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The Significant Horror of “Candyman”

Candyman
Year: 1992
Genre: Horror
Director: Bernard Rose
Stars: Tony Todd, Virginia Madsen, Xander Berkeley

The Candyman, a murderous soul with a hook for a hand, is accidentally summoned to reality by a skeptic grad student researching the monster’s myth.

Candyman came out at just the right time in my life.  I was 12 years old and recently became enamored with the horror genre.  I spent a lot of time going through the major slasher franchises such as Friday the 13th and Nightmare on Elm Street and from the trailers it seemed that Candyman was a movie that spoke to those interests.   I watched Candyman in absolute awe, realizing for the first time that THIS was a horror film, THIS is what real horror is.  I’ve watched the movie many many times since then and each time I’ve found something new to appreciate about Candyman.

The Horror Slasher

Here’s a clip of Siskel & Ebert discussing Candyman upon its release in 1992:

[su_youtube url=”http://youtu.be/_UAkB_cogCg” width=”560″ height=”320″] Satyajit Ray[/su_youtube]

candyman 5While Siskel wasn’t a huge fan of the film beyond its premise, Ebert appreciated most of it.  They both referred to the fact that it felt like there aas an attempt to make Candyman the next big slasher villain on par with Jason or Freddy.  Ebert, at least, watched the film with the mindset of it being a slasher.  The fact that he enjoyed it is pretty startling given how the two men felt about other slasher films.

[su_youtube url=”http://youtu.be/Iz2N6BMOsyQ” width=”560″ height=”320″] Satyajit Ray[/su_youtube]

candymanYes, Candyman did become a slasher villain bu the time the sequels came along, but I never felt that about the original Candyman.  There is plenty of gore in the movie but the title character doesn’t appear onscreen until halfway through and only kills two people.  The movie is about a scholar, Helen Lyle (Virginia Madsen) working on a thesis about urban legends, specifically Candyman.  She learns that Candyman supposedly lives in Chicago’s notorious housing development Cabrini-Green and investigates.  She learns of the murders attributed to Candyman, developing an idea of how the people of Cabrini-Green have attributed the horrors of their daily lives to a mythological evil.  The horror of the first half or the movie is of learning the bad things that Candyman supposedly did, such as breaking into a woman’s apartment and butchering her or eviscerating a young boy in a public bathroom.  These people didn’t even have to go through the seemingly prequisite “look in the mirror and say his name 5 times” routine to meet their ends.

There is a point in the movie where Helen’s investigation seems to be completed and she believes she discovered and helped the police put away the man responsible for Candyman’s murders.  The story takes a sudden sharp turn as Helen meets the real Candyman, passes out and then suddenly wakes up back in Cabrini-Green, soaked in blood and accused of kidnapping and murder.  Candyman begins haunting her live now because, well….

Urban Legends

candyman 7Candyman is about urban legends and does a far better job with the topic than most films.  Its a shame that the 1997 piece of shit Urban Legends is the one often cited when dealing with the topic when Candyman was a million times more superior.  While most movies about urban legends are content to point out things society thinks are real and then make a movie of asking “what if this really happened,” Candyman creates its own urban legend, fashioning the tale of its lead character after existing campfire myths like Bloody Mary.  Instead of asking “What if?” Candyman examines what an urban legend is, how it develops and the purpose it serves in our society.

candyman 6The reason Candyman appears is because Helen has discovered the criminal responsible for Candyman’s murders, exposing that Candyman does not exist with her examination of urban legends.  The turth is that Candyman exists only as long as people believe that he exists.  he serves a very vital purpose to the people of Cabrini-Green.  If she exposes that Candyman is a fiction there is nothing to fill that social need – unless Helen is willing to fill that void herself.

Spoiler Alert but the true nature of Helen’s fate at the end of the film is something I never fully grasped until this most recent viewing.  You see, all this time I though that, in the the context of the story at least, Candyman really existed and was murdering people, taking Helen down with him.  the truth is, he is an idea – a fearful concept who only exists in people’s very real imaginations.  Graffiti on the walls establish Candyman’s “existence” and his purpose.  Helen is set to become a dark urban legend like Candyman, but sacrifices herself instead to rescue a baby trapped beneath a bonfire.  The final shot of the film is of the graffiti in Cabrini-Green again but the Candyman imagery is gone, now replaced with a picture of Helen as this flaming angel.  One urban legend about this murderer is replaced with a new urban legend about this fiery savior.

But what purpose does the urban legend serve?

About The Author
Matthew Coats
Matthew Coats
Formerly known under the pseudonym of Alex Jowski. Site owner, movie aficionado, and film school grad. Matthew Coats presents reviews, some written, some as vlogs, and some as weekly shows, for a variety of different movies and television shows. After years of struggling to get his own projects off the ground amidst the normal routine of living, Matthew Coats decided to create a site in order to share and promote movie reviews, video games and much much more from talented and original people all across the internet.

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