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September 10, 2010

Midnight Movie of the Week #36 - Candyman

"Your death will be a tale to frighten children, to make lovers cling closer in their rapture. Come with me, and be immortal." 
For my money, there aren't many films that blend romance and terror like Candyman does.  Based on the short story by Clive Barker and directed by Bernard Rose, the film looks deep into the world of "modern oral folklore" - or, in layman's terms, urban legends.  As it blurs the line between myth and reality, the film bridges the gap between classic gothic horror and modern slasher terror.  In doing so, it creates one of the most interesting heroine/killer dynamics in horror history.
Candyman tells the tale of Helen Lyle (played by Virginia Madsen and her unfortunate hairstyle), a University of Chicago researcher who is working on a study of the urban legends around that town.  Her mission is fueled by her pride and her desire to surpass the work of others, and thus Helen is not content with the normal methods of research.  She begins to seek out the legend of the Candyman, a doomed soul with a deep voice and a hook for a hand, who reportedly lurks around the infamous Cabrini Green projects.  There's a definite "wrong side of the tracks" vibe as we watch Helen search for answers - because it's obvious that she doesn't know what she's in for as she rushes toward her demise.

While there is a romantic side to Candyman, that is most certainly not the side Helen is on.  She doesn't believe in much of anything as she begins her quest.  She's simply driven to produce great results and prove others - primarily the male scholastic community, which includes her husband - wrong.  She's not interested in the myth, she's interested in building her reputation by "uncovering" the real-world aspects of the myth.  This is just one of the examples of synicism at work in the film; everyone from Helen's side of the tracks - including police officers, doctors, and professors - shows little faith that there's anything behind the Candyman legend.
After Helen is badly beaten by a young man from Candyman's side of the tracks that her project picks up interest from the scholastic community.  That's also the point - about 43 minutes into the movie - when Candyman first appears to Helen and the horror film side of the film takes flight.  While Helen's goal was to perpetuate this myth and benefit from it, the Candyman (played by the unmistakable Tony Todd) has something else in mind.  He wants her to become a part of the myth - to be his victim.
Supported by Phillip Glass' simple musical score, Todd's Candyman is able to haunt Helen in a simple manner.  His first appearance comes in a moderately lit parking structure, but when the camera shifts to him he's illuminated by sunlight.  Unlike most slasher films, Rose's film doesn't confine Candyman to the shadows, and some of the film's best scares come when he appears in a well lit hallway or a doctor's office with a window open to the sunny afternoon.  Though he carries a hook and seems to enjoy gutting you, the Candyman seems to be a less aggressive, more open slasher than we're used to.  He sees himself as Helen's destiny, and is very comfortable appearing to her directly.
The final act is when the modern slasher aspects mix with the Candyman's gothic past - though the sacrificial altar and pillars we'd expect from a Bava film are a little less shiny in Cabrini Green and there certainly aren't any billowing curtains or tapestries.  It is at this point when Helen, who has been abandoned by "her people", occasionally seems to find a sad solace in her predicament.  The close-up above demonstrates the film's romantic view of Helen's plight, lighting her saddened eyes as if she were a damsel in distress - or even Joan of Arc - during Hollywood's "Golden Age".
Despite all of the supernatural killing going on in Candyman, there's something about it that has a soothing affect on me as a viewer.  I can see that the Candyman intends to dig his hook into Helen - and is even more willing to take a slice out of anyone who stands between them - but there's something poetic about it if you look at it from his side.  While there are a lot of issues being dealt with in Candyman - racial tensions, the bystander effect, and the fallacy of our University system, for example - it's that strange connection between Helen and the Candyman that always keeps me coming back.  It's a love story, in the most morbid possible way.  I dig that.
(P.S. - Ted Raimi, you are a bad mamma jamma!)

10 comments:

The Mike said...

For whatever reason, blogger will simply not allow me to post this in the same font as every other post it's ever allowed me to publish. I apologize for this stupid host site.

Mr. Johnny Sandman said...

Great evaluation of the film! I'm glad that you mentioned how it has to do with Urban folklore since I felt the same way. It tackles the issues of urban exploration and considering it takes place in Chicago, there are so many places out here (mostly down south) that in isolation.

Chris Regan said...

Awesome post! Love this film. I think the combination of Barker, Rose and Glass was perfect. It's a horror film that takes a really serious approach to the story and atmosphere which I really like.

The Groundskeeper said...

I haven't seen this one yet, but Bernard Rose did a neat movie called Paperhouse before it that combines horror, fantasy, and drama. It's an interesting and visually stunning film, if a bit confused.

Chris Regan said...

Paperhouse is awesome! And really scary in places.

The Mike said...

Thanks all! I definitely want to check out Paperhouse, just waiting for a DVD to happen.

MissSardonicus said...

I too, am fascinated by the twisted romantic aspects of Candyman. Awesome post!

Trick or Treat Pete said...

Candyman...Candyman....Candyman....
Candyman...Can...oh hell, it works...guess I'm required to invite him to tea or something.

Who can take intestines...tie them in a bow
Slice you in the middle so that all your blood will flow...
The Candyman...the Candyman can...
The Candyman can 'cuz he's missing his right hand and has a torso full of bees

would you rather I did the Christina Aguilera Candyman song? I didn't think so
Dreaded Dreams
Petunia Scareum

TheGirlWhoLovesHorror said...

Great analysis! What are your thoughts on Farewell to the Flesh? Cause I'm kind of in love with that movie. Maybe it's just Tony Todd's voice.

The Mike said...

Y'know, I haven't seen the sequel since it came out on Viddy back in the day. Gonna have to scope it out again soon. I have faint memories of digging it.

I also have faint memories of the third one, which I remember kinda liking when it first came out. A large part of that may have been my teenage mind meeting the fact that it starred a Baywatch babe, though.