Slasher and horror movies don’t always have to involve men in masks stalking scream queens, as Clive Barker’s short story The Forbidden spawned the original and imaginative Candyman and its (not so imaginative) sequels.
(USA/UK 1992, director: Bernard Rose)
A graduate student does research on the urban legend of Candyman, a man punished by being covered with honey and eaten alive by bees after his hand was cut off, and soon learns that he becomes reality of her life.
Horror movies are usually less about poetic language and more about bloody images, but Candyman is different. Sure, there have always been some tragic monsters in the genre, while revenge isn’t a topic that is very new, either. Still, having a man with a hook who spills bees and uses lines like “Be my victim.” is quite special, considering that the typical horror icons are only out for teenagers or scantily-clad women. It’s also noticeable how the whole urban legend about calling his name three times in the mirror and the modern crime-riddled setting also adds realism.
It’s certainly not for the squeamish in the depiction of violence and the creepy atmosphere, as enough blood and guts are spilled to please gorehounds. Being scary, disturbing, but also emotional, it doesn’t only make the audience feel for Candyman as the man who was put to a gruesome death by people of his times, but also for the strong female lead who soon loses her grip on reality. It’s unsettling in a way few modern slasher movies are, because places, people, and plot feel rooted in reality and rarely go the nightmare-sequences way so many others do.
Another element that is very striking and memorable is the sound design. Both the church organ and chorus soundtrack as well as Tony Todd’s deep voice coming out of nowhere add to an immersive atmosphere that is only played down with some overacting performances. However, Virginia Madsen does an amazing job to portray someone who follows an urban legend with skepticism that soon leads to paranoia and fear, something only the best of horror movies can do.
Candyman: Farewell to the Flesh
(USA 1995, director: Bill Condon)
A young teacher’s brother is accused of murder and soon finds out that her family’s fate is connected to the man with the hook who goes on a killing spree in New Orleans.
Following in the footsteps of a horror movie that established such a tragic character as Candyman, the sequel tries to dive deeper into the life of the man who become the entity with a hook. Using New Orleans as a setting where Mardi Gras is celebrated, the atmosphere and ideas are present and correct, especially with a radio host who talks in vivid imagery about „farewell to the flesh“, the real meaning of Day of the Dead.
The plot also provides an interesting take on combining the myth and modern times while exploring dark family secrets. Unfortunately, the characters are what breaks the movie, ranging from uninspired great-husband-who-is-a-cook-and-nothing-else to brother-who-is-the-black-sheep-of-the-family clichés to a heroine who has as much charisma as the many drunks dancing or lying on the streets.
It’s not only the uninteresting characters and some bad acting (especially of children) in addition to the sad-looking face of the main protagonist, but the slow pacing that makes the movie often difficult to watch. While it’s nice that the story is slowly unraveled, the connection to Candyman is ultimately pretty predictable, so that a lot of talk and not enough action or even scary moments ensue. Only the final confrontation between Candyman and the heroine can be called exciting, as the rest is standard horror fare without the suspense or terror the first movie so effectively managed to convey.
Candyman: Day of the Dead
(USA 1999, director: Turi Meyer)
An artist has to learn the hard way that she can’t escape the past of Candyman who wants to make her a part of his legacy.
It’s telling that a series runs out of money if one uses a scantily-clad model with the same facial expressions in almost every scene as the leading lady. It’s also telling that it’s running out of ideas if the title is reminiscent of the sequel’s setting and the rehash of the tired women-is-stalked-by-the-man-with-the-hook-and-goes-insane formula isn’t very exciting, either. If the movie would at least be atmospheric and suspenseful, then it wouldn’t be such a problem.
However, if one accepts that the acting of all involved is as unintentionally funny as the nonsensical story, then the ridiculous development of it can actually be quite entertaining. Throwing in a cult of Candyman worshippers, some fortunetelling destiny nonsense and even some forced social commentary shows that there isn’t much left of the original idea of the dramatic figure of Candyman.
Of course if one watches a slasher or horror movie with a stalking villain, one also wants to know how frequently he shows up and in what creative way he gets rid of his victims. Unfortunately, Candyman is never as omnipresent as in the original, and while there’s a fair amount of blood shed and guts pulled or thrown out, it’s all very uninspired, with the romanticized killings being substituted by typical jump-scare dismemberment.
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