Sunday, October 2, 2011

30 Days of Fright - 01: Candyman

Once upon a time I was a city dweller. I grew up in a major metropolis that can sometimes be beautiful and sometimes brutal. In the modern urban jungle man has adapted his ways to suit his environment, but man is a creature of habit and one of those long established habits is the use of stories to pass along history and to teach acceptable behaviours, hence the urban myth.

Candyman (1992) stars Virgina Madsen as Helen Lyle, a researcher at a university in Chicago who is writing a thesis on urban myths with her friend Bernadette. During the course of her research she encounters the myth of Candyman to whom some local murders have been attributed. The Candyman story is concentrated on a parcel of land that had been developed into a housing project. In the late 1800's, while the area was still farms and plantations, a young black man had been brutally murdered after knocking up a local white chick. Now, according to the myth, it's possible to summon the vengeful spirit of Candyman by saying his name five times into a mirror.

Helen digs into the story when she discovers that, unlike the usual urban myths that all seem to be removed from the person who tells them (in a "it happened to a friend of my sisters room-mates cousins barber" type way) this legend has some verifiable facts as do the murders that have been blamed on it. Venturing into the gang-controlled projects Helen meets with the neighbour of a murder-victim who firmly believes that Candyman is the killer.

Things turn sour for Helen when she runs afoul of a local gang-banger who's been using the name Candyman to instil fear in the locals. Thinking that that was all there was to the story Helen gets the shock of her life when she is stalked by a tall man with a distinctive voice and a hook for a hand who demands that Helen believe in him and who sets about destroying her life by framing her for a series of crimes and getting her locked away in the local asylum. Helen slowly realises that perhaps she shouldn't have said Candyman five times when in front of her mirror, not even for a joke...

A vicious murderer with a distinctive voice - Candyman!

Bitch, what?!?

Candyman is a flick I hadn't seen in years, and as distanced as I was from the film it was easy to get hung up on the saying his name in the mirror idea which is just a re-work of the Bloody Mary myth. However, imagine my surprise when I watched Candyman last night and it dawned on me that this is a brilliant movie!

This is a film where everything works as it should. The music by Philip Glass sets each scene perfectly, the casting choices were inspired, the setting was ideally modern and creepy, and the story by Clive Barker is solid. Virginia Madsen is great as Helen and she carries her scenes well, but she is utterly upstaged by Tony Todd who plays Candyman himself. Todd is a very tall man and is able therefore to be imposing and scary, but add in the amazing deep voice he carries around with him and you're onto a total winner with him as a baddie from beyond the grave. Cut off his arm and stick a hook into the stump and you're in Oscar territory!

The gore and horror that's present in the film are understated considering that Candyman is very firmly a slasher movie though more time is given over to the urban myth aspect then the cutting people up with hooks aspect. The urban myth hadn't really been tapped for too many films when Candyman hit the theatres so it was a refreshing way of conjuring up a villain to go an a killing spree in the windy city, it also meant that more thought went into the film-making as they didn't want to screw up the opportunity of making a mark with urban legends. There are some very clever touches in Candyman, especially the racial and social commentary that's present in every discussion of housing projects, though also in the little touches like the baby licking Candayman's finger (it would have tasted of honey as he'd been covered in the stuff as he was tortured to death).

Sadly though the familiarity of the method for getting Candyman to appear, that is to say his name into the mirror five times, is a direct lift from Bloody Mary and it's a legend that is too familiar to be overwritten by an unknown like Candyman, every time someone says "Candyman" into a mirror a voice in your head corrects them to "Bloody Mary". This is really the films only failing but mercifully it doesn't get in the way too much and never robs from the enjoyment. So when you get a chance, find yourself a decent sized mirror, dim the lights, and stick on a Christina Aguilera CD and let the dozy cow say his name five times!

Two Thumbs Firmly Up for Candyman.

He's a one stop shop, makes my panties drop, He's a sweet talkin' sugar coated Candyman.... wait, what? Here are some links:


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