Candyman, Candyman – what are you, Candyman? Are you a slasher? A thriller? A post-modern mediation on storytelling complete with Koyaanisqatsi-like helicopter shots of macro life and a Philip Glass score? The truth is, it’s all of these things, and that’s what makes this film so great. Tony Todd’s menacing, hook-handed baritone Candyman is certainly seen as a slasher icon, and there’s more than enough bloody viscera on display to satisfy slasher fans, but there’s much more going on under the skin in Candyman than most slashers. There are thoughtful ruminations on US race, class, and gender issues, and in some ways, it anticipates Wes Craven’s fascination with the proliferation and mechanics of myth and storytelling present in 1994s Wes Craven’s New Nightmare and 1996s Scream (the opening with Ted Raimi, in particular, feels very Scream-like). Whatever it is, a caution before continuing: if you have been reading this out loud, I hope it wasn’t in the presence of a mirror, because that’s five Candyman’s now by my count(well, six including that last one), so I hope you’re wearing some protection unless you fancy being split, “from groin to gullet,” as the saying goes.
Grad student Helen Lyle (Virginia Madsen) is researching urban legends for her PhD when she happens across the myth of the Candyman while interviewing residents of the depressed Chicago Cabrini-Green housing projects. Eager to bolster her thesis, she delves into the mystery, and finds much more than she bargained for.
Candyman was relatively unique when it was first released, and as it turns out, over twenty years on, it’s still unique. It’s thought provoking if you care to pick up what it’s putting down about race relations, segregation, storytelling mythology, gender roles, and classism, but none of that is shoved down your throat – it’s there, lurking in the background like Candyman himself. Like any good horror film, it never loses sight of that most important horror pursuit – to scare, and Candyman certainly still has the power to scare. Some of that is Philip Glass’s incredible Gothic masterpiece of a score – there was nothing like it when Candyman was first released, and there’s nothing like it now. Much of it is Tony Todd’s fantastic performance as Daniel Robitaille, the titular Candyman. Despite having relatively little screen time, Todd owns this film. Like all great monsters, he is a mix of menacing, terrifying, tragic, and romantic. Todd plays it with a kind of princely confidence that reminds of another of Clive Barker’s creations: Hellraiser’s chief Cenobite, Pinhead. There’s certainly a little of Todd Browning’s Dracula in here, too – Daniel Robitaille’s lost love and his Bela Lugosi-like seductive powers.
Candyman rarely seems to come up in discussions of great horror films, and that’s a shame. It’s very rewatchable, uncommonly intelligent, gruesome, and haunting. This is a frequently gorgeous film, and comes highly recommended.