Crimson Quill’s Appraisal #235
Number of Views: Multiple
Release Date: 16 October 1992 (USA)
Sub-Genre: Psychological Thriller
Country of Origin: United States
Box Office: $25,792,310
Running Time: 99 minutes
Director: Bernard Rose
Producers: Clive Barker, Steve Golin
Screenplay: Bernard Rose
Story: Clive Barker
Special Effects: Gary J. Tunnicliffe
Visual Effects: William Cruse
Cinematography: Anthony B. Richmond
Score: Philip Glass
Editing: Dan Rae
Studios: PolyGram Filmed Entertainment, Propaganda Films
Distributors: TriStar Pictures, PolyGram Filmed Entertainment
Stars: Virginia Madsen, Tony Todd, Xander Berkeley, Kasi Lemmons, Vanessa Williams, DeJuan Guy, Marianna Elliott, Ted Raimi, Ria Pavia, Mark Daniels, Lisa Ann Poggi, Adam Philipson, Eric Edwards, Carolyn Lowery, Barbara Alston
Suggested Audio Candy
Philip Glass “It Was Always You, Helen”
I love sweets. When I think of them I envisage a kindly confectioner, only too pleased to shovel my pick and mix into a bag and help me forget the rotten teeth which his crass jelly instigates. The word candy, in particular, is music to the ears of many a sweet-toothed infant. Said once, twice, thrice or even four times it suggests visions of sugar-coated grandeur. Utter it a fifth time however and your punishment for flogging this particular dead pony is somewhat severe. A toffee apple housing a razor blade or bloody hook through your gullet are the ominous prizes for running off a little too much at the mouth as the Candyman takes great exception to repetition. It turns out that Michael Jackson fibbed about being the Man in the Mirror as the reality is far less encouraging.
Bernard Rose’s translation of Clive Barker novel The Forbidden came along at a time when multiplexes were half-full of those clamoring for self-conscious post-modern horror which took genre convention, informed you of its weaknesses and then proceeded to follow the same set of rules. The slasher craze had all but fizzled out and execs were looking for new ways to immerse their audience, coming up with precious little of great note I might add. Rose wasn’t concerned with following the sheep thus he brought us a film which adopted a far more sophisticated approach, one echoing an era already passed.
It also gifted us with an iconic figure, the likes of which were sorely lacking outside of Ghostface through the nineties, and suddenly horror enjoyed something of a mini-resurgence. It didn’t last long unfortunately and a couple of substandard sequels put paid to all the groundwork he laid but Candyman still stands as one of the more intelligent and thoughtful entries from the entire epoch. Ironically it all centered around urban legend, a well waxed topic which formed the basis for many a nineties slasher. However there were no promiscuous co-eds here and instead it told the fable of a mature student.
Helen Lyle (Virginia Madsen) was the bookworm in question and, while researching her thesis on urban legends would you believe, she became a little too fixated on folklore and provoked the wraith of one such mythical death bringer. Candyman (Tony Todd) had ample motivation to be a little narked, after all, he was maliciously beaten to death after falling for the daughter of a prejudiced white plantation owner. The story, which originally used Barker’s home city Liverpool as its setting, is moved to Chicago and, in particular the unyielding ghetto projects of Cabrini-Green. This proved to be an astute move on this occasion as racial turbulence was already high on the agenda in the States, making this far more relevant than many of its counterparts.
Candyman himself was invested with greater acumen than the usual inattentive juggernauts of recent times. He bore depth both in characterization and stimulation, seemingly trapped in a fruitless loop searching for his tender Roni. This allowed more a more empathetic rejoinder from the addressee as his acts of fury became resonant and emotional. Todd possessed all the towering majesty required to make him a formidable foe and his performance single-handedly put him squarely on horror buffs’ radars, where he has remained ever since.
It wasn’t just he that evoked our comprehension as Madsen’s initially dismissive Helen was a well-rounded resourceful character who, despite any flaws, had determination to spare and enough curiosity to place her in constant peril. Madsen’s portrayal was absolutely impeccable and her friendship with Bernadette (Kasi Lemmons) both grounded and believable. In addition her fast dissipating union with duplicitous husband Trevor (Xander Berkeley) was well documented, adding enough detail to flesh her out admirably.
Rose, who was responsible for the ethereal and nuanced Paperhouse, meditated on race, class and economic poverty; weaving in enough social commentary to ensure Candyman was relevant on more than one level. The taboo of interracial relationships was burst also, despite Spike Lee already having explored this in great detail a year earlier with Jungle Fever. Most critical however was the storytelling and Rose’s film proved itself more than robust in that respect. As icing on the cake striking imagery was littered throughout, particularly in a scene where Helen climbed through a rotted wall fissure emerging in a derelict apartment, only for the camera to draw back delicately and reveal a mural of her antagonist which she has exited through its wailing oral cavity.
Not only did the tender melancholic score by avant-garde composer Phillip Glass match the morbid on-screen romance exquisitely but it is effortlessly one of the most underrated on an extensive résumé which includes The Truman Show and The Hours to name but two. Utterly transcendent, it cradled you in one arm while preparing to plunge its bloody hook into your heart with the other, much like the tortured Candyman himself. Rose kept things adequately ambiguous, to the point where we’re not sure whether he does in fact exist or is merely a figment of Helen’s imagination.
Candyman was a far more cerebral experience than so much of the bilge available at a time when horror had simply run out of ideas. Thoughtfully scripted, wonderfully played and beautifully shot, it conjured an air of consternation which stayed with you long after the final credits had rolled. As well as its many social observations, it also had a strong message about the hazards of vanity and I distinctly remember not looking in a mirror for some time afterwards. Candyman… Candyman… Candyman… Candyman…
Crimson Quill’s Judgement: 9/10
Grue Factor: 4/5
For the Grue-Guzzlers: There was plenty of honey in this here pot. Todd put his hook to use on numerous occasions, piercing, hacking, opening from gut to appetite and even beheading a canine much to any keen dog-people out there. It was the right kind of gory, never exploitative, but making a fine point that this was one morose madman not to be fucked with. In his own words “They will say that I have shed innocent blood. What’s blood for, if not for shedding?”
Richard Charles Stevens
Keeper of The Crimson Quill
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