Director: Bernard Rose
Written by: Bernard Rose
Starring: Virginia Madsen, Tony Todd, Xander Berkeley and Kasi Lemmons
With the sequel to Candyman arriving in cinemas this week, it’s a good time to look back at the original classic. Based on Clive Barker’s short story ‘The Forbidden’, the original film explores a class and race division in Chicago, centred around the Cabrini–Green Homes, a low-income housing area. The title character is an urban legend that Helen Lyle (Virginia Madsen, Dune) is researching for a paper. After hearing the stories of Candyman she goes to Cabrini-Green, where the legend came from to investigate further and discovers that there’s more to it than just a legend.
Everyone knows the story of Candyman, that if you say his name five times in a mirror, he will appear behind you and kill you with his hooked hand. After hearing the story Helen does exactly this in her apartment bathroom and seemingly nothing happens. You know from almost the opening that this film isn’t going to have a happy ending. There is a sense of foreboding and impending doom that works really nicely and creates a good sense of tension and horror.
The main setting of the film, Cabrini-Green was a real housing project in Chicago, that’s since been torn down. When preparing for the roles, Virginia Madsen and Tony Todd (Candyman himself), visited the project to get a sense of what it was like to live there, and would later say it was a distressing experience. A few scenes were shot there as well, and at once point the crew was shot at. There is a moment in the film where one of the characters says you don’t even drive past Cabrini-Green and that was a real feeling outside of the film. Candyman captures the tensions and divisions between races in Chicago, a drastic change from the original story that is set in Liverpool, UK. By doing this, Rose added another layer to the story and gives it a gritty feeling.
Candyman is a creepy film. It’s unsettling and the opening is one of the most captivating and engrossing openings to a horror film ever. The story is hinted at and slowly revealed to you and it works really well. Even at the end of the film, you get the impression that there is more there, that we just don’t know. It really captures the idea of an urban legend. Helen’s role in the story is left ambiguous at the end, there are hints that she is a reincarnated person from Candyman’s past, but this isn’t ever explicitly said. It’s a really nice touch.
The score by classical composer Philip Glass, is one of the best horror scores of all time. It’s spooky but doesn’t tell you when to be scared like so many other scores do. It sets a perfect mood of tension and builds the horror nicely to the grand showdown at the end.
Since it’s nearly 30 years old, there are some dated moments in Candyman. The effects aren’t much by today’s standards, and without any spoilers there is one particularly bad effect that is distracting. If you can ignore that and enjoy it in the context of a lower-budget horror from the early 90s, then there is still a lot to enjoy. The bee scenes are all real and they are really unsettling. A lot of the crew suffered stings from the bees and it’s not for the faint hearted.
Candyman is widely considered to be a classic horror film and it deserves that title. It’s chilling, gripping and builds to the perfect ending. The new sequel has a lot to live up to.