Helen (Virginia Madsen) and her friend Bernadette (Kasi Lemmons) are working on a sociological study of urban legends and graffiti and stumble across the story of Candyman (Tony Todd), a hook-handed murderer who lives in the Chicago ghetto. Unfortunately for them, Candyman is more than just a local legend. Helen in particular attracts his attention, so he basically ruins her life by killing everyone close to her and framing her for the murders. In a last-ditch effort to save her life (and sanity), Helen has to meet him face-to-face.
Let me start by saying I’m a huge Clive Barker fan. That said, Candyman for me is one of the rare cases when a movie is more enjoyable than the material it was adapted from (Barker’s story “The Forbidden”). I saw the film many times as a child before reading the story as a teenager, and was greatly disappointed with how little it has to do with the movie. (Candyman is white?) The plots are very different: it takes place in an England slum, and English Helen is writing a dissertation on graffiti. People who are barely mentioned in the story like Purcell and Bernadette are explored and given life in the movie. Candyman comes when his name is called five times into a mirror; he jumps out Bloody Mary-style (my favorite aspect of the film—I sorely miss it in the story). He’s mainly concerned not so much with revenge but with staying notorious—he lives to be “whispered about at street corners.”
Candyman is also given a back story in the film: he was a slave who was killed for the love he and a white woman shared. You know, in retrospect, I could do without that backstory. I love this film; it’s evocative and gorgeous and moving, but I’m sick of movies about how shitty poverty and racism is–seen through white peoples’ perspective and focusing on how it affects them. I can’t wait for Jordan Peele’s take on this.
As an adult I can see how the major themes are still there; they’re both highly concerned with folklore, belief, and how urban legends stem from the “daily horrors” of life. Also, while in two radically different settings, the architecture of the buildings is vital to the plot. Yet after the elaboration in the movie, the story seems abrupt and not fully formed. Where’s the lavish character development? Where’s the exploration of race as well as class issues? Where’s Ted Raimi? Furthermore, the film has the benefit of a heartrending score and exquisite cinematography. True, it’s somewhat Hollywood-ized, with Candyman making Helen his long-lost love, but the best qualities of the story are kept.
All in all, the film is marvelously acted, well-written, and wrenching.