Colin Timothy Gagnon (sacredspud) wrote,
Colin Timothy Gagnon

31 Days of Halloween: Candyman

You have to hand it to Clive Barker that even when his characters are slogging their way through hip-deep gore, he's still trying to raise some larger point. Whether he actually makes his point or not is up for debate. It's not that he's ineffectual or wishy-washy, he just seems to want to raise the issue. The Hellbound Heart (better known as the film Hellraiser) is clearly trying to say something about emotional abuse, for example, and Rawhead Rex wants to remind us of the way folk legends survive for generations, but I'm not sure he wants to preach any particular point of view.

So, we have Candyman, based on Barker's short story, "The Forbidden". I remember one of my friends telling me, when I was in middle school, that he had seen Candyman, which I had never ever heard of. I would have been twelve or thirteen at the time, and based on the title I imagined that it was a psychotic clown movie. Later I mistakenly conflated the title with the poster for 2003's Gacy, so when I finally decided to track it down, I was more than a little surprised that it was not the sort of slasher film I was expecting.

The film follows Helen Lyle (Virginia Madsen), a doctoral candidate who, while working in Chicago on her thesis about urban legends, learns about a killer known locally as Candyman. The legend is much older, but Candyman, it is said, now frequents the dilapidated Cabrini-Green housing project. He can be summoned by repeating his name five times into a mirror, ala Bloody Mary or Beetlejuice, has a hook for a hand, and is responsible (as far as the residents are concerned) for more than a few murders over the last several decades.

Helen begins investigating Candyman's legacy, and learns that he was the son of a former slave-cum-shoemaker who managed to bring the family into polite society. Candyman himself became an accomplished artist, but fell in love with the wrong (in other words, a white) woman. Her father set his hooligans on him, and they chopped off his hand--hence the hook--smeared him with honey, and left him to be stung to death by bees.

Helen also tries the mirror trick--to no immediate result--and begins hanging around Cabrini-Green in order to do some hands-on research. This proves not to be a good idea, and she becomes a suspect after a baby goes missing and the police burst in on her covered in blood and holding a meat cleaver. The apparent explanation is more plausible than the true explanation, so she is institutionalized, and her philandering husband is more interested in trysting with coeds than in her well-being. And Candyman (who has shown up in the flesh as Tony Todd) is still on the loose and has his sights set on Helen.

Like any Clive Barker story, Candyman gives us several big topics to chew on. Where do urban legends get their power? Candyman more or less tells us that his continued existence is ensured by the fear he inspires, and that he intends to make Helen a canonical feature of his story. The movie also deals very heavily with racial and economic disparity. It was adapted for screen by the director Bernard Rose, so it is possible, I suppose, that these ideas are at least in part his, but Barker must deserve a lot of the credit. Rose's script is quite good, and his direction doesn't take any chances, but that's fine.

I don't really know how else to bring it up, but I was also very taken with the score by Phillip Glass, who gives Candyman a much classier, more beautiful treatment than a supernatural slasher film deserves. This is a good movie. Frankly, I was surprised.

Here's the trailer.

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