Review: Candyman (1992)

Candyman (1992)
Director: Bernard Rose
Writers: Clive Barker (story) & Bernard Rose (screenplay)
Starring: Virginia Madsen, Tony Todd, Xander Berkeley, Kasi Lemmons

Mild spoilers.

It’s rare for a horror film to double as a true thing of beauty. Candyman is one of those rarities. Boasting a dream-like style that plays out less like a standard ‘pop-and-go-boo’ thriller and more like a dramatic romance (which indeed it is), not to mention an incredible Philip Glass score, the film is the story of two graduate students researching the urban legend of the Candyman in the Cabrini Green housing development. As one of the students, Helen Lyle (Virginia Madsen), becomes more intrigued by the story – the Candyman was the son of a slave, brutally murdered for his love affair with the daughter of a plantation owner –  the further she finds herself a part of his story, until she becomes something of a meta-urban legend herself.

What works so well about the film is the way director Rose approaches the material. He never takes the obvious routes of a typical horror film, instead setting it up as something like a dark romance. This is why the scares work. There is hardly any build-up in tension, nor are there so many of the well-placed “stingers” horror fans have grown accustomed to. Working hand-in-hand with the way the story is presented is the aforementioned Philip Glass score. Apparently, Glass did not know he was composing music for a horror film, and was so upset when he found out after the film had been released that he blocked the score from being released in album form for years (he has since changed his mind, and the soundtrack is now available to the public).

What doesn’t work well is the same thing that doesn’t work well in many of Clive Barker’s stories – the main character is always running headlong into his or her cruel fate, all too eager to open Pandora’s Box to unleash the hell within. Frankly put, his characters never know when to leave well enough alone. What saves Candyman from being yet another one of these stories, aside from the style and score, is particularly the acting. Madsen seems to be caught in a dream – indeed, she was apparently hypnotized for certain scenes. Tony Todd, as the titular character, brings a seductive charisma to an otherwise menacing character. The supporting cast is believable and never over the top, and adding to the realism is the fact that many residents of the Cabrini Green projects were hired to play extras.

Overall, Candyman is a horror film unlike any other horror film out there. There’s a lot more substance, a lot more style, and a lot more seduction to the darkness.

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