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Looking Back On 20 Years Of 'Candyman': What's Blood If Not For Spilling?

Photo of Oliver Lyttelton By Oliver Lyttelton | The Playlist October 16, 2012 at 1:23PM

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.
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Candyman

It doesn't end well for anyone and has a particularly bleak conclusion, with Rose telling Cinefantastique at the time: "I'm rather bored with happy endings. They reduce the sense of danger. It's like having the absolute feeling that however complicated or convoluted the problem any character may be going through in a movie, you feel so confident in most movies that at the end there is going to be a deus ex machina that's going to solve everything. There is almost no suspense to the story anymore."

The film isn't perfect, occasionally falling prey to horror movie silliness. But it has more ideas in its head than a dozen other horror movies, from the social deprivation of the film's environment (nicely observed by Rose), its smart, modern take on race, its discussion of the power of urban legends and myth, and its progressive gender politics -- as star Virginia Madsen told Fangoria, "Bernard immediately takes out that scene of 'getting punished for your sins' which is so exploitative of women. Our traditional role has always been as helpless victims. But now we've had the 'Alien' and 'Halloween' films, where women get chased but still remain strong. Helen never allows herself to be a victim in Candyman. Horrible things might happen to her, but she fights back." And, perhaps most importantly of all, it's genuinely scary, and prepared to go to grim places that most sequel-chasing horror movies won't.

Filming wasn't easy, particularly given they were shooting in the Cabrini-Green projects themselves (Todd, who stands an intimidating 6'5", said that "I tried to come there with no expectations, but I still felt fear. Anybody who didn't belong there was subject to danger. The cops told me to keep my eyes on the rooftops for snipers"). The Candyman's trademark bees were almost as dangerous -- Todd had real bees in his mouth for the climactic scenes, protected only by a throat guard, while Madsen was, according to Barker, hypnotized by the director for a number of scenes.

Candyman

The film -- complete with a score by, of all people, Philip Glass -- premiered at the Midnight Madness section of the Toronto International Film Festival in September 1992 and went on to pick up atypically strong reviews for a horror flick (Roger Ebert called it "a horror movie that was scaring me with ideas"), and made a healthy $25 million back at the box office, inevitably inspiring two sub-standard sequels -- 1995's "Candyman: Farewell to the Flesh" (directed by "Dreamgirls" and "Twilight: Breaking Dawn" helmer Bill Condon, who three years later would win an Oscar for his screenplay for "Gods and Monsters") and 1999's direct-to-video, mostly disowned "Candyman 3: Day of the Dead." The second tries to add some extra pathos to the title character through flashbacks, mostly diminishing him as a result, while the third is simply a cheap slasher movie.

The third film pretty much killed the franchise, though Barker and Todd have discussed a fourth film that would be set in New England, with Todd playing dual roles. And Barker also wanted to get the rights to the films back, possibly for a (seemingly ill-advised) crossover film with his other franchise, the more enduring "Hellraiser" series. Word's been quiet for nearly a decade now, and it surely can't be long before someone floats the idea of a remake. But if it does come to pass, they'll have a tough task coming up with a picture as interesting and as terrifying as the 1992 original.

This article is related to: Bernard Rose, Virginia Madsen, On This Day In Movie History, Features, Clive Barker


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