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 stalks those closest to her and frames her for murder. In a last-ditch effort to save her life (and sanity), Helen has to meet him face-to-face.
Let me start with the fact that I’m a huge Clive Barker fan. That said, Candyman for me is one of the rare cases when a movie is more enjoyable thdan 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 matches the movie. (Candyman is white?) The broad storyline is similar but the setting is vastly different: it takes place in an England slum, and English Helen is writing a dissertation on (English) graffiti. But the most disillusioning thing is that one of the scariest aspects of the film–which isn’t in the story–is how Candyman jumps out Bloody Mary-style when his name is called five times into a mirror.
Candyman is also given a backstory 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 particular backstory. I love this film; it’s evocative and moving, but I’m sick of movies about how shitty poverty and racism is seen through white peoples’ perspective and only 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 novella 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 Hollywood-ized, shoehorning in a heteronormative romance with Candyman making Helen his long-lost love (also not a part of “The Forbidden”), but the best qualities of the story are kept while a lot more is added.
All in all, the film is marvelously acted, creepy, and wrenching. And while the filmmakers meant well, its depiction of Black people is cringy to say the least. If my review sounds garbled and contradictory, it’s because I originally wrote it with both nostalgia and white privilege goggles on. Six years later, I’m a bit more woke and not sure if I should be recommending it in the first place. After a good deal of pondering, my conclusion is that the film has value even if it ironically decries the kind of racism that makes white people murder and enslave while at the same time indulges in racist stereotypes.