For weeks Chris was trying to convince me to watch Candyman and I really didn’t want to do it, for several reasons. The biggest reason was that I was sick of shitty horror movies. I was sick of horror movies that didn’t know how to end themselves, so they just ended. I was sick of ultra-formulaic slasher movies that aren’t the least bit scary despite the gore. I had never really heard anything about Candyman so I assumed it was just uninspired and/or boring and/or just straight up bad. Another big reason I didn’t want to watch it is because, again, the poster horrified me as a child. Candyman was a movie, like The Silence of the Lambs and Hellraiser that I remembered passing by in the video store and being totally horrified by the VHS box.
Um, what’s that? A bee going into someone’s eye? NO THANK YOU FOREVER. When I was much younger I was scared of bees, mostly because of My Girl and I had never been stung before. So I had absolutely no interest in seeing a movie that seems to be about literal killer bees, and that really stuck with me.
And yet, Chris was relentless. Candyman was on Netflix and there was just no way to avoid it. The more I thought about it, the more I thought that it probably wasn’t all that scary and was actually probably pretty cheesy, especially coming out in 1992. So I finally agreed to watch it as long as it was during the day (just in case it was scary) and figured I would just chalk it up to another shitty-horror-movie-watching session. And thus began one of the strangest and most rewarding movie watching experiences I think I’ve ever had.
Candyman opens with an aerial shot over the roads of Chicago, which was cool. Then the opening score began and Chris said “Isn’t this ‘Mamacita?'” Chris recognized the music almost instantly because it was sampled in Travi$ Scott’s song “The Prayer,” which comes on his mixtape Days Before Rodeo right before “Mamacita” and is included in the “Mamacita” music video. This really wouldn’t be that big of a deal . . . except all of the above (TraviS Scott, “The Prayer,” “Mamacita,”) are among both of our favorites right now. As the credits kept going, it was revealed that Philip Glass scored Candyman. PHILIP GLASS! At this point in the credits, I had to ask Chris, “So, is this supposed to be . . . a good movie?” In hindsight, it was really a perfect setup of what was to come.
Candyman follows Helen (Virginia Madsen), a grad student researching urban legends. She begins focusing on Candyman, a killer who will supposedly show up if you say his name into a mirror five times and gut you. Helen and her research partner, Bernadette (Kasi Lemmons) even jokingly try saying his name in a mirror, but unsurprisingly, nothing happens. One night at dinner with her husband Trevor (Xander Berkeley) and friends, a colleague of Trevor tells Helen that Candyman is based on a real man, the son of a slave whose father became a rich entrepreneur and grew up to be a painter. He fell in love with a white woman whose portrait he was hired to paint and impregnated her and was ambushed by a lynch mob that: cut off his painting hand and stuck a hook in its place, smeared honey all over him, threw some beehives on him, and yelled “Candyman” as he was stung/bled to death. I’m not really sure why Helen didn’t already know the backstory, but whatever. It’s a sad story.
Helen and Bernadette learn of a recent murder that happened in Cabrini-Green, a super scary, gang-filled housing project, which has been attributed to Candyman, so they go to Cabrini-Green to check it out. They meet Anne-Marie, the woman’s neighbor, who has a baby boy, and another young boy who lives in the building, Jake. Jake seems to be the most willing to talk about Candyman and tells them about a young mentally challenged boy that was brutally castrated in a public bathroom in Cabrini-Green, and that it was Candyman behind the castration. Jake takes Helen to the bathroom, where she explores while he waits outside. Inside, the bathroom is full of shit (literally – on the walls), and has an arrow made of shit on the walls of one of the stalls pointing down into the toilet. When Helen opens the toilet, it’s filled with bees. Outside, Jake looks up at someone and whispers “Candyman,” and then Helen turns around to see a gang approaching her in the bathroom. The gang is led by a man holding a hook, who calls himself Candyman. He attacks Helen and gives her a nasty black eye but she survives and is able to successfully identify him to the cops. Helen sees Jake at the police station and she assures him that Candyman was just this gang member, and the police have him, and what Jake thinks of as Candyman (the figure that comes in the mirror) isn’t real. Jake looks confused and says “Candyman isn’t real?” but seems to get what she’s saying. Despite the attack, Helen and Bernadette are excited by everything that’s happened because their story about Candyman, the research they’ve done, and the capture of the “real” Candyman has been tapped to be turned into a book.
While Helen walks to her car in a parking garage, she’s stopped by a man across the garage. He tells her that because she wouldn’t believe the stories, he’s making himself known to her to prove he exists. She blacks out and wakes up in Anne-Marie’s apartment covered in blood and holding a butcher knife. The decapitated head of Anne-Marie’s dog is on the floor and her baby is missing and when Helen approaches her, Anne-Marie attacks her. The police storm in just as Helen is able to defend herself, making it look like she’s attacking Anne-Marie, so she’s arrested. Trevor bails her out and seems supportive and concerned, though just as confused as Helen. Not long after, Candyman comes to her again and cuts her neck – not enough to kill her, but enough to make her unconcious. Then Bernadette arrives with flowers to check on Helen, who cannot warn Bernadette in time that Candyman is there. Bernadette comes in and Candyman murders her. Trevor comes home and finds Bernadette’s body and Helen is once again arrested, this time after being sedated first. She’s then put in a psychiatric hospital.
In the hospital, Candyman appears to her several times but doesn’t hurt her – but doesn’t help her case of not being insane. A month goes by in the hospital and Helen meets with her psychiatrist to discuss her pending trial. He seems to be on Helen’s side, even telling her that he’s essentially working for her, trying to help her (probably because to him, she’s clearly insane). He shows her videos of the times where Candyman appeared to her and she sees that he wasn’t really there. To try and prove that he’s real, Helen says she can call him and looks into a mirror and says his name five times. Nothing happens. Helen begins to tear up, maybe thinking that she really is crazy. Then suddenly, the psychiatrist coughs up blood and Candyman rises behind him, running his hook up through the psychiatrist’s back from the bottom up. Although Helen is horrified, after Candyman murders the psychiatrist he bursts through the barred window and sort of flies away (it sounds stupid, but it really isn’t), giving Helen a means of escape, which she uses right away. She goes home to find a young grad student living in her apartment with Trevor. Trevor and his girlfriend are clearly terrified of Helen, but she’s heartbroken.
After she gives up on that, she goes to Cabrini-Green in attempt to confront Candyman and/or find Anne-Marie’s missing baby. She goes to the building’s attic, which has paintings on the wall and the words “It was always you, Helen.” She finds Candyman as he appears to be sleeping, but when she approaches him he talks to her, implying that Helen has taken the place of the white woman Candyman loved (or maybe Helen is that woman reincarnated?) and that he expects her to become a legend with him. He opens his shirt and reveals a boney chest cavity filled with bees. He tells Helen that Anne-Marie’s baby will be spared if she sacrifices himself to him and essentially becomes his partner-in-urban-legend-crime. And what’s really interesting is that Helen seems to really consider it. Because honestly . . . why not? She’s on the run, accused of multiple murders (and I don’t know how she’d be able to explain away the psychiatrist’s murder), her best friend is dead and her husband left her. Now I’m not saying someone in a similar situation should just kill themselves, but Helen is obviously so distraught and lost, it doesn’t seem like the worst offer ever.
But, Candyman is still a bad guy, so he’s not being entirely truthful. The residents of Cabrini-Green have built an unlit community bonfire, which they believe Candyman is hiding in. His real plan is to sacrifice both Helen and the baby in the bonfire to help further prove his existence and feed his own legend of being a killer. Helen catches wind of this and knows the baby is in the bonfire. Helen climbs in to look for him and the residents light the fire. With everything burning, Helen finds the baby safe and sound and crawls out, hair and then body on fire, as the residents realize what’s happened. Once the baby is out and safe, Helen dies. At her funeral, which Trevor and his girlfriend attend, the residents of Cabrini-Green silently march toward her grave, Jake throwing a hook onto her casket before she’s buried. Later, Trevor cries in his bathroom while his girlfriend cooks. As he cries, he quietly says Helen’s name over and over until he gets to five. When he does, Helen appears to him and murders him with a hook.
The plot of Candyman is so intricate, yet has such good payoffs. There are some clunky plot points in the beginning as Helen discovers that her own apartment building was built in the likeness of Cabrini-Green, but other than that the movie moves forward perfectly while giving you an understanding of what you think is going on. When it’s revealed that Candyman is just a gang member who’s taken on the name to appear scarier, that made so much sense to me. Like, ohhhh, there isn’t a supernatural killer, but there is a killer who calls himself Candyman, of course! But then it also made sense when the real Candyman appeared, because he could not allow Helen and Bernadette’s book to be published as it would essentially debunk the entire myth of Candyman (and presumably because of that his spirit wouldn’t exist – or something). All of the characters had multiple layers – even down to the psychiatrist who’s in the movie for maybe 5 minutes, as he’s obviously sure Helen is crazy and wants to help her, but still doesn’t believe her.
While a lot of scary things happen in Candyman, I think ultimately it’s just enormously tragic. The whole thing came from the tragic and brutal death of a man who was murdered just because he was black and loved a white woman – and not only killed, but humiliated first by having his painting hand cut off. The real murders of real people (including one that resulted from a child being castrated) led Helen and Bernadette further. The murder of Bernadette drove Trevor away – whom I truly do believe really did love Helen, he was just faced with what he thought was reality, that the woman he loves has had a psychotic break and is a murderer, and is trying to move on. And Helen’s desperate crawl, hair aflame, from the bonfire while clutching the baby is super sad, because it’s her last hope of maybe redeeming herself (although heroically saving the baby would unfortunately not erase the other crimes she’s accused of). And ultimately, through no real fault of her own, Helen’s spirit will always remain vengeful and not at rest.
But finally. A GOOD HORROR MOVIE. Not just good, but one of the best I’ve ever seen. Watching this movie, I got the feeling that all the filmmakers involved knew exactly where the movie was going and how it would end, which made me trust that I would not be disappointed or that there just straight up wouldn’t be an ending. I just couldn’t believe that this movie, that I thought would be terrible, that I’ve never really heard anyone (other than Chris) talk about, would be this great. I mean, is Silence of the Lambs really the greatest horror movie of the 90s as I’ve heard so many people say? Or . . . is it Candyman? Because I will say right now that even though I haven’t seen Silence of the Lambs in like 10 years, I think Candyman is better. When Candyman was over, I got the familiar feeling of “What did I just see?” that I’ve gotten so often from horror movies, but in the absolute best way possible. I immediately wanted to watch it again.
So, Chris was right. Candyman was more than worth seeing. Life-changing is too dramatic, but I’ve thought about Candyman every day since we watched it. Even though it’s not a new movie, it gave me some much needed, newfound hope that I haven’t seen every good horror movie, that there’s still hope out there to see an amazingly good film that just so happens to also be a horror movie.
See Candyman. If you haven’t, I’m jealous that you can still see it for the first time. It’s amazing.
I can’t not start this post by saying it was a real struggle to get Elizabeth to watch this with me. I was pretty close to watching it on my own but luckily she came around and I can only assume that her post will reflect that she’s glad she ended up watching it. Now I just need to convince her to watch Black Christmas with me.
I wanted to watch Candyman mainly because I have seen the cover to this movie my whole life and I know it’s a fairly famous movie/character. I was expecting the same kind of stuff that we’ve gotten out of most horror movies. Basic, straightforward, and probably a stupid ending where it feels like the writers didn’t even know how it would end. Fortunately, that was not at all the case and I would now place Candyman on my top five favorite horror movies. It’s just so good and solid all the way through. And there is a ton of thought put into the whole story.
I really don’t want to discuss the story too closely as I feel like this movie does a great job of having parallels between the real world and the world in which Candyman exists. There is the Candyman legend, but there is also a killer that goes by the same name. There is the main character’s relationship with Candyman as well as her deteriorating relationship with her husband. There is what is actually happening to the main character and what the rest of the world, mainly the police, see. I just had no idea how complex this story was going to be before we started. And Philip Glass did the score, crazy!
I’m also just very interested in Candyman as a villain. Elizabeth and I were talking and he is the only African-American killer I can think of, in terms of franchise killers. I find that to be very strange and the more I think about how Caucasians really do just dominate cinema it gets to be too depressing. As I think I’ve said before the only good thing about Tyler Perry is that he does keep good African-American actors employed, even if they have very little to work with. But what also makes me think of all of this is when the movie started I thought the score was immediately familiar. I realized it was the intro to the TraviS Scott song, “The Prayer.” I love that! And in regard to Travi$ Scott’s persona, of course the theme of Candyman would be somewhere incorporated in his music.
I feel like this movie must be looked over because I really don’t feel like enough people talk about this film. It’s pure fucking gold and I enjoyed every single part of it. I don’t think I’ve seen such a great horror movie in a long time. I really want to watch the sequels but I am anticipating that they will fall short. Although after how I feel about the first one I can’t not watch the others.
SEEEE THIS MOVIE NOW IF YOU HAVEN’T!!!!!!!!