Just when the youth of the world thought they could relax from just over a decade of ‘slashening’, 1992s ‘The Candyman’ throws a new stalker icon into the mix.
Based in theme (albeit with some crucial additions from cast and writers) on another of Clive Barker’s literary nightmares ‘Candyman’ brings themes of social disparity and urban legends together with flourishes of fetish and infatuation in a feature which would introduce the 1990s to a brand new horror icon – ‘Candyman’.
The story follows two ambitious research fellows who are looking – rather interestingly – into the links between social class to the curation and persistence of urban legends. In the film there is the suggestion that urban legends proliferate within lower social classes as an outlet and projection for their situation in life. In this instance she happens upon the urban myth of ‘The Candyman’, a vengeful spirit of a colonial slave who met a particularly violent end, a curse who would see him use a hook to slaughter anyone who would dare to summon him. Similar to the Bloody Mary urban legend, if you say his name 5 times in the mirror, he will come for you. Needless to say, there’s much scepticism from the academic, but when a young black woman is murdered, locals are convinced the Candyman is to blame. With the police showing little interest in justice for the victim the academic, following her own lines of enquiry, finds herself in a situation where her research soon becomes more than just theory.
Upon reflection the concept of ‘Candyman’ isn’t all that original, in fact if you spend any time considering the various components presented the film is something of an amalgamation of themes already covered within the broader spectrum of horror films, but that’s ok, because here it is not where the focus lies. The focus lies on showing how the fantasy elements of horror are relatable to the parts of life and society. There’s fear and insecurity in real life, the tragic reality where people’s lives are not valued equally and under constant threat, not from mask wearing psychos, but from the undercurrent of gangs, violence, drugs and socioeconomic inequality – this is where ‘Candyman’ thrives.
As a film it uses a horror plot as a loose canvass through which to tell a layered and equally distressing story, a story it conveys honestly and without any pretentious exposition. Solid writing, great use of landscape and locations shots as well as a very strong cast throughout, see these topics themes just permeate through each scene.
The result is a film which, despite its similarity to other genre films, sees it very quickly establish its own identity, quickly drawing you into its textured storyline and contrasting visuals – in fact, for a 90s film it seems to avoid the fashions of the time meaning it has aged well.
Of course, however, this is still a horror film, and what is horror without an antagonist?
Within 20 seconds of screen-time Tony Todd cements himself as a legend amongst, well, other legends. The concept of ‘Candyman’ is just perfect. His back story gives him a certain amount of moral ambiguity over the justification for his acts, using a hook embedded into the blooded stump where his hand once was gives him a weapon to fear; all of this of course would be nothing without decent portrayal of course. No mask, or iconic sound effects required – Tony Todd just brings it. His screen presence is overwhelming, his smooth/deep voice adds gravitas to his captivating monologues.
The violence in this movie is infrequent, but strong. There is a heavy emphasis on atmosphere and threat, so the big man’s moments are used with a little restraint so as not to cheapen his impact when he comes into play.
The kills that we see are sufficiently brutal. Plenty of blood, with some outstanding sound effects to make that hook slicing and tearing through flesh sound weighty and cringe inducing. There is a decent mix of jump scares and outright visceral moments to keep things fresh.
All in all, this is one rollercoaster of a movie.
Overall, this film seemingly achieved the unachievable. After the whole slasher thing had pretty much run its course, with even the biggest franchises running out of puff, out comes ‘Candyman’. With its focus on themes as topical today as in the early 90s it is a massively relevant title, with a strong antagonist to boot.