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This Poetic and Racially-Charged Film has a lot to Say but Still Misses a Few Steps- Candyman (1992) Review
"Be my victim...."
Candyman (1992) is a perfectly constructed masterpiece of horror intertwined with social issues. It is a racially charged film, that never misses a beat when telling its story and enticing conversations around racism and classism. Tony Todd plays a hook-wielding urban legend of 1990's Chicago. His melancholic stare and murderous nature made me afraid of my bathroom mirror for weeks after watching it.
Say his name five times in the mirror. Then, turn off the lights, and he shall appear behind you and slice you from gut to groin. Urban legends are a classification of horror that takes a sinister spin on the literary folktale. Bloody Mary, Freddy Kruger, The Vanishing Hitchhiker, Candyman, and more- the power of their influence relies on the fear of people and that people will share that fear with each other through campfire stories. Without the fear of their people, urban legends cannot live on. That's how our main characters Candyman and Helen (Virginia Madsen) come to meet in this film.
Helen is a skeptical grad student who is working with her best friend, Bernadette (Kasi Lemmons), on a thesis based on the topic of urban legends. When Helen is introduced to an urban legend in her very own backyard, she decides to do some extra digging on it. She immediately grows an unhealthy fascination with the legend and even the tenants of the famous housing projects of Cabrini-Green. Her near obsession puts everyone close to her in danger and even poses an even higher threat to the Cabrini-Green people, especially friendly single mother Anne-Marie.
As time progresses through this film, Helen's fascination grows into a increasing hypnotism and entrancement with the boogyman she is hunting, due to his equal fascination for her. He is hellbent on isolating her and taking her for himself, creating a legacy for them both to thrive and terrorize on.
The storyline incites a dialogue that elevates the film. The narrative theme and speeches of Candyman and the conversations between Helen and the people of Cabrini-Green are what blossom this film into its elegant layers.
We never learn the real name of Candyman. In this sense he remains a horrifying enigma that seeks an after-life of revenge for the horrors enacted upon him. Candyman was the son of a slave who rose in social and economic class. He went to proper schools and lived a wealthy life. He was a renowned artist, and he was paid to draw portraits of wealthy class men. This field is where he met the love of his life and impregnated her, but her father punished him because 'how dare he fall in love with a white woman.' No matter his economic status, he was still one thing.
Candyman's origin is different than anything most horror films dare to try. And as he haunts the people of Cabrini-Green mercilessly, it is made near impossible to be sentimental to his previous life. He relishes in the fear of others, for it is his immortality. His complexity makes him entrancing for Helen and the audience as well.
Furthermore, Madsen's acting in this film and her harmonic duality with Todd are another element that this film thrives on. Making sure that she is able to portray a subtle loss of grip and sadness is fundamental in this film to ensure that the dialogue remains poignant and poetic, which I believe she absolutely succeeds in.
And to elaborate on said dialogue, beyond the gory, slasher horror of this film, there is a social horror. A horror that relies on the mistreatment and distrust in the black community of Cabrini-Green. Unspeakable horrors thrive in their small community because no one cares enough to answer the calls of help. Consistently repeated the people say, "I called, but no one came." Continuously, the film dips its toes into the societal fear of and utmost ignorance about the lower-class communities in America.
Candyman (1992) is a horror film that relies heavily on its dialogue and score. The actual fear elements and jump-scares are just additional factors that make it a truly iconic horror-drama. Speaking of the score, it is one of the best horror film scores to date- truly capturing the poetic essence of the entire film but also heightening it to a whole new level. The delicate care placed in the practical effects, score, dialogue, and acting of this film, even the location of this film, make it a classic and loving film. Story-wise, there's plenty of twists and turns, horror elements, and emotional intricacies that make it a standout of its decade. Actual, trained bees were used through filming and used intimately with Todd- showing the true dedication of every person working on this project.
There has been controversy surrounding this film about the idea that it promotes white, middle-class fear of black men, which can be a completely arguable point of view. However, I do enjoy this multi-faceted horror film, and Tony Todd was the first black, horror villain I had ever seen on the big screen- making his monumental stamp on the genre and my love for horror forever.
Jacindable Rating: ★★★★½
starring, Virginia Madsen, Tony Todd, Xander Berkeley, Kasi Lemmons, Vanessa Williams, DeJuan Guy, and more
written and directed by, Bernard Rose, and based on the short story by Clive Barker