If you look in the mirror and say Candyman five times, the Candyman will appear behind you and mutilate you with his hook for a hand.
That’s the premise of Candyman, a horror-thriller from 1992. It’s also the basis for South Park‘s Halloween episode Hell on Earth 2006. If you look in the mirror and say Biggie Smalls five times, he will appear behind you and shoot you in the face.
Virginia Madsen makes a compelling Hitchcock blonde, as a skeptical academic researching the myth. As in the Candyman myth, not the Biggie Smalls myth. Her investigation takes her to a deprived Chicago neighbourhood that provides the movie with a solid social backbone. It’s an interesting study of urban legends: “An entire community starts attributing daily horrors to a mythical figure.”
As in Wes Craven’s A Nightmare on Elm Street, the boogeyman represents past sins. In this case, these are sins against the black community and apparently the term “boogie” was once a racist slur. Candyman explores racial politics in a manner similar to Craven’s lesser-known The People Under The Stairs from the year before, which also features a great dog death.
This authentic setting offers a textured atmosphere, grounded by the decision to shoot on location in the Cabrini-Green housing projects. Writer/director Bernard Rose explores this setting with some inventive visuals and loads of bees, which according to IMDb were specially bred for the film. This atmosphere is enhanced with a classic score by Philip Glass, who takes my co-goblin Alex’s advice and uses plenty of church organ to particularly scary effect.
The film’s major pitfall is the design of the Candyman himself, played by Tony Todd. As the late Gene Siskel puts it, the guy looks like a pimp from a ’70s blaxploitation film. Or Snoop Dogg in Bones, a Candyman rip-off with the tagline: “This Dogg’s got a bone to pick.” The hook-handed villain just isn’t that scary and the increasingly bloody film gets increasingly silly, with an ending almost as ridiculous as that of this year’s The Rover. Almost.
But with its strong social setting, Philip Glass score and a good story by Clive Barker, Candyman will have you hooked.