Reviews

Candyman: Special Edition (1992)

Cynthia Fuchs

Kasi Lemmons says, 'The Candyman is born of extreme racism against him.'"


Candyman: Special Edition

Director: Bernard Rose
Cast: Virginia Madsen, Tony Todd, Kasi Lemmons, Xander Berkeley, Vanessa Williams
MPAA rating: R
Studio: Columbia
First date: 1992
US DVD Release Date: 2004-08-17
Even though now we're used to thinking of it as "progression," it still hasn't matched real life. It's really total dysfunction not to represent the population. I think it's a crime, actually.
-- Kasi Lemmons, commentary track, Candyman: Special Edition

I had wanted to create this monster that was aware of itself as a monster: "I am a legend," you know. It would be seductive because it would be this powerful thing that moved not only through the imagination of the lead character, but also through the imagination of the culture.
-- Clive Barker, commentary track, Candyman: Special Edition

I was the little boy who, around the campfire, was called upon to tell the scary story. That's what I did. I wasn't really good at putting up tents and I couldn't cook bacon. But I could tell a scary story.
-- Clive Barker, "Sweets to the Sweet: The Candyman Mythos"

From its first images -- an elegant helicopter shot over Chicago streets, a swarm of bees overpowering the skyline, and a dissolve to Helen's (Virgina Madsen) rapt face -- Candyman sets up its central themes. Namely, the ways that public space and personal desires come together. You might even consider, a dozen years after the film's release, that the long shot of the assault on the city speaks to very real apocalyptic fears as well. As writer Clive Barker puts it in his commentary for the new Special Edition DVD, "An urban legend is a story that is passed orally around a community or around a culture. Part of the power of these stories is they are presented to us as real events. It happened, that somebody, somewhere close to the teller, experienced this."

Indeed, the enduring resonance of Candyman, adapted and directed by Bernard Rose, has to do with its respect for and investment in specific and real events. As Rose says, "There are two big blots in American history. The first one is the massacre of the aboriginal Americans, the second is slavery. Essentially, those two events are not tangential to American history. They are American history." This despite the fact that Barker swears his own story, "The Forbidden," from The Books of Blood, was based on tales his grandmother told him in Liverpool, about men who would cut of little boys' genitals in public restrooms. Transposed and reframed to suit its various contexts, this legend and others as well, belong singularly to each community, no matter when and where.

This particular story begins as Helen, a graduate student in folklore, is listening to one of several versions of the Candyman myth. And it is, as Barker observes, a meta-text, a "movie about horror movies, a monster movie about monsters." (The DVD includes comments from Rose, Barker, Madsen, Tony Todd, producer Alan Poul, and Kasi Lemmons, all on separate tracks, as well as two featurettes, the 24-minute making-of film, "Sweets to the Sweet: The Candyman Mythos," and a bio of the author, "Clive Barker: Raising Hell" ["I was a nervous kid, I was the kind of kid who found it very easy to imagine the worst"], as well as a sequence of Rose's evocative storyboards set to Philip glass' memorable score.) Helen and fellow student Bernadette (Kasi Lemmons) are gathering stories from Chicago locals about the Candyman (played by the magnificent Tony Todd), a monster who haunts the projects, assaulting little boys in the public bathrooms and babies in their cribs.

The women's research that leads them to the devastated Cabrini Green projects, where they meet some bangers looking to keep control of their turf and a young mother, Anne-Marie (Vanessa Williams), who is desperate to protect her baby. Though Bernadette suggests they back off, it's not long before Helen takes a dare to disprove the monster's existence; speaking his name five times into a mirror, she conjures him up. As she resembles his own long lost love, Candyman proceeds to terrorize and murder all those near to her, including Bernadette, Helen's husband, Professor Trevor Lyle (Xander Berkeley), his new girlfriend Stacey (Carolyn Lowrey), and Helen's shrink. As no one else can see Candyman except Helen, when he guts people with his hook-for-a-hand, they think she's on an exceedingly powerful rampage. The plot revolves around Helen's initial efforts to fight off Candyman, and eventually, her seduction by him Rose notes that no one else treats her with such devotion (admittedly bloody and brutal, as well), and that her choice has to do with her turning her own back on the horrible history that has produced Candyman.

That is, the fiend's origin story shapes the havoc he wreaks. A black man during the Civil War, educated, artistic, and betrothed to a white woman, he's tortured and killed by the white townspeople in especially gruesome ways -- they chop off his hand and replace it with a hook, then cover him in honey so bees will sting him to death. (The Hamlet line that serves as homage to him in the projects, "Sweets for the sweet," speaks to this experience.) "He was a good man that was done wrong," notes Madsen in her commentary. "And he became evil through no fault of his own. That's the same for Dracula and Frankenstein... He kills and he ravages, but it's not his fault." Or again, as Lemmons puts it, "The Candyman is born of extreme racism against him. And he takes that hatred and it's become a part of his monstrousness. I guess that we are breeding monsters, we are making monsters by our past hatred... We're responsible for the monsters that we create."

Because the film is about what Lemmons calls "ancestral traumas," it is appropriately set in the direst section of the city. As producer Alan Poul recalls, "In finding the contemporary equivalent of the haunted house, [Rose] chose to go into the projects." Moreover, as Madsen recalls, during production, "in Los Angeles, the heat was building, and things were getting worse and worse and worse, and we all knew it. The Rodney King tape was played on the nightly news. And nothing was done about it. And everybody was outraged." But, while Madsen and Lemmons assert their commitment to the project, in particular for its timing (Madsen says, "I was glad that people were shocked"), Barker notes, "Nobody thought it was a good idea... [They said,] you can't cast an African man."

Rose pursued the invocation of racism with his own sort of vengeance. "Irrational fear, in a sense, is the very fundamental building block of racism," he says. "I think that the film in a sense, given that, became a rather subtle way of exploring what is really the dark heart of American history, which is a country built on racism." As Candyman is a victim as well as a villain, he embodies a specific complexity, one that Rose says is best available in horror films. "In an action film," he says, "you sympathize with the killer... An action film is about how many people can you kill? How many bad guys? But who designates who's good and who's bad? It's a moral judgment I'm uncomfortable with... I think they're really made in the main to help gun manufacturers show their wares. I don't make them. In a horror film, on the other hand, you sympathize with the victim... It's all about waiting to be killed, it's all about trying to stay alive, which to me seems a much more human objective."

At the same time that Candyman is produced by U.S. history, Helen is also formed by her experience, her yearning, and her disbelief. In an unhappy marriage, she seeks escape and difference. "She's looking for something," says Rose. The monster is "somebody that she has invoked by her disbelief. She really caused him. She is the trouble." That doesn't make her the victim who "asks for it," however; rather, she is exploring causes and motivations, seeking narratives. She is, above all, a student of storytelling, as it creates, suppresses, and revises history. This makes her relationship with Candyman simultaneously "monstrous and romantic" (both Madsen and Rose recall that he actually hypnotized her on the set to achieve the "trancelike" state of her ultimately violent seductions by Candyman). Todd remarks, "This movie isn't just about race. It's also a love story" (this as blood spurts from his latest victim, Helen collapsed o the floor and meekly and witnessing the event).

But Rose also underlines the physicality of the relationship, as Candyman hovers over Helen in her psych ward cell, pressing himself against her chest as she's strapped to her bed: "His attack is openly sexual. He has, basically, this huge cock on his hand, and he kills people by sticking it in them, in their orifices. That's part of the appeal of the movie... There's a pervy angle to him." That's one word for it.

This book offers a poignant and jarring reminder not just of the resilience of the human spirit, but also of its ability to seek solace in the materiality of one's present.

Marcelino Truong launched his autobiographical account of growing up in Saigon during the Vietnam War with the acclaimed graphic novel Such a Lovely Little War: Saigon 1961-63, originally published in French in 2012 and in English translation in 2016. That book concluded with his family's permanent relocation to London, England, as the chaos and bloodshed back home intensified.

Now Truong continues the tale with Saigon Calling: London 1963-75 (originally published in French in 2015), which follows the experiences of his family after they seek refuge in Europe. It offers a poignant illustration of what life was like for a family of refugees from the war, and from the perspective of young children (granted, Truong's family were a privileged and upper class set of refugees, well-connected with South Vietnamese and European elites). While relatives and friends struggle to survive amid the bombs and street warfare of Vietnam, the displaced narrator and his siblings find their attention consumed by the latest fashion and music trends in London. The book offers a poignant and jarring reminder not just of the resilience of the human spirit, but also of its ability to seek solace in the materiality of one's present.

Keep reading... Show less
8
Music

The World of Captain Beefheart: An Interview with Gary Lucas and Nona Hendryx

Gary Lucas and Nona Hendryx (photo © Michael DelSol courtesy of Howlin' Wuelf Media)

Guitarist and band leader Gary Lucas and veteran vocalist Nona Hendryx pay tribute to one of rock's originals in this interview with PopMatters.

From the opening bars of "Suction Prints", we knew we had entered The World of Captain Beefheart and that was exactly where we wanted to be. There it was, that unmistakable fast 'n bulbous sound, the sudden shifts of meter and tempo, the slithery and stinging slide guitar in tandem with propulsive bass, the polyrhythmic drumming giving the music a swing unlike any other rock band.

Keep reading... Show less

From Haircut 100 to his own modern pop stylings, Nick Heyward is loving this new phase of his career, experimenting with genre with the giddy glee of a true pop music nerd.

In 1982, Nick Heyward was a major star in the UK.

As the leader of pop sensations Haircut 100, he found himself loved by every teenage girl in the land. It's easy to see why, as Haircut 100 were a group of chaps so wholesome, they could have stepped from the pages of Lisa Simpson's "Non-Threatening Boys" magazine. They resembled a Benetton knitwear advert and played a type of quirky, pop-funk that propelled them into every transistor radio in Great Britain.

Keep reading... Show less

Blending a dazzling array of musical influences and directions for more than two decades now, Thievery Corporation have come to represent one of the 21st century's boldest bands in both genre-blending style and lyrical impact.

The Halloween season is in full effect on this crisp Sunday evening in San Francisco that precedes All Hallows Eve by two days. With the traditional holiday falling on a Tuesday, music fans are out for as much costumed fun as they can get as evidenced by the costumed revelers here at the Masonic in the Nob Hill area. Thievery Corporation is in town, and the Bay Area "thieves" as the band's fans are known are ready to let it all hang out with one of the few bands in the music industry that isn't shy on telling listeners the truth about what's going on in the world.

Keep reading... Show less

Despite the uninspired packaging in this complete series set, Friday Night Lights remains an outstanding TV show; one of the best in the current golden age of television.

There are few series that have earned such universal acclaim as Friday Night Lights (2006-2011). This show unreservedly deserves the praise -- and the well-earned Emmy. Ostensibly about a high school football team in Dillon, Texas—headed by a brand new coach—the series is more about community than sports. Though there's certainly plenty of football-related storylines, the heart of the show is the Taylor family, their personal relationships, and the relationships of those around them.

Keep reading... Show less
10
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 Popmatters.com. All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.

rating-image