The Whisper in the Classroom: Candyman
Not so long ago, I considered doing a review series of every Clive Barker adaptation/ film. I abandoned this for a variety of reasons- mostly they suck balls (seriously- go and watch Night Breed. It’s fucking dire- although it does star Cronenberg), Droid did one of the better ones, and unusually for him managed to do a good job (here), which would therefore make my review completely redundant, and finally that I’m struggling to finish the series that I’ve got ongoing at the moment.
However, I did, as a direct result of this watch some of the better films, and seeing as I’m all about doing series at the moment, I thought that I’d launch the Candyman Trilogy.
I like Bernard Rose films. Ivansxtc is a grossly overlooked gem of a film that I’m going to do for the Underrated series when I can find a copy, but his most commercially and critically successful film is Candyman, an excellent adaptation of Clive Barker’s creepy story that moves the location from Liverpool to Cabrini Green, Chicago. Virginia Madsen plays Helen, a postgrad with an interest in Urban Myth. She’s married to a colossal douchebag (played with Bradley Cooper sack of cocks level smugness by Xander Berkely) and stumbles across what she believes is the ultimate Urban Legend: the Candyman.
The Candyman was a painter who was brutally murdered by a lynch mob for shagging a white woman. He had his hand cut off and replaced with a hook, was stung to death by bees and then set on fire. He’s understandably pissed but his legend has grown to dominate the project erected on his funeral pyre. The legend is, incidentally, that if you say “Candyman” five times in front of a mirror, then he’ll pop up and twat you with his hook. Quite why you would want eviscerating by an angry spirit is best not thought about. Actually, this is a riff on the “Bloody Mary” myth that did the rounds in the 80’s, but it is used well here. Helen, for reasons best known to herself, says his name 5 times.
Helen’s investigations into The Candyman serve to hugely annoy the big man, and so he starts knocking off people she encounters in a variety of hook related grisly ways, and neatly pins the blame on Helen- who through the machinations of filmic convenience happens to be a dead ringer for the white girl at fault for his suffering. His plan, and again this is only the sort of plan that works in crappy horror films, is that Helen is to be his victim, and their death in the funeral pyre will lead to the reinforcement of the legend and they will live forever as “The whisper in the classroom”. Helen, understandably, isn’t too keen on this plan. To be fair, I don’t think I’d be too keen on it either, but he seems to think she’s being hugely unreasonable. I’m not really sure why, but there you have it. Candyman is a highly effective film. It supplies both an atmosphere of terror and some genuine jump scare moments, and I think this is as a result of a few things. The first is that the acting here is all first rate- Madsen is outstanding as the cynical and unflappable Helen, but the plaudits here must go to Tony Todd who is downright terrifying as the Candyman. He has a sinister presence on screen and his lines delivered in a gravelly voice, while wildly preposterous, are without exception menacing. Furthermore, unlike in most ghost films, every time he shows up something bad happens (and messily bad), and the film resists the temptation to throw him in periodically to keep the narrative moving. He’s used sparsely and effectively.
Secondly, the setting is every bit as frightening as the ghost itself. Helen is nosing around a notorious project, and comes to grief on a few occasions through purely human reasons. The gangs that control the slum are not hugely keen on her and every time she shows up there something bad happens. The Candyman’s lair itself is a model of urban squalor and the comparison between the middle class life Helen lives and the misery that is the Candyman’s domain is drawn with some assurance.
The final reason for the effectiveness of this film is the score. It’s by Philip Glass and is memorable, eerie and downright unsettling. It’s a combination of choral and orchestral work and is, along with The Omen, The Exorcist and Phantasm, one of the most successful Horror movie scores out there.
There’s a huge amount of crap written about this film. No it is not “Hitchcockian”, and nor is it social commentary (for fuck’s sake). It’s just a supremely effective ghost story, confidently handled, and well played. The ending is a huge downer, but feels appropriate here- unlike the happy endings of the sequels, and I do have to say that Candyman is a contender for best Horror film of the 90’s.
If I had to pick flaws in this film, then I do have to say that it’s the dialogue. The Candyman in particular gets absolutely execrable monologues, some of which are skin-crawlingly dated. Secondly, the actual end of the film doesn’t make sense. I won’t spoil it, but I can’t see how or why Trevor would be crying in a mirror, it just strikes me as an attempt to shoehorn in a late scare. Finally, but most tellingly, the reincarnated love theme doesn’t work and is frankly superfluous. Helen and The Candyman are already properly motivated- The Candyman because her scepticism is weakening him, which is a well thought out motivation, there’s no need to add this extra layer- and if anything serves to distract and annoy.Still, these are minor flaws, and the dialogue in particular can be overlooked when compared to the film’s atmospheric strength, so it isn’t anything to really anything that overly bothers me. Candyman is an excellent film and one that I’ll happily come back to.
Overall, I do recommend this film. It’s tense and frightening, gory and scary and a horror film that is not aimed at hormonal teenagers. Tony Todd managed to embody an enduring horror movie icon in this film, and I recommend it as worth seeing just for his performance. An excellent start that the sequels cannot live up to- and seeing as the story is completed so neatly here, I lean towards the argument that the sequels should never have even been attempted. I give it a well earned 3 Changs out of 4.
Anyway, the next film in the series is coming soon, the somewhat middling Farewell to the Flesh (should be entitled Farewell to Logic), and then I finish on the terrible third part (which even Tony says is garbage). However, I do have to say that I am really enjoying digging out Horror Trilogies and Series, so I may well continue doing this for a while. It makes a pleasant change from schlock.
Until next time,