Despite horror not really being my favorite genre, “Candyman” is a legend that surpassed its own iteration. Long before I ever sat and actually watched the film, I was well versed in the lore. Even as child with vague memories of the trailer, I knew exactly who Candyman was and how to evoke him.
Now, I’m not particularly superstitious, but saying his name in the mirror was always something I tried to avoid even though I’d never actually seen the film. The simple thought of evoking a murderous monster with a hook for a hand seemed like something I’d rather not test out in my own home. As an adult, though I am fully aware of it simply being a film, you won’t catch me running to the bathroom to test the urban legend out. I will however, review where it all started, with “Candyman” turning 29 years old this month and new version set to release this week from director Nia DaCosta.
More psychological thriller than outright slasher horror, Candyman himself somehow outlives his own movie confines, and is immortalized despite his limited screen time in his own origin.
“Candyman” has its fair share of strange 90s editing, pacing, and dated special effects, but what is perhaps most surprising is how well it all holds together. It’s not necessarily the best film, and under any kind of intense scrutiny falls apart rather quickly, but it opts to build more mystery and dread through ideas rather that constant bloodlust. The film is surprisingly patient, taking its time building the meta-narrative lore of urban legends and their effectiveness as well as examining social issues like poverty and segregated inequality. It does so more subtly than you’d expect from a film about a murderous hook handed ghost monster, setting “Candyman” apart from its other, more brutal counterparts of the same genre and time period. The film really does take its time building tension and unraveling the story through Helen’s (a game Virginia Madsen) own sanity, providing dread through visions that may or may not be real.
The character of Candyman is treated as the urban legend he is framed to be, with the audience never really sure if he’s real or not. “Candyman” is more terrifying when he is implied and hinted at rather than fully realized in the third act, which takes a little bit of the bite off of the payoff but still makes for a compelling watch. The film’s non gory elements are its best, with the psychological and social commentary aspects cementing it as the beloved cult classic it has become.
Written and directed by Bernard Rose and adapted from a short story written by horror legend Clive Barker, Rose demonstrates purpose and focus here and breaths some pretty good life into Barker’s story. He also allowed actors like Tony Todd to essentially create their character, with Candyman’s backstory being mainly ideas from Todd himself. He also had tremendous input into his look and demeanor, not to mention the very real covered in bees scene “Candyman” is known for doing for real. The film is also brilliantly scored by academy award winner Philip Glass, who adds to the overall uneasiness of dread of the film as it carries on.
Fun fact: Eddie Murphy was wanted for the role of Candyman, but the film’s budget couldn’t afford him. Also, the role of Helen was suppose to go to Alexandria Pigg, but she became pregnant so Madsen stepped up. If she hadn’t, producers were actually eyeing none other than Sandra Bullock.
Man, imagine this film starring Eddie Murphy and Sandra Bullock?! Movies are weird, and casting choices are often weirder than what we actually end up getting. Frankly, I’m glad it went to Tony Todd, who’s imposing frame and haunting presence has become synonymous with the dark horror legend. Likewise, Madsen turns in a solid performance as Helen, allowing her curiosity as a skeptic journalist to lead her down darker and darker paths and her mental unraveling is believable throughout most of the film.
I’m not entirely sure the film’s conclusion makes a whole lot of sense, as that same focus and purpose I praised Rose for becomes a bit unhinged in the third act. The brutality along with the plot twists ramp up dramatically and don’t necessarily land as well as the first two acts. The twist and final showdown doesn’t really make a whole lot of sense, and escalates incredibly quickly and abandons its slower burn that built the story up until that point. I guess that’s to be expected though, as the film IS still a horror film and needs to hit its blood quota to qualify. To be fair, very few horror films in the early 90s were focused on nuance and pacing, so “Candyman” is rather refreshing in that regard. It surprisingly has a lot more to say than ghosts that kill or monsters than haunt your dreams and lakes and children’s dolls.
“Candyman” certainly earns its place among the horror elite, and despite some minor flaws and 90s filmmaking stamps that are hard to ignore, the film is one of the better ones of its kind even almost 30 years later. Revisiting the original actually has me excited for its sequel, a film I was only curious about but now looking forward to. It could do well with a sequel/reboot, and because of its social commentary elements can remain a poignant look at racial inequality and gentrification even today. Plus, knowing that DaCosta’s film is more of a reimagining, makes this rewatch all the more worthwhile, as I am now able to head into the film with fresh knowledge of the events of the original. I’m genuinely looking forward to seeing where the lore of “Candyman” can go, and interested to see how the elements of the original will be reshaped and used in this upcoming iteration.
After this enjoyable honorable mention rewatch, I will certainly be reviewing the new “Candyman.”
No, I will not be saying his name 5 times in the mirror. I didn’t as a child, and I’m not tryna press my luck as an adult.
You can rent the original film on Amazon here. DaCosta’s version is due to hit theaters on August 27th, 2021.