Candyman, Candyman, Candyman, Candyman, Candyman. One silly sounding word repeated five times into a mirror, which unleashes all kinds of mayhem -- and, as it happens, one of the more original horror creations of the last few decades. The hook-handed son of a slave (as embodied by Tony Todd) summoned by the chanting of his name, created by horror legend Clive Barker (along with writer/director Bernard Rose), he's appeared in three films to date. And while the substandard sequels saw the character lose his luster, it doesn't change the fact that the original "Candyman," which was released twenty years ago today on October 16th, 1992, is a fairly superior and unusually intelligent horror flick.
It began with a short story. British author Barker's major breakthrough came with his "Books Of Blood" series in 1984, and in the fourth installment (published in 1985), there was a story named "The Forbidden" -- which shares a title, but little else, with a short film that Barker had directed in the 1970s. Involving the power of myth and rumor, the tale involves a Liverpool university student who discovers graffiti on a housing estate referring to a figure called The Candyman, and ends up becoming his latest victim.
The book came to the attention of Bernard Rose, a music video helmer who'd made inroads into features with the underrated 1988 fantasy film "Paperhouse," and he picked out "The Forgotten" in particular because, as Barker told horror magazine The Wild Side, "he wanted to deal with the social stuff. He liked the idea of taking a horror story with some social undertones and making a movie of it."
After wrapping the 1990 Kiefer Sutherland-starring British crime movie "Chicago Joe and the Showgirl," Rose managed to get an option on the story from Barker -- the pair shared an agent at CAA, and Barker had liked "Paperhouse" -- and took it to music video company Propaganda Films. The company, where David Fincher and Michael Bay among others got their start, was just moving into features, financing "Wild at Heart" in 1990, and were convinced to fund development despite Rose never having written a screenplay before (boss Steve Golin was furious when he found out, but ultimately liked Rose's script).
Rose and Barker began meeting to develop the story, and quickly agreed that retaining the Liverpool setting wouldn't fly with the financiers and decided to move the story into the deprived Carbrini Green area of Chicago. Rose summed up his approach to Fangoria on the film's release, saying " 'Candyman' 's thrust is metaphysical instead of political. My element of social criticism asks how people can be expected to live in squalor, because the housing authority has allowed Cabrini Green to rot instead of trying to maintain it. But Candyman really poses the question that if God exists because we believe in him, what would happen to him if the worship ceased?... People have a deep need to believe in something beyond themselves, especially when they're living in an appalling place like Cabrini Green. They could be shot at any time, but a creature like the Candyman could do something far worse to them. That belief allows the people to dodge bullets in the stairwells."
What he ended up with was a surprisingly rich and socially minded horror script, which like the source material, sees graduate student Helen Lyle (Virginia Madsen, who just beat out Sandra Bullock for the part) hearing about the legend of the Candyman, who has reportedly been responsible for attacks in the Cabrini-Green projects, including the castration of a young boy. She jokingly summons the Candyman -- reportedly the son of a slave who became an artist, only to fall in love with a white woman and fall victim to a lynch mob -- to no effect, and initially puts the legend of the Candyman down to a local gang member who dons a hook on his hand. But the real Candyman (Todd) soon appears, and Helen is blamed for his attack. Or is she really the one responsible?