(Bernard Rose, US, 1992)
Based upon British author Clive Barker's story The Forbidden, Candyman transfers the action from Liverpool, England to the project housing of Cabrini Green, Chicago, USA. It is essentially an urban myth story about a wronged black slave who returns from the dead every time someone says the name Candyman five times in a mirror - usually to rip them apart with his hooked right hand. Candyman was (understandably) promoted around its enigmatic yet sometimes charismatic serial killer. It was clearly being pitched to appeal to fans of serial horror film series and franchises like A Nightmare on Elm Street, Friday the 13th and Halloween.
Yet from the deliberately slow opening helicopter shot, accompanied by a typically haunting Philip Glass score, it was clear this was no cheap stalk and slasher cash-in. The Saul Bass-like sliding credits over the moving cityscape that starts the film has more in common with Hitchcock's North by Northwest than anything in the horror genre. (Even Glass' opening few bars remind one of Bernard Herrman's for the earlier film.) English director Bernard Rose may be able to take the credit for this distinctive approach. Rose uses a more conventional thriller approach to his direction and the clever starting point is to begin by debunking the central stalk and slasher premise by suggesting that the events depicted in popular horror films (such those named above) all draw on urban myths for their tales of terror. So he justifies urban myths and then sets about establishing one of his own - which just so happens to turn out like those horror films. A decent budget and good production values show throughout and the photography is memorably atmospheric. The script and direction raise this essentially simple urban horror film to a more significant psychological and sociological level. Glass' superbly understated score also brings in fairground carousel melodies that recall the fantastic atmosphere of The Company of Wolves. (Glass has since publicly disowned the score - citing dissatisfaction with the lack of consultation he had - particularly in the editing of his music.)
Much is made of the social context in which the murders occur. Virginia Madsen (giving a terrific performance) as a university student writing a thesis on the urban myth of the Candyman acts as our guide into this world of urban decay. Unusual touches leave their mark, like the several sequences where she is offended by the stench of the abandoned project housing - having to stifall her retching. These unpleasant but realistic details are usually bypassed in genre movies, but Rose drops these touches in throughout grounding the supernatural events in real life experiences to which we can all relate. The decent into madness in the second half of the film threatens to go overboard at times but manages to work as the key moments are kept brief. For the first time viewer there are some terrific plot twists and the sudden change of direction and pace midway through is disarming. It's also good to see a mainstream horror film not afraid to show its blood. Unfortunately, the ending is rather dull (considering what has gone before) and the impressive impact made by the film when first viewing it is significantly weakened with repeated viewing. Hardcore gore film fanatics might be disappointed with Candyman as it certainly rises above most lower budget films with its intellectual gloss, but for fans who are happy to do a bit of thinking when watching the blood flow this comes recommended.
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