Slashers & Serial Killers in Review: Candyman (1992)
Let’s get right to the point. Candyman (based on the story The Forbidden by the timeless Clive Barker) scared the shit out of me when I first watched it. I’m not sure if it was the Deep baritone voice of Tony Todd as the terrifying title character which is the first dialogue we hear as we see an army of bees crawl over each other, or the delicate musical score by Phillip Glass which was subtle and really got under the skin. I remember my sister had been to the cinema to watch it and was said it was the most frightening thing she had seen at the time. I was, of course, too young to go and watch it so when I saw the VHS pop up at our local video shop I couldn’t wait to watch it. Thankfully, due to the lax attitude of the owner of our shop and such things as certification being less of an issue at the time, I sat down to watch the film as a young kid who didn’t know any better. When it was done, I agreed with my sister. It was horrifying and stayed with me for some time.
As it happens, I haven’t watched it again since and so in doing this review decided to pick it up in super shiny Blu ray so I could see if it was still as scary the second time around.
The main plotline of this film centres on a Graduate student named Helen Lyle, who is researching Urban Legends and starts to hear talk of a previously unheard legend of The Candyman. Like all good urban legends, there is a very specific way to summon Candyman, which involves standing in front of a mirror and saying his name five times. For those foolish enough to do this (and let’s be honest, most people in horror films are) then he will appear, a man with one hand missing and a hook in its place which he will use to hack the unfortunate summoned to pieces. Through her research, Helen discovers countless accounts of experiences related to the Candyman, to the point where she starts to have doubts if there could be some truth to the legend.
The film actually opens with an exposition scene where a semi-naked teenager and her horny boyfriend stand at the mirror and say his name as the boyfriends wondering hands move ever closer to her cleavage as they say his name together four times and stop. Said girl then tells the boyfriend to wait downstairs as she has a surprise for him. When he’s gone, she turns back to the mirror and says his name again (I told you people in films like this were stupid) and switches out the light. We are greeted with a jump scare quick flash of the Candyman’s reflection in the mirror and a shot of the poor boyfriend (sitting on the sofa and probably nursing a slight semi) as he hears a scream and sees blood start to pour through the ceiling from the room above.
After this, we meet Helen’s sleazeball husband, a professor of folklore and urban legends who we see (via Helen) is a little too close to neo particular student, a young blonde. This was, of course, a time before Facebook or Twitter, meaning in the absence of a passive-aggressive platform to respond to the digital world, she – shock horror – asks him outright about ‘this girl’ who couldn’t look her in the eye. Trevor sleazes his way out if it and avoids the question, somehow also avoiding further questioning.
The reason Trevor seems to get off so lightly is that Helen’s research into the Candyman is escalating and she brings it to her friend, Bernadette, who discuss the case. Inevitably, they find themselves in front of the bathroom mirror and asking if they actually believe in the legend. They say his name together in the mirror four times…then burst into a fit of giggles. If the scene had ended here, it would have been a really short (and crappy) film, but Helen as our lead leans close to the mirror and says his name again. Uh-Oh.
Don’t worry though, as Helen is our lead actress, and unlike everyone else before who were killed instantly upon saying his name for the 5th time, Candyman decides to leave Helen be.
We join her the next day in a rough part of town, however, this is 90s rough, and to be honest, shell suit-clad gangsters don’t instil the same kind of fear now as they did then. Ignoring the catcalls of the gangs hanging around a shitty run-down tower block, Helen and Bernadette enter, taking photos of the graffiti-covered walls (with an actual camera, no less. No mobile phones here!) They encounter and a jump scare with a dog (which still got me this time around) and find their way to their destination – an abandoned apartment where a woman died at what was claimed to be the hands of the Candyman. They find a hole in the wall behind the bathroom mirror (Helen earlier realised the layouts and design were the same as her own apartment and the bathroom mirrors in the adjoining apartments are set into holes in the wall, meaning if the mirror is removed it’s possible to move from one to the other. Seeing this hole and taking more pictures, Helen decides (again stupidity rules) to ‘just climb through and have a look’. Clambering into the darkness she takes more photos and climbs out of another hole into a larger room, only to discover the hole has a graffiti face drawn around it, the hole being the mouth. We’ve seen this face before, of course. It’s our yet to call on Helen Candyman. In front of the graffiti face, are sweets on the ground with Razor blades in them. (Nice). A jump scare or two later and with Helen safely on the other side of the mirror (but still in the shitty abandoned apartment), the pair make their leave after being disturbed by a single mother who lives next door to the abandoned apartment. After a short discussion, the neighbour (Ann Marie) invites them in to ask what they are researching and tells them despite how it looks, not everyone in the building is bad. After setting her child down to sleep, Ann Marie offers to tell Helen about what she heard the night her neighbour died.
After this, and unlike many horror films of the time, we actually get a back story on the Candyman from a professor colleague of Helen’s who explains that Candyman was a talented artist who fell in love and fathered a child with a white woman. Because of this, the father of the woman Candyman had fallen in love with ordered his lynching. After he was chased across town, Candyman was caught and pinned down as his right hand was sawn off with a rusty saw. Then, the mob stole honey from nearby hives and smeared it on Candyman, watching as the angry bees stung him to death. After this, his body was burned and his ashes scattered on the grounds where the now run-down apartment building now stands. Later, after another visit to the Cabrini Green apartments, Helen meets a young boy who says he knows where the Candyman lives but isn’t supposed to say. Helen coaxes this information out of the boy who leads her to an outside toilet block across the way from the main tower block, mentioning the huge stack of wood and pallets in the yard for an upcoming bonfire (This is a clear plot point for later!) Helen ventures into the toilet block and discovers that the Candyman the boy was talking about is actually a gang member who carries a hook and uses the legend to strike fear into the people. As Helen tries to escape from this mock Candyman who corners her, she is hit and knocked unconscious. Later, during a police line-up, she manages to identify the man who attacked her and he is arrested. The police say the gang member is who they suspect has been killing people using the Candyman legend and says he will be going to prison for a long time.
We have a small time jump here as Helen is happy and making an effort with Trevor (who, no matter what, always comes across as sleazy). Helen meets Bernadette on her way home to the car park and is told there is a lot of interest in her story. As Helen makes her way to her car in daylight no less, she finally has her first real encounter with the actual Candyman. This makes a nice change to the norm in horror as rather than barely seen shadowy figures at night, Candyman is framed by sunshine. Helen starts to experience flashes of the things she has discovered. Candyman speaks to her in his trademark deep voice, telling Helen that because of her having the gang member arrested and the subsequent effect on his legend, he must shed blood to remind people of who he is and his legend, and that Helen should come with him. We fade to Helen waking up on the floor of an unknown apartment covered in blood. She realises she is in Ann-Marie’s apartment and the blood is from her dog, which had been decapitated in the kitchen. Helen can hear screaming from the next room and goes in to find Ann Marie standing over the blood-soaked bed of her baby. Upon seeing Helen she screams at her and attacks, saying Helen killed her baby.
During the attack, Helen defends herself, hacking at the arm of Ann-Marie to stop her, just as the police burst in and, seeing the carnage, arrest Helen. Helen is charged by the police for killing Ann-Marie’s dog then attacking her with a meat cleaver. The police demand to know where the baby is, but Helen is confused, unsure what has happened. Helen tries to call Trevor but there is no answer and her apartment is empty. She is taken to her cell during which she sees a vision of Candyman with Marie’s baby (still alive). Helen is released on Bail and fights her way through the baying mob as the press speculate as to the location of the baby. Back at her apartment, Helen’s lawyer explains she hasn’t been charged because they are still expecting to find a body, and if they do she should expect the worst. Trevor tries to comfort her but Helen is interested only in where Trevor was the previous evening when she tried to call him from the prison. He does his usual sleazy routine and says he was there but asleep. Helen seems unconvinced but he backs away and leaves her alone before she can ask any further questions. Later, Helen is reviewing the photos she took at the apartment block when Candyman comes to her, telling her to believe in him and that she should be his victim, and that if she wants to save the child she must go with him. He says he was forced to come to her and kill her so people will believe in him again, and that she should go with him.
At this point, Bernadette knocks on the door. Helen calls out to warn Helen but she enters the apartment and comes face to face with the Candyman who hacks her to pieces as Helen is on the kitchen floor, covered in blood and listening to it happen. Trevor finds her this way just as she passes out. She comes to, handcuffed on her bed with a police officer next to her. Somehow she manages to get off the bed in search of Trevor, finding him in the sitting room surrounded by police and Bernadette’s butchered body on the floor. Helen is taken away by the police as we hear from Candyman again, telling her she should go to him and be immortal if she wants to save the child. Rather than to jail, Helen is taken to a psychiatric hospital and restrained to a bed by the hands and feet. Helen is taken to a doctor who tells her she has been in the hospital for the last month and kept under heavy sedation, and that it’s his job to see if she is fit to stand trial as she is being charged with first degree murder. Helen says she can prove she’s not mad, and that she can call him. She looks into the mirror in the doctor’s office and says Candyman’s name 5 times. He duly appears and kills the doctor, then tells Helen she’s his now, then cuts her lose from her restraints before flying backwards out of the window, giving her an escape route that she duly takes as she would have been blamed for the death of the doctor. She attacks a nurse and steals her uniform before making her escape from the hospital as alarms ring all around her. Helen makes her way home, hoping that Trevor will be there to help her. She arrives to find the walls are in the process of being repainted and all the furniture wrapped in plastic. Helen finds that Trevor, the sleazy dog, has moved the student he had been flirting with in act one into the apartment. Both Trevor and his new girlfriend look to be terrified of Helen, who, to be fair, is looking a bit on the psychotic side. She breaks down but Trevor is busy eying the phone, desperate to call the hospital. Helen leaves them alone, walking out of the apartment as Trevor makes the call. We are now set up for our finale!
Helen returns to the tower block and finds Candyman, who tells her if she surrenders to him the child will be unharmed. Helen agrees and the Candyman picks her up and tells her she will be a legend like him and be immortal. Helen agrees and Candyman opens his jacket to reveal his stomach cavity and mouth are filled with bees. He kisses her and she passes out as the bees crawl over her. She wakes to find the room she is in covered with candles and a message from the Candyman saying it was always her. The graffiti on the wall of the woman Candyman fell in love with looks remarkably similar to Helen. Before she can investigate further, she hears crying from outside the apartment block. Remember that bonfire plot device from earlier? Well, this is where it comes into play. Helen climbs onto the by now massive structure and starts to dig her way into it in search of the baby. Unfortunately, the boy from earlier who told her of the fake Candyman sees the movement in the stack of wood and assumes it’s the Candyman. The terrified residents see this as a chance to kill him and set fire to the mound of petrol-soaked wood. Before she can rescue the child, Candyman grabs her and says they must all die together. Helen fights him off and on fire, crawls out of the flames with the baby as Candyman burns in the inferno. The child is rescued. Helen, sadly, is dead.
That son of a bitch Trevor is shown at her funeral, and in the ultimate form of distaste has brought his new girlfriend to view the proceedings. What a prick. The incredibly small ceremony changes, however, when all the residents of Cabrini green arrive, led by Ann Marie arrive to pay their respects. Trevor looks on as the boy tosses Candyman’s hook into the grave with her.
We then see Trevor, now mourning the loss of Helen as his annoying girlfriend gets pissy with him as he won’t come out of the bathroom. She starts to prepare sinner as Trevor stands at the mirror and says Helen’s name, once, twice….can you see where this is going? He says it a fifth time and turns out the light, when Helen, burnt and carrying Candyman’s hook, finally gives him what he deserved since act one, and guts him. Hearing the commotion, the girlfriend walks in, knife in hand which he had been using to prepare dinner. She screams and we fade to the credits.
That, then, was Candyman, and although it didn’t scare me in the way it once did, it still holds up really well for an older film. Acting performances are good, the musical score is perfect, and Tony Todd portrays the tragic villain in a way that at the time was pretty unique. Apart from the costuming (shell suits, I’m looking at you), the film has aged pretty well and still holds up to a viewing today.
I’d give this a solid 7.5 out of 10.
Michael Bray is a bestselling author / screenwriter. Influenced from an early age by the suspense horror of authors such as Stephen King, Richard Laymon, Shaun Hutson, James Herbert & Brian Lumley, along with TV shows like Tales from the Crypt & The Twilight Zone, his work touches on the psychological side of horror, teasing the reader’s nerves and willing them to keep turning the pages. Several of his titles are currently being translated into multiple languages and he recently sold movie rights to his novel, MEAT with production planned to take place in 2017. A screenplay written by Bray / Shaw based on their co written novel MONSTER was picked up for distribution by Mandala Films, with both Bray and Shaw set to produce / direct the movie, taking his career into new territory as he looks to write more for both the literary world and the screen. Find Michael at his website: www.michaelbrayauthor.com
Now Available…soon to be a motion picture!!!
Great review of a classic. I STILL get chills whenever Tony Todd says “Be my sacrifice”, and the backstory is so richly textured. I love a horror story that fires on multiple levels, not just gore.
April 24, 2018 at 6:16 pm
And the deep mythology too. There’s a sense of realism in the fantastic that plays just the right cords.
April 25, 2018 at 1:30 am
Nice review of a great film. I’m older so saw it at the theatre and on a big screen it really impacts you. I became a fan of Tony Todd after seeing this movie.
April 24, 2018 at 7:29 pm
Thanks for reading, Joan. My first Tony Todd film was Night of the Living Dead 90s remake. He’s a fantastic actor.
April 25, 2018 at 1:29 am