Of the many great things about Bernard Rose’s Candyman, one of the best is that it isn’t structured like a slasher film. It was advertised like one, it sounds like one, but it is not. It’s a proper horror movie, where intelligent people find themselves in a situation that seems bad, and invariably becomes worse than they can possibly imagine.
It also does not feature teenagers doing stupid things. Adults do stupid things in this film, that they deem reasonable.
The stupid thing Helen (Virginia Madsen) does is go into Cabrini Green on her own. She’s researching urban legends for her doctoral thesis, and she starts by doing what all grad students do: sits around campus, talking to undergrads. They tell about a mythic figure, Candyman, who appears if you say his name in a mirror five times.
It isn’t until one of the cleaning staff, a woman from Cabrini Green, overhears her interviews about Candyman that she begins to do real research. The cleaner says she knows of a woman that Candyman murdered.
Helen’s sure it’s just another urban legend, until she finds a news report about the death. She investigates it herself with her friend Bernadette (Kasi Lemmons). Cabrini Green is a largely black project. Though Bernadette is black, she, like Helen, is from the other side of the freeway. Neither fits in. Eventually, Helen’s enquiries put her face to face with the Candyman: a local drug lord who roughs her up, leaves her bleeding in a public bathroom.
What happens next ratchets the film from a promising slasher into a real horror tour de force. Because of course the drug lord isn’t the real Candyman. The real Candyman appears to Helen in a parking garage, speaking without ever opening his mouth. “Be my victim,” he says, and Helen’s life spirals completely out of control. To her, she’s under the assault from a murdering supernatural entity. To the rest of the world, the assault broke her mind. It led her to, in a fit of madness, kidnapping a baby and cutting off the head of a dog.
Candyman touches directly on themes of class and race. Helen believes she can traipse in and out of Cabrini Green without concern for her well-being because she’s a well to do white academic. Again and again, she tells the people whose lives she’s interfering with “I’m not a cop.” As if that’s all they would have to worry about. The horror Candyman puts her through is the loss of all of her privilege, safety, and control. The stakes in her life becomes as high as the people she thought she was “observing.”
Tony Todd plays the real Candyman, and it’s at once a performance of a lifetime and a thankless task. He embodies the murderous spirit, imbuing his performance with a sense of deep menace and tragedy simultaneously. But it’s not a character that can change. For an actor there’s plenty of space to be a caricature or clown. Todd gives his horror movie monster a rare dignity.
It’s one of many touches that elevates the film above its horror brethren. The iconic score is by Philip Glass, who reportedly was disappointed his music was used for a low-budget slasher. That betrays, I think, a narrow view of the film, since Candyman inhabits the tropes of a slasher film while engaged in constant commentary with them as well. Helen is exploring the origins of horror: the urban legend. She finds that one cannot remove oneself from the base truths of life. There is horror. There is terror. There is murder. And only a matter of circumstance separates the victim from the perpetrator.
Being a horror film, Candyman is often dark, but this newly restored 4K release brings a new clarity to some very dark and murky scenes. The early parts of the film are centered in reality and rather visually staid. The latter half of the film pops with vital and horrible imagery that contrasts with Helen’s controlled academic world that unravels.
Bluntly, I love this film. Bernard Rose simultaneously exemplifies and comments on the horror film. He takes the slasher movie away from the teenage victims and gives it to the academics. They study it, are above it… until it happens to them. And then they are as helpless as any teenager because the power of evil is real, and above observation.
Candyman has been released on 4K UHD by Shout Factory. The release includes three discs, a 4K Blu-ray with the R-rated and Unrated versions of the film, and standard Blu-rays with each version of the film. The difference between the Unrated and R-rated is basically some gory shots, not new scenes. The only extras available on the 4K disc are a pair of commentaries, one with director Bernard Rose and actor Tony Todd, and another with British horror critics Stephen Jones and Kim Newman. The theatrical cut Blu-ray contains four commentary tracks: the two mentioned above, another track with director Bernard Rose, Clive Barker, producer Alan Poul, and the actors Tony Todd, Virginia Madsden, and Kasi Lemmons. A fourth commentary track includes Bernard Rose yet again, with horror filmmakers and podcasters Adam Green and Joe Lynch.
Video extras on the unrated Blu-ray edition include “It Was Always You, Helen” (13 min), an interview with Virginia Madsen; “Be My Victim” (10 min), an interview with Tony Todd; “Urban Legend: Unwrapping Candyman” (21 min), an interview with authors Tananarive Due and Steven Barnes about the racial aspects of the film; “Forbidden Flesh: The Makeup FX of Candyman” (8 min), an interview with effects artists Bob Keen, Mark Coulier, and Gary J. Tunnicliffe; “Looking Back in the Mirror” (16 min), an interview with actress Vanessa Williams; “Reflections in the Mirror” (10 min), an interview with actress Kasi Lemmons; “A Kid in a Candyman” (14 min), an interview with actor DeJuan Guy; “A Story to Tell: Clive Barker’s ‘The Forbidden'” (19 min), an interview with author Douglas E. Winter; “The Writing on the Wall” (6 min), an interview with production designer Jane Ann Stewart.
Video extras on the theatrical cut Blu-ray include “Sweets to the Sweet: The Candyman Mythos” (24 min), an archival making-of featurette; “Clive Barker: Raising Hell” (11 min), an interview with the author; “The Heart of Candyman” (7 min), an interview with actor Tony Todd; “Bernard Rose Storyboards” (5 min). There’s also T.V. spots, a still gallery, trailer, and the script on BD-Rom.