Release Date: October 16th, 1992 MPAA Rating: R
Director: Bernard Rose Actors: Virginia Madsen, Tony Todd, Xander Berkeley, Kasi Lemmons, Vanessa Williams, Marianna Eliott, Ted Raimi
elen Lyle (a youngish Virginia Madsen, though 31 at the time) and her associate Bernadette Walsh (Kasi Lemmons) are researching urban legends, local myths, and superstitious folklore for a thesis paper. A particularly unique story surfaces about Candyman, a towering figure with a large metal hook jammed into the bloody stump of his arm. Supposedly, anyone who looks in the mirror and says “Candyman” five times will cause the phantom to appear behind them – to take their life. Helen becomes infatuated with chronicling the history of the legend, as well as the recent unsolved murders in the notorious Cabrini-Green housing project in Chicago, which are blamed on the mysterious one-armed character.
During a visit to the area, Helen is attacked by a gang – and one of the members wields a curved piece of metal, proclaiming himself to be Candyman. Shortly after the culprit is caught, another man confronts Helen; this time, the antagonist is shrouded in a thick coat and sports a large hook grotesquely nailed into the remains of his arm. She awakes suddenly, in the tattered apartment of Anne-Marie McCoy (Vanessa Williams), who is screaming frantically at a bloody crib where her baby has been snatched. Helen is covered in blood and the decapitated head of Anne’s dog is slumped next to her. The police burst in just as Helen tries to defend herself from the crazed mother (wielding a meat cleaver), leading to Helen’s prompt arrest.
Helen’s husband, Trevor (Xander Berkeley), bails her out of jail, but can’t offer any comfort to the troubled woman – especially when more bodies start to pile up, with each murder implicating Helen alone. She’s eventually confined to a psychiatric hospital to await a trial. The supernatural specter of Candyman (Tony Todd) continues to taunt her all the while, soon proposing the ultimate trade: her life for the life of the missing McCoy child.
The visual design is incredibly appealing – in a sensationally morbid way. The sets are creepy, rundown, rusted, filthy, and littered with graffiti; the props are unnerving and the makeup disturbingly realistic; and the frequent shots of mirrors are inherently nerve-rattling, as they always betray expectations for reflections. Candyman himself might be slightly too reminiscent of Pinhead from “Hellraiser” (with his poetic whispers about exquisite pain and the gloriously dark afterlife), but this is somewhat expected. Clive Barker penned both original stories on which the films were based, this one from his short “The Forbidden.” He also served as executive producer. But there’s still plenty of commendable anticipation arising from the characters portraying genuine fear. Long moments of silence, jump scares, jarring flashbacks, sudden cuts of frightening footage, slow-motion, strobe lights, dream sequences, and a spectacular climax that addresses both creativity and an appropriate horror movie finale are all similarly affecting components.
Director Bernard Rose isn’t afraid to make audiences wait; he stretches out discomfort and feverishness for quite some time before revealing the killer. Just as unconventionally, he doesn’t shy away from allowing startling scenes to take place in broad daylight – Helen’s first encounter with the real Candyman is in a brightly lit parking garage – or even to kill victims off-screen (with gruesome sound effects as accompaniment), which is rare for a slasher. The premise is highly original, the atmosphere terrifying, and the acting superb, especially considering the subgenre and its popularity for poor performances. Virginia Madsen delivers the right amount of fear, hopelessness, and determination to create a sympathetic heroine. The majority of the characters are also older and more mature, dispensing with the annoying trend of wailing teens running around in hysterics. But perhaps the strongest emotional additive is the soundtrack, with its solemn organ music, operatic chorus voices, and eerily peaceful piano solos from composer Philip Glass, who gives the film an awe-inspiring, horror-transcending attitude. With style and substance coming together in rare form, “Candyman” is one of the most artistic, sophisticated slashers of all time.
– Mike Massie