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Overall Rating

Worth A Look: 21.43%
Average: 10.71%
Pretty Bad: 14.29%
Total Crap: 7.14%

2 reviews, 44 user ratings

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Candyman (1992)
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by Rob Gonsalves

"Slasher film that tries hard to pretend it isn't."
2 stars

Based loosely on one of Clive Barker's weaker stories ('The Forbidden,' in his 'In the Flesh' collection), 'Candyman' has an alluring premise: Urban myths, such as the old tale about alligators in the sewers, may be true. Not only that, they may be religions -- paranoid belief systems in which malevolent, godlike creatures punish those who dare to doubt the legend.

Yet, as intriguing as this may sound, it's still just standard slasher-movie stuff at heart. We all know from a hundred bad films that the guy who jokes about the axe murderer "who was never caught" will be the first to get chopped. Same thing here. Candyman reheats old material and serves it as if it were bold and original, and people will probably eat it up.

Helen Lyle (Virginia Madsen), a grad student at the University of Illinois, is working on a doctoral thesis about urban folklore. Conducting interviews in the barren Cabrini Green projects in Chicago, Helen keeps hearing about Candyman (Tony Todd, from the 1990 Night of the Living Dead remake), a mysterious figure with a hook for a right hand. Whenever someone looks into a mirror and says "Candyman" five times, Candyman appears, butchers everyone within reach, and vanishes. Helen, of course, doesn't take the myth seriously and goes right ahead and says "Candyman" five times into a mirror. Soon, the killer comes knockin'. And he's definitely coming in.

As conceived by Barker, Candyman is an urban spin-off of "The Hook," a rural horror story told around campfires (Bill Murray used it to scare campers in Meatballs, and Stephen King refers to it often in his work on horror Danse Macabre). Barker set his original story in a London slum and described Candyman as having "waxy yellow skin." In the movie, both Candyman and the project dwellers he terrorizes are black. In his past life, in 1890, Candyman was an artist who had an affair with his white model, and was mutilated and killed for it. Now he's a shadowy ghoul, a tale told to frighten children. When Helen starts investigating a series of murders in the projects (which the locals attribute to Candyman whether he committed them or not), Candyman becomes obsessed with her. He wants to make her his eternal partner in pain.

Presumably, writer-director Bernard Rose decided to relocate Barker's story and include the racial angle because he wanted to make the plot more socially relevant. (A more cynical reading might be that he wanted to make a horror movie that would cross over to the mostly untapped, potentially lucrative black audience, since the horror genre tends to be lily-white.) The film, however, comes uncomfortably close to presenting Candyman as a figure of dangerous black sexuality. A hulking black man menacing a blond white woman: is there a more primitive racist image? Rose seems to sense this, and he backs off, concentrating instead on metaphysics. Candyman, it turns out, is a vengeful patriarchal god who wants what was taken from him in life (hence his preoccupation with Helen) and wants to eliminate all doubters so that his "congregation" of followers won't reject him (hence his vicious treatment of Helen). Still, the hot-button imagery at Candyman's center evokes mixed feelings that Rose doesn't quite know what to do with.

Rose, who has directed two little-seen features (Paperhouse, Chicago Joe and the Showgirl) and a few videos (UB40's "Red Red Wine," Frankie Goes to Hollywood's "Relax"), gives Candyman a brooding dreaminess and some striking visuals. (Unfortunately, he glazes those visuals with a droning score by Philip Glass, Mr. Repetition himself, who would seem to be above a multiplex horror movie for teenagers.) From the interviews he's given, I gather that Rose thinks Candyman transcends the horror genre. If so, why does he throw in so many clichés? (Maybe he hasn't seen many movies from the genre he thinks he's transcending, and so he isn't aware he's doing a lot of stuff that's been done to death.)

At night, in Helen's bedroom, a figure pounces on her for no reason except to make the audience jump -- the time-honored False Boo. Helen keeps wandering into dark, claustrophobic spaces, and that's good for some more audience squirming (get the hell out of there, you asshole!). Candyman murders people and leaves Helen to take the blame, a cause she helps by unfailingly picking up the murder instrument every time, so that the police can burst in and catch her with (A) a bloody corpse and (B) a bloody knife. Helen must be the stupidest grad student who ever walked. And I disliked the way Rose keeps us edgy by placing an infant in danger for half the movie -- the device is so shameless that even the lowest hacks don't stoop to it any more. (Wasn't it bad enough that William Friedkin, in The Guardian, gave us an evil Druid nanny who wanted to sacrifice a baby to a tree?)

Candyman himself, a stolid villain with almost no emotional shading, is the film's biggest problem. He's supposed to be in love with Helen, but why her? (It's convenient that the grad student who goes poking around his turf happens to reflect his lost love.) And are we expected to sympathize with his plight? The man rips open innocent people. The background on this killer could be a lot clearer: If you blink, you miss the reason he's called Candyman.

Bernard Rose isn't the usual 'Friday the 13th' bozo; he has talent. But he mistakes murky characterization and plotting for artistic ambiguity, and however much he wants to tell himself he hasn't made a mere slasher movie, that is pretty much what he's made -- and at least the old slasher movies were honestly cheesy and didn't hide behind metaphysical guff and Philip Glass. Rose might have been better off making a movie about alligators in the sewers.

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originally posted: 01/28/07 06:36:44
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2004 ScreamFest L.A. Horror Festival. For more in the 2004 ScreamFest L.A. series, click here.

User Comments

9/14/17 morris campbell read the short story instead 1 stars
7/25/17 Chaz Walter A favorite of mine. Clive Barker is a genius. 5 stars
2/07/17 Louise A largely intelligently-made horror film. Deliciously creepy! 4 stars
10/07/11 Kevin Breece one of my favorite movies! 5 stars
2/01/11 Sam Perfect use of the horror genre to highlight an unnerving aspect of our own society. 5 stars
8/24/10 karamashi Upfront with its gore, the film is suprisingly well made. 4 stars
8/05/10 Josie Cotton is a goddess Smart and intense 4 stars
7/08/09 *Holy_J@lapeno* Awesome mobvie. Great acting and great horror scenes. Will send some chills down your spine 4 stars
11/04/08 nina this movie was disgusting. 1 stars
11/03/08 Shaun Wallner Awesome Story! 5 stars
2/13/08 art A VERY WEIRD MOVIE it mostly about the SUBCONSCIOUS 3 stars
11/08/07 Beverly Thompson Among the finest fantasy/horror films made!!! Tony was superb!!! 5 stars
11/02/07 Total Crap Tony Todd's voice is so deep and echoey. Freaky shit. Madsen, man she's fine!!! 5 stars
3/28/07 Mark Louis Baumgart One of horror's great actors, Todd, and Cabrini Green make the movie something different. 5 stars
3/28/06 Josh Standlee The only interesting character is, well, Candyman. 2 stars
10/16/05 Indrid Cold Clearly a cut (ha!) above most horror movies, but that's not saying too much. 4 stars
8/19/05 ES A movie that bored the hell out of 12 year old horror fans= see it and regret it 1 stars
3/26/05 Denise great 5 stars
2/19/05 april gupton ok 3 stars
2/12/05 Aimee Shelton Definitely creepy, even after all these years! 4 stars
2/12/05 J. Elaine Greenup Good to see once. 3 stars
2/11/05 Al Guy Tony Todd is a great, Virginia Madsen is both sexy and creepy. Great soundtrack. too. 5 stars
2/09/05 Jeff Anderson Tony Todd & especially the smoking hot Virginia Madsen are terrific in this scary film!!!!! 5 stars
1/30/05 Marilyn excellent 5 stars
1/30/05 Christine Fidance I really like the character of Candyman and thought that this movie had a pretty good story 4 stars
6/10/04 Ryan Clark One of the scariest movies ever made, with a fantastic performance by Virginia Madsen. 5 stars
3/20/04 Jack-pyschO-Lantern Pretty well-done for Clive Barker... Too bad his films are taken adventage of!!!!!!!!!!!!!! 5 stars
12/10/03 Samuel Chilling and Frightening!! 5 stars
11/15/03 American Slasher Goddess Chilling and scary. One of best horror movies of 90's. 5 stars
10/20/03 Josh Standlee Tony Todd is cool, but this was nothing more than a poor excuse for gore! 1 stars
7/22/03 Double G AWESOME MOVIE, I watched it with my sister then when my sis went to b-room I hid n' BOOM!!! 5 stars
11/25/02 Charles Tatum Creepy, but I wish Madsen had shed more clothing 5 stars
1/30/02 Andrew Carden Not Very Good, Other Then A Well-Crafted Plot. 2 stars
3/15/01 Richard Wright One of the best horror films I've ever seen, It's gore and tension are simply unparalelled. 5 stars
3/25/00 Richard Wright A chilling horror flick with gore and shocks aplenty, and (for a change) great acting. 4 stars
11/03/99 reverand love joy thsi movie is awesome,it is full of gore and blood 4 stars
6/14/99 Dylan I have seen the name of our lord - his name is Mr Clive Barker. Seminal horror. 5 stars
4/10/99 Michael Grimm It gave me a fear of mirrors for a long while 4 stars
3/07/99 KK Dusenbury I like it. I thought I wouldn't but its fun. The deaths are cool 4 stars
2/18/99 Bishop I liked this far better than anyone I've met. Great blending of regional custom and horror. 5 stars
1/19/99 Vick Di Brecci For some reason, this became a party movie in the dorm during my 92-93 sophomore year 3 stars
12/14/98 Jules The music was great (Philip Glass). Not as trashy as you'd think. 3 stars
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  02-Jul-1992 (R)
  DVD: 17-Aug-2004


  02-Feb-1993 (M)

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