Welcome back for Day 23 of our 31 Days of Horror series! We are drawing ever closer to the end–only 8 days left!! It’s hard to believe the month is almost over already, but Charles and I have had a blast bringing you these reviews. We hope you feel the same!
Today we will be talking about Bernard Rose’s 1992 slasher, Candyman.
First of all, I really enjoyed this movie. I wasn’t sure if I would, given that most scary movies past the year 1990 creep me out extensively. Candyman is indeed creepy–there are some excellent jump scares and chilling effects–but it effectively toes the line between scaring me in the moment and giving me nightmares later.
The story begins with graduate students Helen Lyle (Virginia Madsen) and Bernadette Walsh (Kasi Lemmons) conducting research interviews on urban legend for their thesis. The two friends gather all kinds of material from their undergraduate interview subjects, but most intriguing is a lead on what appears to be a real-life perpetrator of the “candyman” legend. Cabrini Green, a nearby Chicago housing project, has been the site of several recent, grisly murders–murders committed by a man with a hook, who appears to have come through the walls to slash apart his unsuspecting victims. Even more compelling is the fact that the residents of Cabrini Green genuinely believe that the murders were committed by the spooky, supernatural candyman, not just a flesh and blood man impersonating him.
Meanwhile, Helen is a skeptic (Bernadette is a little less so), and she continues to poke around Cabrini Green in an academic quest for answers. In so doing, she incurs the wrath of the candyman, and becomes a victim of both physical and psychological torment. There are some pretty disturbing scenes in this movie, and Bernard Rose does not shy away from gore when the situation calls for it.
Perhaps the strongest element of the film is Virginia Madsen’s performance. Madsen is classically gorgeous, and the filmmakers find creative ways to highlight that beauty through lighting and shot setup. It lends a very ethereal quality to the film, which I think supports the supernatural tilt of the story. Visuals aside, her character is an interesting combination of qualities that you don’t often see in female horror roles. She’s strong, she’s tough, she’s no-nonsense…but she’s also vulnerable and not immune to the terrors unfolding around her. Usually, in films like these, women seem to fall at one end of the spectrum or the other. In Candyman, though, Madsen is both the heroine and the victim, which I find fascinating.
Unfortunately, much like The Fly, I think Candyman has a significantly stronger first half than second. The beginning immediately reeled me in, and I was invested in the research that Helen and Bernadette were undertaking. I thought it was going to be a suspenseful thriller about a psychopath taking advantage of local belief in urban legend, but instead, we’re given a movie that can’t make up its mind about what it wants to be. (*SPOILERS AHEAD*) Is the candyman corporeal? I’m still not sure. He doesn’t show up on the hospital video feed, but he’s able to alter his physical surroundings time and time again (mostly to implicate Helen for his horrifying deeds). He’s also able to be killed…so does that mean he was formerly alive? There isn’t really an explanation for why Helen’s actions at the bonfire would work, so it just leaves you confused. I do like the final scene of the movie where Helen, as the new candyman, exacts her long-overdue revenge…but why would she have become the new candyman in the first place? After she’s killed the original, why wouldn’t it end there? The way the second half is handled isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but I do think they missed an opportunity to take the film in a stronger direction.
With so many of these horror movies, I get the sense that maybe they’re TRYING to confuse and befuddle– and if that’s the case, well done, filmmakers. At times it just feels lazy to me, though. It’s a way to not have to wrap anything up, and to get away with cramming in whatever odd plot tangents they feel like making. It may just be a matter of personal preference, but I prefer stories to have tidier endings. Or, at least, to have purposeful cliffhangers. I find all this “it’s whatever you want it to mean!” stuff to be a little unsatisfying.
Overall, though, I did really like this movie. The art of it is extremely well executed, and the acting is great. You can check it out on Netflix DVD, and I hope you’ll let me know what YOU think about the ending!
Tomorrow, join me again as I review John Carpenter’s In the Mouth of Madness (1994). You won’t want to miss it!!