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Candyman (1992)

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Plot Summary:
"Helen Lyle is a student who decides to write a thesis about local legends and myths. She visits a part of the town, where she learns about the legend of the Candyman, a one-armed man who appears when you say his name five times, in front of a mirror. Of course, Helen doesn't believe all this stuff, but the people of the area are really afraid. When she ignores their warnings and begins her investigation in the places that he is rumored to appear, a series of horrible murders begins. Could the legend be true?"

Review by
Ryan McDonald
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Review Date: 19 May 2014 My Rating: out of 5


Virginia Madsen plays an anthropology student interested in an urban legend concerning the Candyman (Tony Todd, who deserved a much better career in my opinion), basically a hook-handed boogeyman who can be conjured via saying his name five times while looking in the mirror. This myth seems to haunt the graffiti-covered ghetto of Cabrini Green, Chicago, where a couple of grisly unsolved murders are believed to be the work of Candyman. But he’s not real, right? That’s what Madsen thinks...until she comes face to face with him. Or does she? Is it all in her mixed up head? Is someone just messing with her? Kasi Lemmons (later a director) plays Madsen’s best friend, and Xander Berkeley is Madsen’s professor husband who may have a wandering eye.

I’ve never been particularly enamoured with this 1992 Clive Barker (“Hellraiser”, “Nightbreed”) short story adaptation from writer-director Bernard Rose (“Chicago Joe and the Showgirl”, “Immortal Beloved”). Some think this is one of the best horror films of the 90s, but I’m indifferent to it. Tony Todd makes for an excellent villain, but Rose seems to be under the impression he’s making social commentary, not a horror film. You’re not making a Spike Lee Joint, pal. Just bring the scares, OK? Ambition is one thing, but you need to keep in mind the genre in which you are operating (In the story, Candyman is not black, there’s no racial element at all, and it’s set in Liverpool, England). Personally, I’d rather watch the underrated “Dust Devil”, which isn’t too dissimilar, but vastly superior. That film was an original, this one’s a wannabe. Then again, urban horror has never really been my thing, unless “Blacula” counts.

Visually and aurally it works really well, but it’s only scary in fits and starts. I don’t normally like ‘Boo!’ scares, because they startle instead of scare, but this is the one film where I didn’t mind. But it never works as well as you want. The tense atmosphere is never maintained because of Rose’s more drama-oriented concerns and the frankly unappealing cast of characters. Virginia Madsen gives an OK performance as always, it’s just an aloof character. You never entirely sympathise with her, or at least I didn’t. I really don’t think Rose was interested in making a horror film, to be honest, but I could be wrong. Some of the urban legend stuff was necessary and genuinely interesting, but Rose doesn’t get the balance right, not for me at least. It’s almost as if Rose was embarrassed to admit he was basically making a supernatural slasher movie (or an extended scary campfire story put to film).

A frustrating, overrated, and uneven film, but Todd is fantastic (as is his inimitable bass voice) and the film is pretty bloody too. I’m not normally a Philip Glass (“The Thin Blue Line”, “Koyaanisqatsi”) fan to say the least, but his rather disorienting music score (accompanying “North By Northwest”-esque titles) is terrific here, with lots of choral stuff too. Still, even employing Glass’ services suggests something intended to be a lot loftier and higher-minded. Just give us a horror movie, dude, and make it good. That’s all you need to do.

If Rose could’ve gotten his head out of his rear end and realised this was, at the end of the day, a simple “Elm St.” variant, this could’ve worked. As is, the title boogeyman is a memorable horror character stuck in an unmemorable horror film.

Reviewer: Josh Winning @horrorasylum
Review Date: 31 October 2001 My Rating: out of 5

I had heard of this movie from lots of my friends, but whenever I went to the video store to look for it it was always booked out. Eventually I was lucky enough to find it, and I can understand now why it was booked out so often! Candyman is a brilliant movie, almost perfect in my eyes. It has real atmosphere, great writing, an excellent score and quality acting from all the cast. Virginia Madsen is a shockingly under-rated actress, and she brings the character of Helen to life vividly on the screen, and the viewer can really sympathise with her and feel her frustration.

The thing that I loved about Candyman so much was the fact that it never fails to shock. I must have jumped at least four times in this movie, and some of the events that take place are absolutely jaw-dropping. The idea of Helen going crazy and accomplishing the murders was used extremely well, and the tension in the movie is almost tangible. The musical score only added to this tension, using a lulling, almost 'fairytale' melody to compromise the terror that unravels on-screen.

The plot is another great aspect of the movie. It is the most original thing I have seen in a while, and the idea of a hook-handed killer that lives in rumour only to come to life when people stop believing in him is excellent - something that could only have been borne from the mind of Clive Barker. Also, the twist at the end (in the bathroom) is magnificent and breath-taking, and utterly terrifying.

The only thing that ruined Candyman for me was the annoying costume that the Candyman wore. He looked a little daft in the long fur coat, although the rusted hook sticking out from the sleeve of the right arm kind of gave it a twisted edge.

In the end, Candyman is a great, scary Horror movie; a true Horror movie. Check it out if you want to be scared witless!

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