted Raimi and a bathroom mirror jolt, Rose’s film isn’t above cheap jump scares, some of which play like studio-requested embellishments. It gives us a smart, courageous heroine (Virginia Madsen) – on a beguiling quest to understand the reasoning behind an entire community attributing the horrors of their daily lives to a mythical figure. Summoned via the chanting of his name five times into a mirror (an echo of the popular “Bloody Mary” urban legend), Candyman himself (Tony Todd) is represented mostly off-camera for the first 45 minutes, his presence conveyed via abstract images, exposition-spouting characters, clever misdirection and a sonorous voiceover.
Todd embodies one of the genre’s most striking villains, his mellifluous vocal presence established at the very beginning as he turns the most gruesome of violent threats into something elegant and seductive (“What’s blood for if not for shedding…”). His first appearance at the half-way mark is a startlingly unexpected encounter with Madsen in a well-lit multi-storey car park, where her first emotional reaction is for a tear to roll down her cheek. On-screen only intermittently, Todd haunts the entire film, with Rose’s adaptation borrowing many lines from the original story, heightening the parallels to classically romantic genre monsters (notably Dracula) as Candyman promises immortality via “just one exquisite kiss…” Ultimately the story of an unhappily married, cuckolded woman who escapes into a fantastical existence with a bold, dangerous lover, CANDYMAN is a dynamic scary movie on first watch thanks to a succession of visceral set pieces and a marvellously sour punchline. Repeat viewings, however, highlight the subtleties in performance from both Madsen and Todd, alongside the beguiling fairy tale eroticism of their union – all enhanced by the oppressive choral score composed by Philip Glass, itself a remarkable work of portentous beauty.
CANDYMAN: FAREWELL TO THE FLESH *** USA 1995 Dir: Bill Condon. 93 mins
Michael Culkin’s “Basil Exposition”-style British scholar from CANDYMAN is the traditional ill-fated returning-character in this sequel, perishing after foolishly staging a Candyman “appearance” as a lark on his book tour. With this scene, the film begins as it means to go on: a slick follow-up largely content to live up to the lazy promises of its awful trailer (“The terror in the mirror returns!”) while forgetting to comprehend that Philip Glass’ remarkable music only truly works if accompanied by the elegiac, perversely seductive mood of Bernard Rose’s original. Part two switches locations to Candyman’s birthplace, New Orleans during Mardi Gras, with school teacher Kelly Rowan doing the mirror “thing” to prove a point to her kids: Candyman returns via appearances that are perfunctory rather than mesmerising, with the sexual chemistry of the original’s central duo notably absent and Rowan prone to whimpering during dramatic moments.
Tony Todd is reduced to delivering weakly recycled variations of his original monologues. The sequel gets bogged down with endless fake scares accompanied by loud musical stings and featuring birds, husbands, etc. appearing out of nowhere for the sake of a contrived “jump”. Director Condon still keeps things lively, and it’s the goriest CANDYMAN movie, as bees crawl out of open wounds, Timothy Carhart is eviscerated as Rowan looks on and a gruesome flashback to Candyman’s demise caps an unfolding backstory about Rowan’s family history. The early digital FX (including an shattering-Candyman effect at the climax) are predictably aged, though the script is the worst offender, right up to its contrived “shock” ending.
CANDYMAN: DAY OF THE DEAD * USA 1999 Dir: Turi Meyer. 85 mins
Artisan’s depressingly mundane coffin-nail for the CANDYMAN franchise relocates the action to the Hispanic quarter of Los Angeles during the eponymous festival, where artist Donna D’Errico tries to convince herself that rumours surrounding Candyman (her great, great grandfather) are just the stuff of legend by…saying his name five times into a mirror. In a characteristically lame retread of the original, D’Errico then gets the blame for the killings of various disposable characters when you-know-who (Tony Todd, also co-producing) shows up.
A totally generic sequel from the director of the CANDYMAN-influenced SLEEPSTALKER, this loses the haunting elegance of Philip Glass’ music and reduces Todd’s magnetic, entrancing “monster” to the level of a routine slasher villain. D’Errico, clad mostly in small tops and prone to screaming excessively at every available opportunity, provides the unsympathetic heroine the script deserves, while Nick Corri confirms Hollywood’s enduring fondness for stereotypes by essentially reprising his role of Latino-falsely-suspected-of-killings-and-persecuted-by-the-cops from the original NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET! Numerous dumb false scares (the terrified cries of D’Errico’s flatmate turn out to be her practising for a role she has won in a horror movie) alternate with cliched, telegraphed “shocks” and the shameless cash-grab is confirmed by lowest-common-denominator shtick including a topless girl covered with bees.
Reviews by Steven West