NOVEMBER 4 VHS MOVIE REVIEW : CANDYMAN
Probably the biggest problem with a movie like this, for a horror fan (the target audience), is that it is too derivative. Now there are fans who say "Well of course its derivative! Its based on Urban myth!"
Don't get me wrong, the tale of looking into a mirror and saying a dead person's name has been around for a long time (Blood Mary is one example) and exists in several cultures today ranging from all of North America, to England to the Philippines. CANDYMAN was a movie just waiting to happen. And when it comes to Urban Myth, I have to admit that CANDYMAN is a lot stronger than that URBAN LEGEND crap from 1998 (They are making a sequel to URBAN LEGEND. Can you imagine how bad that one is going to be?)!
So then what's wrong with the movie? After all, it was based on the short story The Forbidden by Clive Barker, from his anthology In The Flesh. That was 1986, back when he was good (good for Horror. Now he's good for fantasy. This is not a fantasy site so...)!
It stars Virginia Madsen (DUNE, ZOMBIE HIGH, PROPHECY, THE HAUNTING) as the heroine Helen Lyle who, as a student working on her thesis, investigates Urban myths in general and the legend of CANDYMAN in particular.
Strange little creepy things start happening as Helen pursues her detective work in cahoots with her cohort Bernadette (Kasi Lemmons: VAMPIRE'S KISS, SILENCE OF THE LAMBS). She makes disturbing discoveries of how ancient myth not only survives, but thrives. Unexplained murders that take place around the nearby Cabrini-Green Projects in Chicago are attributed to The Candyman. The adults there know and believe, the children there know and believe, but Helen and Bernadette do not.
Things don't really start jumping until about halfway through the movie. Now understand, I'm all for taking your time to tell a good story, BUT HALFWAY THROUGH THE MOVIE??? Only when Helen narrowly avoids being killed by a gang leader do things start getting really scary. The gang leader (Terrence Riggins: RETURN OF THE LIVING DEAD II) has been using the legend of the Candyman as protection from the retribution of, those he wishes to victimize. He walks around with a spike in one hand and the children believe him to be THE Candyman. It is only after he beats Helen and leaves her for dead, does she return to pick him out of a police line-up of suspects. By this action she has dispelled the myth and fear from the lives of the folks in the Cabrini Projects. Regardless of whatever other hells they may have to live with, the murders committed by the fake Candyman can now be laid to rest. Those who may see him again will attack him readily, for they no longer believe in his otherworldly immortality.
Only now, ONLY NOW (!) do the Merry Mishaps occur! All else has been build-up and exposition! E-Freakin' GAD!
So okay, we are now half way through the movie and things are really starting to click. The movie comes alive thanks in no small part to the Real Candyman (Tony Todd: All the CANDYMAN movies, THE CROW, FINAL DESTINATION). Now the wild and creepy stuff begins and it is well worth watching.
But wait! What about the big problem I mentioned? Why is this movie derivative? Well, the movie DRACULA and THE MUMMY were both originally written by Bram Stoker. Though the first movies had little to do with the books, they both retained the main plot device, in that the murdering "Monster" was also a tragic figure who had died a horrible death for the love of their one true. Years, centuries, or millennia later, they are resurrected by various means and quickly go about establishing their reputations (unstoppable killing thing) while at the same time trying to re-capture the love that they had lost. For both stories this was in the form of a modern woman who crossed their path and looks enough like the old flame to pass muster. We have seen tons of DRACULA and MUMMY movies throughout the 20th century. All with the same angle driving the plot. We have even seen the same plot drive African American vampires (BLACULA). And this is what drives CANDYMAN as well. It is tired re-hashed hack work.
Written and directed by Bernard Rose (PAPERHOUSE) I found that "Rose the Director" is way more creative than "Rose the writer" (Bernard also plays the role of Archie Walsh in this film). I would find it hard to believe that Bernard could not understand the more original concept of Clive Barker's "Forbidden". Anyone who has seen PAPERHOUSE knows that this is a guy well at ease with the surreal. Possibly the screenplay was written in an effort to get studio money by giving the "heads" a plotline that they could easily grasp without too much thought. Thinking takes time and time is money. Whatever the case, CANDYMAN suffers for it as the grafting of one plot device over another is an ill fit.
Where Bernard Rose fails as a writer he amply makes up for as a director. The world he creates and the fears he instills in the audience are so palpable you can almost smell the blood. Rose demonstrates a sure hand as he depicts Helen's world rapidly and inexorably falling apart. As Helen, Virginia Madsen has a way with her eyes. She can talk and physically express herself all at the same time, from her bodily movements to her facial tics. We are talking minutia here, but it rounds itself out to give her character of Helen a real-life plausibility. Watching Madsen is fascinating and she carries the movie very well.
Because of the failed writing, CANDYMAN has two endings. The actual one and the follow-up prologue. Both are anticlimactic.
Thanks to the good direction, great acting, and scenery so real you can almost (ugh) taste it - Giant Zombie Kudos go to Production Designer Jane Anne Stewart, Art Director David Lazan (TEACHING MRS. TINGLE) and Set Decorator Kathryn Peters (DEVIL IN A BLUE DRESS). All in all it was a great team making a good movie from a mediocre script. That couldn't be easy!
3 Shriek Girls.
NOVEMBER 4 VHS MOVIE REVIEW : CANDYMAN
Candyman is a Clive Barker movie. His only involvement was as "executive producer" (a title which can cover a multitude of sins) but Bernard Rose adapted it from Barker's short story The Forbidden. It's in the fifth volume of his Books of Blood, if anyone's interested in digging it out.
I always have more respect for writer-directors, and here Bernard Rose has done a damn good job. There are many differences between Barker's version and Rose's movie, but they all make sense and it's not smart for an adaptation to be excessively faithful to the original for its own sake. I'll go on to compare one with the other, but for the moment let's just consider Candyman in its own right. Any film deserves that much.
Helen Rose is studying urban myths, which is a fantastic set-up in itself. "Don't go in the barn" is the invariable cry of horror movie audiences, but here our heroine is researching legends which are "obviously" untrue. She's also played by Virginia Madsen, which is my cue to bemoan the unfairness of the universe. Why oh why must actors forever labour under the curse of lookism? Good-looking mannequins steal parts from their more talented brethren... but dammit, Virginia Madsen is beautiful and it makes such a difference. Candyman just wouldn't be the same with a grunter in the lead role. Virginia's gorgeous, she's fabulous and I could watch her all day. I'm shallow. I'm a pig. It's the way the universe works and it's not fair, dammit!
The film's portrayal of the delineations of American class seems pretty sharp to this uninformed Englishman. It's also spooky as hell, more so when the Candyman's offstage but not bad in later scenes either. Tony Todd was an interesting choice to portray him - obviously he's a big, imposing black man, but he has an air of class and dignity instead of being just a stereotyped hook-handed ugly boy. You can believe in this near-mythological figure... hell, forget the "near". He *is* mythological. That's the whole point. If we take urban myths at all seriously, as the modern counterpart of ancient folk tales, then the Candyman is an evil deity in a pantheon of one.
There are one or two possible script lurches. You'd think the police forensics department could do some damage to the plot, but perhaps we're meant to realise that. There's a lot of ambiguity going on here. More damaging is Helen Lyle's decision to head for home at a time when it would be the very dumbest thing she could possibly do. It's not hard to rationalise this decision (she has extenuating circumstances), but the film doesn't even try. An important scene is the result, but that's no excuse for this kind of lapse.
I also loved the ending, which goes on for several minutes after any other film would have rolled the closing credits and is worth every second. This is a story about the power of myth and symbolism and I thought Rose's ideas were cool.
Candyman takes a premise that might have been used as mere window-dressing for yet another slasher flick and turns it into something damn creepy and Barker-esque. It's about Helen Lyle, her choices and what happens to her. The Candyman is awesome, in all senses of the word. I was very impressed by this.
Then, afterwards, I reread Clive Barker's original story and found the resulting comparisons to be almost as interesting as the movie.
Candyman is upfront right from the beginning about what it's about (urban legends about a hook-handed killer) and spooks the living shit out of you with it. The Forbidden is completely different. Clive Barker's Books of Blood often start deceptively, apparently giving us a police procedural or some other genre before spinning off into the sickest realms of Barker's imagination. His Helen is writing a thesis about graffiti, not urban legends. She visits the Spector Street Estate to see what's been written on the walls, not even hearing the Candyman's name until there are less than six pages to go. In a short story, it's probably a more effective approach. The reader never has any idea what's coming next, instead being struck by the force of Barker's writing and led up the garden path by false trails and misdirection.
And make no mistake, Clive Barker is a stunning prose writer. I actually prefer his Books of Blood to his long novels. He brilliantly captures the sordid squalor of a British inner city while adding his own hallucinogenic twist in a manner that Ramsey Campbell could be proud of. His graffiti will spook the hell out of you. Bernard Rose sensibly doesn't even try to capture this aspect of The Forbidden; prose can suggest things that a movie camera can't. Candyman has graffiti all right, but it adds some backstory to the Candyman himself to justify the more outre visual images Barker serves up. Rose's Candyman was once a painter. I thought that was quite clever.
Moving for the film from Britain to the US is sensible. American inner cities are more horrible and scary than British ones, though as someone whose sister lived in Manchester for three years I don't say that lightly. Mind you, the transatlantic hop cuts out one plot detail. America doesn't have our peculiar English custom of Bonfire Night, in which we go back to our pagan roots and celebrate Guy Fawkes's attempt to blow up Parliament in the early seventeenth century. They'd probably find that even spookier than I do.
The movie's ideas (except the ending) are all in the original story, though Barker takes his time unfolding them. The biggest single difference (apart from the addition of a movie-length plot, which shouldn't surprise anyone) is Helen's partner, the Trevor character. Barker's Trevor is slime on a stick with no redeeming characteristics whatsoever, but Rose grafts this into a more complex personality. The movie's Trevor Lyle (played by Xander Berkeley) is often well-meaning, but weak and evasive. Personally I think each Trevor is an effective choice for that particular medium, 37-page short story versus 99-minute movie.
Candyman is a respectful adaptation of The Forbidden, but not afraid to make big changes for the sake of creating a vibrant, evocative movie. Neither version of the story suffers by comparison with the other. Both are highly recommended.
NOVEMBER 4 VHS MOVIE REVIEW : CANDYMAN
Candyman is a genuinely scary horror film with an intriguing and believable plot that supplies a generous amount of suspense and terrifying thrills.
The film's heroine is Helen, a doctoral candidate and the wife of a college professor. For her thesis she's selected urban folklore, legends, and superstitions. Together with another woman she enthusiastically launches into her research which takes her into a degenerated ghetto housing project where a vicious unsolved murder was committed. Ghetto residents believe the murderer to be Candyman, a mythological serial-killer who has committed more than twenty murders. Helen learns that the mythic Candyman had been an educated son of a slave who was put to death by having his hand cut off and throwing him to a massive swarm of bees as revenge for impregnating a wealthy young white woman. Legend has it that Candyman can be summoned by repeating his name more than four times while looking in a mirror. Her enthusiasm and dedication for the subject matter put Helen at the kidnapping and subsequent murder of the baby of a ghetto resident which lands Helen in police custody. As the plot unfolds there are numerous bloody and violent confrontations with Candyman and his victims.
As the film begins, thousands of swarming bees fill the screen. This scene was accomplished via the use of optical special effects. Added to the special effects were a series of closeup shots of real bees. The bee wrangler placed a large number of bees on a wall and queen bee hormone was used to keep the bees in that particular spot. To get the effect of bees exploding towards the camera, a special vacuum was used with a reverse suction. This was superimposed with special effects to give the overall total effect.
Real bees were used in several other scenes. In a scene which takes place in a public toilet, Helen discovers a toilet bowl filled to the brim with bees all feeding on something unseen. To achieve the effect, a queen bee scent was applied by a professional bee wrangler to the inside of the toilet bowl. This wrangler released the bees from the hive into the toilet which had no water in the bowl and was not a functional toilet. Vaseline was applied to the upper inside of the bowl to prevent bees crawling up near the lid. After the scene was filmed the bees were collected with the special soft, safe, gentle vacuum and returned to the hive.
For a scene in which both Helen and Candyman are covered with bees, the queen bee scent was placed on the actors and then the bees were placed on the actors by pouring them out of a container. A special bee vacuum was used after to collect the bees. For a scene in which bees fill Candyman's chest cavity, bees were placed in a special body appliance which was filled off stage and strapped to the actor. Utmost care was taken to be gentle in placing the bees properly for the scene and then collecting them afterwards. Very young bees were used when placed on the actress as the young bees were unlikely to fly or sting.
In other animal action, a Rottweiler barks at Helen as she takes pictures inside the ghetto tenement. The dog is held on a leash by the actress and barks in response to his trainers cues. In a later scene the same dog has supposedly been killed and decapitated with a meat cleaver and the head of the dog is seen lying on a kitchen floor amid a puddle of blood. The decapitated head was a lifelike fake rubber model. The blood was, of course, fake stage blood.
NOVEMBER 4 VHS MOVIE REVIEW : CANDYMAN
While investigating the "Candyman" urban legend for her thesis, infectiously beautiful Helen (Madsen) encounters the real deal (or does she?), which renders her life bitter-sweet through a gory chain of events in consequence.
Having the crappy "Candyman 3" fresh in my mind, I had forgotten what a mature, frightening and skilled piece of filmmaking the original "Candyman" was. Based on a Clive Barker tale (called “The Forbidden”), this ambitious, cerebral and beautifully crafted piece of horror celluloid definitely hit the spot with its well constructed screenplay, its classy, absorbing visuals (loved the use of paintings and those damn bees), its layered African-American nemesis (rare in a horror film) and its strong, drop dead gorgeous heroine, Helen (Madsen).
"Candyman" also doubled-down on the quality by constantly playing the psychological mind-bending card throughout its run. The flick addressed the fascinating question “If we believe in something, does it make it real?” and didn’t hold back in baffling my brain waves with its ambiguity and insane happenings. What made the film so much more powerful for me is that it slapped my bootie in the heroine’s shoes, making sure that I experienced her taxing ordeal as hardcore as she did. The two key "disorienting" moments in the movie where Helen blacked out and found herself in new “places", pounded my skull to the wall until my fluids leaked out. What a lesson! Ouch! I felt those scenes. Thank you so much, may I have another?
The open-to-interpretation approach in regards to Helen's position in all of this mayhem and the Candyman’s hazy nature also contributed to keeping me riveted to the screen. I appreciated that Rose had enough faith in his audience not to spell everything out for us. Yes, we get to use our brains here for a change! YIPPEE! To top that off, the film went on to be more than a psycho-horror assault on the cracker by taking the necessary time to address relevant issues on its way, such as living in the projects, poverty, racial tension and the roots of all urban legends. Thankfully, the movie never felt the need to force-feed its themes down my throat. It put them out there and let me absorb what I wanted from them.
On the sour lick, one aspect that didn’t fully satisfy me was the handling of the love story. I would’ve liked a deeper exploration in its regard and further clarification. The way it’s presented here, I was stroked but never to the point of full gratification. Being the mush that I am; I wanted to be touched by the love thang and moved by it. That didn’t happen. Lastly, I had mixed feelings about the film’s closing frames. On one end, they worked in a guttural, if not typical, horror movie fashion but on the other hand, they kind of clashed with the more intelligent questions which the movie was asking through its previous hour and a half. I’m so torn when it comes to those last frames. They felt too easy for a film that proved to be above the norm in terms of genre smarts.
Overall, "Candyman" was still-- without a doubt-- a superior horror film set in a novel setting (the projects) and showcasing one creepy, charming and deep-voiced villain with a badass hook for a hand (Tony Todd rocks!). It aimed at getting its cake and eating it too and pulled that off 99% of the time. It takes more than cheap scares and a lightning pace to make a good horror film; it also takes depth and soul. "Candyman" got that covered along with reddish goods. Let’s celebrate and bite on razor blades!
It gets “Cherry Blossom” red in the house. We get lots of folks being gutted by the Candy Boy’s hook, a dog's severed head, nasty blade gashes and lots of after-the-fact blood. Messy.
Virginia Madsen (Helen) was, in my eyes, the movie. Her credibility and sympathy factor could’ve made or broken this flick. Luckily for us, the lady was up to the task and effortlessly carried this tale on her back through her solid performance. Tony Todd (Candyman) was all-menacing charm with a soft side to him. And that deep voice…DAMN! Xander Berkeley (Trevor) played the cheating a-hole, as a human cheating a-hole. He gave what could’ve been a one-dimensional role in a lesser actor’ hands, a sense of dimension. Kasi Lemmons (Bernadette) was very natural as the best friend and I bought her character.
T & A:
Virginia Madsen shows her breasts on two occasions. Once blood-soaked (not pleasant) and once all clean in a tub (ahhh…much better). The ladies get Candyman’s naked hook.
Rose is up to task, continually playing in two extremes via his directing style. His visuals were either subtle, slow and steady or quick, in-your-face and flashy. That gave the film quite a hypnotic aura. Tag to that, true moments of suspense, kool overhead shots of the city, a brilliant use of art, awesome shot compositions and effective slow motion...and you get a visual candy cane.
The astounding score by Phillip Glass contributed to the film’s eerie and surreal feel. I loved it and own it!
In a day and age (2003, that is) where a lot of horror movies seem to be snipped of all their substance by studios to appeal to 13-year old moviegoers, it was refreshing to reacquaint myself with a film that put emphasis where it mattered: characters, script, ambiguity, narrative structure, while at the same time, delivering the bon-bon we expect from a horror cupcake via the gore and the potent scares. Want else do you want? Let’s say “Candyman” five times in the mirror, in the hopes that more horror movies of this caliber will be released in the years to come.
Clive Barker had directed a short adaptation of “The Forbidden” in London before "Candyman" came about.
Watch for the Ted Raimi cameo as the motorcycle dude early on.
Bernard Rose also directed the very good “Paperhouse”.
Virginia Madsen is the sister of actor Michael Madsen (aka Mr. Blonde).