We reviewed horror classic Candyman some 12 years ago back in 2015, but if they’re allowed to reboot it this year then I too should be allowed to try again.
Released in 1992, Candyman starts out like a traditional slasher flick with some horny youths summoning the hook-handed demon by saying his name five times in the mirror (whatever gets you going I guess) before taking a hard left turn into Black Hitchcock territory. In the greatest horror tradition it incorporates psychological, social and racial themes into its blood-soaked jumpiness. In fact if you draw a line from Night of the Living Dead to Us via The People Under the Stairs and Get Out, Candyman comes bang in the middle. It’s notable then that Jordan Peele is writing the aforementioned sequel coming this October. It certainly can’t be worse than 1995’s Farewell to the Flesh.
Also interesting is that writer/director Bernard Rose (Samurai Marathon) transposes Clive Barker’s short story from Liverpool to Chicago, exploring urban legends in the context of racial inequality and inner-city violence. By making the Candyman the son of a slave lynched for his relationship with a white woman, he becomes a black Freddy Krueger character, reaping vengeance on the young for the sins of the fathers. In my original review I quoted Gene Siskel’s critique that the villain resembles a blaxploitation pimp, which I realise now is deliberate. The pimp is a folk devil, both a cinematic fixture and real-world perpetrator of violence against women. That’s exactly who this community would fear.
Additionally the performances and production values are unusually impressive for the genre. Tony Todd is imposing as the title character, while Virginia Madsen makes for a compelling Hitchcock blonde, shot accordingly by Rose’s elegant soft focus. This beauty is juxtaposed with the Cabrini-Green housing projects, the repellant production design so vivid you can practically smell it. There’s also some striking graffiti, bees bred specially for the movie, and the idea of getting Philip Glass to do the score which ends up being the same brilliant motif played over and over on a series of different instruments.
One thing I haven’t changed my mind on is the terrible final scene, but this doesn’t spoil it so I won’t either. Candyman deserves to be remembered as an important, interesting and frightening genre landmark for decades to come, or at least until I watch it again five years from now.