Tuesday, October 5, 2010

31 days, 31 faves: Candyman

Let's get straight to the point. Candyman (1992) scared the pants right off me when it came out. Everything about it gave me the willies. I had already read the source material (a story out of a book of short stories (Books of Blood) by Clive Barker - 'The Forbidden') and knew it was a very scary and unnerving tale, so I had anticipated that the film version was going to be every bit as frightening as Barker's story.

Stop me if you've heard this one: A college freshman is telling the story of an urban legend that has been making the rounds. Promiscuous girl has bad boy over to hang out while she's babysitting. She decides to have sex with him but for some reason they are in the bathroom and she tells him the legend of Candyman first- say his name five times in front of a mirror and he'll appear and gut you like a fish with his hook. Naturally, she's stupid enough to utter his name the required amount of times and what happens? He shows up and (off-camera) splits her open.

We move on then to Helen (Virginia Madsen), a graduate student who is writing her thesis on urban legends and has set her focus on the lore of Candyman. She and her friend Bernadette (Kasi Lemmons) are doing some interviews with students about the subject and while working late, Helen runs across a couple of cleaning ladies who give her a more in depth chat about the fiendish murderer. Apparently he is being blamed for the death of one Ruthie Jean, a young black woman from the projects. Helen and Bernadette decide to get the real story so off they trek to Cabrini-Green, an urban sprawl of gangs, crime, and the extremely disadvantaged.

Cabrini-Green scares the living hell out of me, even more than Candyman himself. I wasn't raised in the city, I'm a small town girl. The thought of having to walk past a ghetto like that -even in the middle of the day, packing heat - makes me quiver with fear. Helen does a bit of investigating and finds out that her condo was actually built with the exact same plan as Cabrini but they turned them into expensive condos. She realizes that the walls are just dry wall and the bathroom medicine chests are all that separate one apartment from the other.

Her and Bernadette make the journey to Cabrini and once past all the gang-bangers out front and in the hallways (who think the girls are cops due to their snappy dressing), they poke around in one of the empty apartments. Quite honestly the creepiest moment in the film for me is when Helen crawls through the hole where the medicine cabinet was and takes a look around. The room is covered in grungy graffiti and is downright appalling. But the worst part is when she steps through a bigger hole in the wall and we, as the audience, get to see that the wall on our side is painted with a giant mouth...Candyman's mouth. Just. So. Scary.

Helen and Bernadette are soon busted snooping around by Anne-Marie - one of the locals who is tending to her young baby and has a Rottweiler for an escort - and once she's calmed down, she reiterates the story about Candyman killing Ruthie Jean.

Later, Helen returns by herself (!!) to get more photos the next day, and she is led to an outside public bathroom which is a cesspool of foulness. There, she is attacked by one of the locals who claims to be Candyman and beat up pretty bad. Obviously, he's not - but he scares the bejesus out of Helen nonetheless.

We eventually learn the actual story behind the myth, the fact that Candyman was well educated and actually came from a well-off family. But that all ended when he fell in love with a (white) plantation owner's daughter. The girl's father had no time for his offspring getting jiggy with a black man. That in itself tells a lot about the film. The stigma of racial indifference and intolerance does make it seem rather controversial, in particular because a white woman is being terrorized by a black man. And as Candyman, Tony Todd casts a very commanding and scary presence - makes my blood run cold. We find out that his lover's father exacted a horrific revenge by, among other things, cutting off Candyman's arm and covering him with honey, then letting an entire hive of bees loose on him. Okay, that's certainly unique.

The scene in the parking garage, where Candyman calls to Helen, putting her into a trance, is a turning point in the film. Hypnotized by his deep, resonating voice, Helen loses consciousness. Coming to, she awakes in a pool of blood in Anne-Marie's apartment. Hearing the young mother's deafening cries for help, she races into the next room to see the Rottwieler's head severed from its body and Anne-Marie screaming beside the baby's crib. Young Anthony is missing, and when A-M sees Helen she runs to her, accusing her of murder. There is a major struggle, and conveniently the cops bust through the door to see Helen wielding a meat cleaver over Anne-Marie's body. Not a good thing.

Helen is arrested and when she uses her one phone call she finds out her hubby isn't home - and it's 3 am. Throughout the movie you come to realize Trevor (Xander Berkeley) is a louse. He's a swarmy college professor who is obviously having an affair with a student. He does however, come and get Helen at the police station, and seems to stand by her.

This changes when Helen finally comes face to face with Candyman at her condo. He jumps out at her, hook first, through the mirror and chases her through the hallway, reaching her and putting her into said trance yet again. When Bernadette comes to visit, things don't end well. Helen is booked for murder and is sent to be evaluated by a shrink. But the wheels are already set in motion - she escapes and is left to roam through the windy city to try to make some sense of everything. She has a half-baked idea that if she is able to find Anne-Marie's baby (which she knows Candyman is hiding), she'll be forgiven and won't have to be considered a fugitive nut case anymore.

Throughout the film, you really could ask yourself if Helen is going crazy or if the legends are true. At times, it certainly seems as though she's flipped her lid. For instance, when Helen is an escaped mental patient, she goes back to her and Trevor's apartment only to find the slutty girlfriend completely redecorating the place. When Trevor comes into the room there are a few moments when Helen's wide-eyed look seems purely psychotic. But as much as Helen proclaims her innocence, no one - not even her husband at this point - believes her.

Candyman also does not stray from gore. In fact, there are some seriously gruesome scenes of violence here. When you're ripping someone open from the groin to sternum, it ain't gonna be pretty. But we are talking Clive Barker here, the man behind Hellraiser, among other things. The dude has a sick mind that most horror fans can truly appreciate as a unique, daring voice of darkness. And to me, this film is every bit as good as Hellraiser. Yes, they are vastly different, but if I had to choose I'd pick Candyman over Pinhead every time. I'll always chose the tragic hero over the demon from hell. But hey, maybe that's just me.

And again, I would be negligent if I didn't mention the music of Candyman. The consummate composer, Philip Glass has given this film a true touch of class with his piano, organ and voice-oriented score. The main theme is haunting and unforgettable, and one of my favorites.
As is the film. If you haven't seen it, there's really no excuse for you not to go rent it or pick it up immediately. You will not be disappointed.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

i agree that this is a much better film than hellraiser... despite the striking imagery, hellraiser is essentially a silly film... candyman is way more elegant and accomplished...