Review of Candyman (1992)

Moving picture, 99 minutes

Seen in 2018.

A Chicago academic is terrorized by an artist, dead a hundred years.

A slasher. The premise of the narrative, as Candyman states it, is that he must be rembembered to remain (effectively) alive and powerful. Logically, he should be thrilled to find a pair of serious graduate students investigating his legend. He should help gather and present evidence, including showing himself, to prove to these investigators that he is real. Doing so would overcome their healthy skepticism and boost the legend. However, the writers do the opposite: They have Candyman kill one investigator and bad-jacket the other, destroying her credibility before she can assert that Candyman is real. This choice is profoundly poor.

The other weaknesses are minor. The special effects are mediocre, including the fake poop. Bees are present for inadequate, phobic reasons, but they’re not fake. The 1890 murder and Candyman’s request for a kiss in the mental hospital both tease fears of miscegenation. Despite Anne-Marie’s comments on the stereotypical view of the projects, the film conforms to that view; there are no constructive community leaders, diligent workers, protests or other signs of humanity. I was mildly disappointed that the term ‘candyman’, meaning a drug dealer in slang, is used with so little connection to drugs; I was hoping for a cross between the great ending of American Pop (1981) and the parodic grittiness of New Jack City (1991). Jump scares are used throughout and the concluding scene retreats to stereotype: The faithful wife getting her revenge on the slut, a risibly sloppy cook who stole her husband.

That said, there is much to like. For some reason, Philip Glass did the music! This is possibly related to the 1970s demolition of Pruitt-Igoe shown with a Glass score in Koyaanisqatsi (1982). He doesn’t do a great job here, but it’s still Glass. Chicago’s Cabrini-Green public housing project was demolished starting in 1995, suffering the same fate as Pruitt-Igoe. Tony Todd is good as Candyman, striking odd poses with his gangly body, like JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure (1987). I suppose the dignity of the portrayal is what allowed the production to use a black man in such a role and dodge the laser beams: Todd gives the character a depth and sincerity that allows an urban legend of the ghetto to function as the villain in a modern American horror film without playing heavily on the pervasive US fear of poor people of colour, soon after the beating of Rodney King and the LA riots. I quite like how the script toys with the Todorovian fantastic for just a little while before throwing it out. Helen’s fall into callousness and Pinhead-like saintly demon status, with a trail of pilgrims to her funeral, is pretty cool.

Candyman’s power to stage murders, framing others without so much as appearing on surveillance footage, is boring in its extreme artificiality. It masquerades as an investigation of Helen’s assertion that she couldn’t possibly commit murder. Charitably, you can give it another level in interpretation: By consistently framing Helen, it subjects her to a kind of prejudice. By tenuous extension, therefore, the horror of Candyman is the horror of being black and poor in the white-hegemonic, capitalist USA.

References here: “The Visitor” (1995), The First Purge (2018), Joker (2019), The Invisible Man (2020).

moving picture fiction