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

by Oliver Lyttelton
October 16, 2012 1:23 PM
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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.

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.

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  • Bluebird | November 2, 2012 1:31 AMReply

    Thanks for this article. I learned a lot. Candyman's combination of urban setting and Gothic-horror style continues to make it one of the most inventive -- and scary -- horror movies ever.

  • Dean | October 18, 2012 10:47 AMReply

    If brought back to its original Liverpool setting and someone like kill lists Ben Wheatley on board it could be ripe for an interesting remake, but probably best left alone. Agreed with both of the previous comments Paperhouse is a must watch and Wolfen hugely underrated and influential on this film and silence of the lambs to name a few.

  • Real | October 16, 2012 7:28 PMReply

    Excellent choice to highlight this movie. Definitely a modern horror classic.

  • rotch | October 16, 2012 3:42 PMReply

    Paperhouse is great. It needs more and better fans.

  • Archer slyce | October 16, 2012 1:54 PMReply

    Kuddos for a not-so-obvious choice on the 20 years celebration list ! Really loved that movie, it has an amazing urban horror feeling, like weird tales and/or gothic novel in contemporary settings. Somehow reminded me of Wolfen. To say that the very meta slasher revival that followed had a whole different take on everything urban-legendesque is an understatement.

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