As fun as mindless bodycount-building slasher flicks are (lord knows I enjoy them), for my money, the best slasher movies are the ones that offer just a little bit more. Hitting theaters in the early 90’s, when slasher movies were rapidly becoming passé, Clive Barker’s Candyman managed to take a sub genre with rather limited potential and wrap an engaging ghost story around it, not only making Candyman one of the best slasher films in history, but one of the best horror movies you’re ever likely to view, period.
Helen Lyle (Virginia Madsen) is a grad student at the University of Chicago writing a thesis on urban legends. A local one in particular, the legend of Candyman, manages to pique her interest. She follows the stories to the nearby projects only to find that the residents are hiding a terrible secret. The deeper she digs, the more bizarre the tale becomes until eventually she summons Candyman himself (Tony Todd). Helen soon finds herself blamed for several of the Candyman’s most recent murders as well as the kidnapping of a baby. As Helen’s life falls to pieces around her, Candyman prepares to make her a part of his legend.
Based on Clive Barker’s short story “The Forbidden”, Candyman takes that original source and weaves in one of the more well-known urban legends we should all be acquainted with in some form or another. When I was a kid, we called it “Bloody Mary”; you turn off the lights, say the ghost’s name five times into a mirror and it will supposedly come and “get you”. It works exceptionally well, really playing on the urban legend angle that drives most of the story.
Though he’s the title villain, Candyman is still second to the lead, Helen. In that respect, Virginia Madsen carries the movie marvelously. You really do feel for her as her life comes crashing down in all the worst ways. I found myself squirming in my seat a couple of times, as she really sells it. Tony Todd’s performance should not be understated, however. He has a very “everyman” kind of presence, save for an unearthly voice which really brings the chills. This combination of normalcy with subtly unsettling features, as well as Candyman’s more over-the-top scare gimmicks (such as clouds of bees in his chest and a rusted hook for a hand), make for one of the most memorable horror villains to come out of the 90’s.
I’ve taken the time to read “The Forbidden” (it’s very short; only 102 pages) and while I found it to be a good read, much like “The Hellbound Heart” was to Hellraiser, it really felt like nothing more than a prototype for Candyman. All the recognizable elements and story structure are present, but Candyman takes them all and just makes them better. However, just for the sake of doing it, I’ll list the differences I noticed below. Be warned, however: there be spoilers ahead.
I guess first and foremost, it should be noted that Candyman as he appeared in “The Forbidden” was actually a white guy with long blonde hair and incredibly pale skin. Another difference was Candyman’s garb. In the film he wear’s a long overcoat, while in the book he is clad in a brightly colored patchwork outfit which even the main character considers to look ridiculous (which is likely why it didn’t make the transition to film). Those alterations aside, all the Candyman’s other features were there, such as a rotten bee-infested torso and a hook for a hand. The book also takes place in a slum in England rather than the Chicago projects, which is partially the culprit behind the change in ethnicity. The Candyman’s extended background is nowhere to be seen in “The Forbidden”, as you can probably guess, as it would have been kind of strange for a white British guy to have been a slave in North America.
The only other major difference lies in Anne-Marie’s child. In the book she had a toddler named Kerry, while in the movie that character is split into two separate ones: an infant named Anthony and a young boy named Jake. Anthony plays the part of Anne-Marie’s son while Jake fills in for Kerry in the scene where he shows Helen to the creepy restrooms. Also, in the book, Kerry is killed by Candyman and his corpse placed in the bonfire, while in the movie Anthony is only kidnapped and hidden within the pile of kindling.
Just like with The Hellbound Heart, I thought most of the changes were made for the better. Ignoring the small handful of alterations and additions, Candyman really follows the plot of “The Forbidden” to the proverbial “T”.
Candyman is one of the last truly good slasher films produced before Scream came along in 1996 and ruined everything. You’d also do well to check out the sequel, Candyman: Farewell to the Flesh, though I’d highly recommend you avoid Candyman 3: Day of the Dead.
You can grab the special edition of Candyman from Amazon. Amazon Prime members can download it to Instant Video for free.
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