Jan 5, 2011

24FPS Top 100: No. 67

67: CANDYMAN [1992]
DIR: Bernard Rose

Why is it on the list?
It would have been very easy for Candyman to be just one more stupid horror film with an imposing bogeyman slicing random victims up, but actually this adaptation of a Clive Barker short story is much more intelligent, and much more artistic, than that. The film centres on a graduate student (played, in one of her first really good roles, by Virginia Madsen) writing a thesis on urban legends, who is told the story of the Candyman. Apparently if you say his name five times, while looking in the mirror, the hook handed monster will appear and wreak havoc. Guess what happens.

What’s really interesting about Candyman is how unlike a horror film it often seems. Though the bogeyman is given flesh - and, courtesy of Tony Todd, a voice that seems to be the product of a lifetime diet of cigarettes, sandpaper and gravel – for most of the film there is a real ambiguity about how real he is, about whether the murders we see Candyman commit are actually perpetrated by Virginia Madsen’s character, Helen. British writer/director Bernard Rose keeps a firm grip on this part of the story, making the film feel more psychological than visceral, and both the design of the film (the nightmarish graffiti visions seen around Cabrini Green for example) and Madsen’s excellent performance help keep this film from becoming just one more movie about people being sliced up with a big hook.

That said, Candyman is a horror film, and it’s often a damn scary one. Partly that’s thanks to the ever present sense of foreboding created by both Rose’s direction and the beautifully creepy choral score by Philip Glass but it’s also down to Tony Todd, who is instantly iconic as Candyman; elevated to the pantheon of great horror monsters within seconds of his first appearance, but it’s more than just his physicality, Todd’s a fine actor (see his non horror role in Le Secret for further proof) and he invests Candyman with more than just menace; there’s a seductive air about him, you can see how Helen might be sucked in by this monster.

The images are often stunning, as Rose renders both fantasy (the justly famous image of Candyman attempting to kiss Helen, his mouth filled with bees and yes, that’s Tony Todd, and those are real bees) and reality (the many times when Helen wakes to find herself covered in blood) with equal assurance and imagination. He also blends the two brilliantly, especially in Candyman’s first appearance, in which he uses flash frames of graffiti of Candyman and other nightmarish imagery (more bees) to make it unclear whther Candyman is real, or Helen is going crazy. There are relatively few onscreen kills, but those we see are rendered brilliantly; the violence brutal and bloody, but generally swift enough to shocking rather than rubbing the audience’s face in the gore.

After Carrie it became rather an overworked horror cliché to have a shock epilogue on a horror film, many have done it very badly indeed, but Candyman’s gives you a real jump, and is more than shocking; it’s themeatically interesting too, and brings all the questions the film has spent 95 minutes asking back round full circle. I rather like the first sequel; Candyman: Farewell to the Flesh, but I really wish there had been a film playing off the ending of this one.

Overall, for me this is one of the best, and most underrated, horror films of the 90’s, there’s more thought in these 95 minutes than in 100 dead teenager movies, and more scares too.

Standout Scenes
Hanging Around
A spectacular kill, but one that preserves the film's essential ambiguity.

Kiss me
One of the nastiest, creepiest, images in 90's cinema, all the more so because it's not fake.

Helen... Helen... Helen...
I won't spoil it, other than to say AARRRGGGHHH!!!

Memorable Lines
Candyman: I am the writing on the wall, the whisper in the classroom! Without these things, I am nothing. So now, I must shed innocent blood. COME WITH ME!

Candyman: The pain, I can assure you, will be exquisite. As for our deaths, there is nothing to fear. Our names will be written on a thousand walls. Our crimes told and retold by our faithful believers. We shall die together in front of their very eyes and give them something to be haunted by. Come with me and be immortal.

Helen Lyle: What's the matter, Trevor? Scared of something?

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