October 12, 2014

Movie Review: Candyman

In my estimation, he does not get the same respect that other horror killers do. He may not have the notoriety of a Freddy, or a Jason, or a Michael, or a Pinhead, but he should not be forgotten or underestimated. He should stand as an iconic killer of the 1990's, not to be overshadowed by the likes of Ghostface. Seriously, if you match them up, the all too human Ghostface would be gutted from groin to gullet. Of course, I am talking about none other than Candyman, the movie and character that would put Tony Todd and Virginia Madsen on the map. It is a movie that mesmerizes, haunts and terrifies. It holds up to this day and should not be forgotten.

Candyman explores the fears we get from urban legends, it looks at how they are formed, how they hold their power and how everyone seems to know them, or variations of them, despite large distances. In this case, it looks at the legend of Candyman, the son of a slave, an artist, a man who fell in love with a white woman in a post-Civil War world, brutalized and killed, left to haunt the land that would become the location of the Cabrini Green housing project. His is a name mentioned in hushed whispers, blamed for the brutal murders that happen there. Is he real?

The movie opens with the telling of a tale reminiscent of Bloody Mary. A couple goes into a bathroom, hit the lights and say his name five times. Candyman appears, guts her and the boyfriend goes mad shortly thereafter. The scene shifts to the present and it is revealed that the prologue was part of an interview being conducted by Helen (Virginia Madsen) about urban legends. While transcribing the tale of Candyman, a cleaning lady tells her of a recent brutal murder that happened in the projects and is attributed to the Candyman.

This story leads Helen to investigate the murder at Cabrini Green and look a little deeper into the people’s belief that the legend of Candyman is behind it. In doing so, she willingly goes down a psychological rabbit hole that will bring everything into question, from belief into urban legend, the identity of a real killer, to mental illness revealing itself as supernatural intervention.

Writer/Director Bernard Rose, adapting from the Clive Barker short “The Forbidden,” has made a movie that just crackles with atmosphere. It does not shy away from themes of race relations, poverty, and the role legends play in society. On a visceral level, we are thrown into Helen’s shoes as she begins her investigation and the effects it has on her. Is Candyman real? Is he just some thug using the legend to keep people scared? Is she slipping into the legend and committing atrocities herself? Some questions are answered, some aren’t.

The movie dances around the truth leaving things maddeningly, and effectively, obtuse and unresolved. The audience is forced to be involved with figuring out what happens. The ending may indicate one, but does it really? Could it not be a continuation of the ability of legend to take hold of the mind? Sure, it is executed in grisly fashion, but does not seem out of line with the purposefully unclear storytelling.

Besides interesting themes, atmosphere, and actual depth, the movie is a visceral experience. We witness plenty of bloodshed, both firsthand and in immediate aftermath. We have a villain who thrives on being whispered about in the dark, standing in the corner dealing out vengeance, but also has a certain tragic element to his story. Not to mention the charismatic performance from the imposing Tony Todd. Plus there is the performance from Virginia Madsen, she just draws you in with a very believable performance.

Candyman is a movie that is intelligent, involving, and really creepy. Now, it doesn’t quite freak me out as it did when I was younger, but there is something about this movie that makes it stand out from the crowd. It is a movie I do not hear as much talk of as I would expect when people discuss good horror movies. I have a suspicion it might be that it gets lumped in with generic slasher fare, and coming in 1992, at the tail end of the big slasher cycle, may hurt it. I encourage you to give it a shot, or revisit it. Watch and see just how effective the movie really is.

I should also mention that my latest viewing of the film came in a theater from a 35mm print. It was a great looking print with solid colors and great audio. There is something about seeing it on the big screen that just amplifies everything, not to mention hearing that amazing score by Philip Glass filling the theater. Quite the experience.

Highly Recommended.

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