One hook with a line in not being a stinker.
Think of Candyman and you'll most likely conjure up one of two images. First is a cheeky little fella who "can take a sunrise, sprinkle it with dew, cover it in chocolate and a miracle or two". Second is a 6 foot-something African American demon of the night who rips people open from their nethers to their tits with a large, rusty hook. For those not too certain as to which is a kid's song and which a horror movie based on a Clive Barker short story let me point out that in this brief review I'll be dealing with the latter. I've decided to drop this review in here for a couple of reasons. Firstly having recently moved home I've had scant time or opportunity to visit the cinema and keep you up to date with new releases. That's a job Scott has been busting his ass to do for you all on his lonesome, and in the meantime I've been forced to feed my cinematic craving with a new Home Theatre system and some reliable old DVD friends. Secondly, I noticed Candyman had received the "Special Edition" treatment this week, and while a quick glance at the extras revealed it to be not-so-special after all I had an HMV gift card to use and fancied seeing how this old friend of mine stood up to scrutiny, especially against the modern teen horror offerings currently plaguing our multiplexes.
I'm pleased to report that the news is mostly good. While it was never triple-A entertainment of Lawrence Of Arabia proportions, Candyman was, and still is, regarded as one of the better examples of the genre; a film as interested in atmosphere and interesting visuals as it is geysers of gore spurting across every available inch of the screen. Delving into the phenomenon of the urban myth, Candyman mixes the psychological and the anatomical to great effect. The consistently underused Virginia Madsen is Helen Lyle, a post-graduate writing a thesis on local legends who pays a visit to a local housing project with a reputation for unsolved grisly murders. There she investigates the myth of Candyman (TonyTodd); a rather unpleasant chap who is supposed to appear if you say his name five times in the mirror, before opening you up in the aforementioned manner. Before long Helen is trapped in a nightmare somewhere between myth and reality which all sounds very run-of-the-mill, except in this case it's handled extremely competently by director Bernard Rose. No. Really.
Seemingly under the impression that Helen is the reincarnation of his forbidden white lover of yore for whom he was tortured and burned to death, Mr. Candyman (probably best to show him some respect) sets Helen up for a number of yucky killings relating to her investigations, with the somewhat contrived intent of having her join him in the afterlife for a spot of date-murdering. The cad! So the story unfolds as Helen descends into a spot of madness, with her university chums and lecturer husband Trevor (Xander Berkeley) initially goading her before distancing themselves as she teeters closer to insanity. The power of Candyman comes not so much from it's basic story which is, to be fair, pulp nonsense of the first degree as it does a considered approach to contemporary mythology, and a ladling of great atmosphere that's three parts Phillip Glass' score to one part Tony Todd's voice. Seriously, the biggest flaw this edition suffers from is not the lack of extras; rather it's the stereo sound mix which robs us of our front rooms swimming in the boom of Tony's stupendous vocal ability. Had Mr. Todd been presented in 5.1 surround this would probably instantly rank as the scariest film ever. As it is, the stereo mix is just about ample to convey Glass' masterfully simple arrangement; string organ and choir fusing to create quite the unsettling musical accompaniment to an already capable little flick.
Performances are ample across the board, with Madsen the clear standout. Legend has it she submitted to sessions of hypnosis so that director Rose could induce a trance-like state in her at the utterance of a keyword, which is apparently evident on screen in her dream-like conversations with Todd's antagonist. Todd himself is perhaps a little disappointing thanks to his classical training highlighting just how hammy those segments of the script actually are, but by and large he's as convincing as need be in the role of a mentalist with a hook for a hand, and you certainly wouldn't want to mess with him if he appeared in the mirror while you were shaving. Support from the likes of Berkeley and Kasi Lemmons as student friend Bernadette is strong enough, and a little authenticity is lent by the housing projects' occupants playing themselves, which is about the only way Rose could ensure his cast and crew didn't have their heads randomly blown off while filming, apparently. So, in order to summarise (I can feel a silly mood coming on and I'm bound to start waffling), Candyman has aged really rather well, and it certainly puts every horror I've seen within the last three years at the cinema firmly in the shade. If you don't do scares you won't see what the fuss is, but if you're a spotty teenager and want to see how decent slaughter vehicles are done look no further.
I award this movie 4 out of 5 You're Too Young To Know Better Units
Tony Todd (Candyman)
Xander Berkeley (Trevor Lyle)
Kasi Lemmons (Bernadette Walsh)