Candyman (1992): Bee Afraid

Candyman (film)
Candyman (film) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Directed by (and adapted for the screen by) Bernard Rose, based on a short story by Clive Barker from his Books of Blood, Candyman is a scary edge-of-your-seat suspense-filled horror movie. The entire film reeks of foreboding and the tension is almost unbearable. On its release in 1992 it became a runaway smash with audiences and critics.

Although Barker’s short story takes place in England, moving the location to Chicago’s North Side Housing development of Cabrini Green does not harm the movie at all.

Candyman boasts a great cast: Tony Todd as Candyman, Virginia Madsen as grad student Helen Lyle, Xander Berkeley as her slimy husband Trevor Lyle, Kasi Lemmons as Helen’s best friend Bernie Walsh, and Vanessa Williams as the battle-scarred resident of Cabrini Green Anne-Marie McCoy and way down on the cast list is Ted Raimi doing what he does best, dying by Candyman’s hook.

The plot centers around Helen Lyle who is, with the help of Bernie, doing her Master’s thesis on urban legends. It is while she’s interviewing students that she becomes aware of the Candyman.

The original Candyman was the illegitimate son of a white slave owner and one of his slaves. He was a very talented artist and lived as a free man. He was much in demand for his artistic skills and after he meets a white girl whose portrait he’s been commissioned to paint. They fall in love.

Unfortunately, Candyman has forgotten the first rule of living as a black free man in early America. When the townspeople find out that he and the white girl are together they react badly. They chase down him down and cut off his painting hand and replace it with a hook. They then cover him with honey and he is stung to death. The crowd chant Candyman as he dies.

The urban legend says that you can summon the Candyman by saying his name five times while looking in a mirror. Although why anyone would want to do this is beyond me. When Candyman appears, he kills the summoner with his hook. I can only assume that it would be a guaranteed way to commit suicide.

Helen and Bernie both jokingly tryout the ritual in Helen’s bathroom mirror with no apparent effect.

The location of the legend appears to be the Cabrini Green housing project. Helen goes to scout out the place and hears of at least two deaths that have been attributed to Candyman. She literally places herself in danger as she tries to hunt down the facts of the two murders in the Green.

As Helen continues to pursue the story, her husband stops supporting her. Although the main reason is that he is having an affair with one of this female students. Not too surprising as he met Helen this way. Helen’s life becomes consumed by the Candyman and he begins to control her.

At the film’s end, Helen has suffered for her thesis, which is probably never going to be published. She pays the ultimate price to escape the Candyman that she so foolishly summoned, twice.

As I pointed out at the beginning of this post, Candyman is full of foreboding. It feels ominous from frame one. Director Bernard Rose never lets up in this slow build of danger and suspense. When the film finally finishes you feel drained and not a little exhausted.

The character of Helen (as played by Madsen) is a complex one. She appears to be a mix of  unconfident newlywed and mature student who pursues her  thesis with an almost childish recklessness. She doesn’t seem to be able to foresee the consequences of her actions and she foolishly puts not only herself but those around her in danger.

When she does belatedly realise the harm she has caused, she reacts. Her motivation is to save a baby and herself from the Candyman. She manages to accomplish both but it is almost too late for the baby and she dies in her escape from the Candyman.

Tony Todd infuses Candyman with a sad menace. That he is a vengeful spirit is beyond question, but he still manages to convey the emotional and physical pain that he is filled with.

Candyman is Todd’s film though. He overwhelms the screen every time he appears. When he is not on-screen, we wait impatiently for his to show up.

The rest of the cast performs brilliantly, they had to otherwise they would have been completely blown out of the water by Todd.

In my opinion, this was one of the best adaptations of Clive Barker’s books. It was the first in a “planned” trilogy that has since grown into a foursome.

Definitely a two bag popcorn film. One to lose from jumping in fright and one to stuff excitedly into your mouth. Great film.

Cover of "Books of Blood"
Cover of Books of Blood