Bil’s rating (out of 5): BBBB
USA/United Kingdom, 1992. Polygram Filmed Entertainment, Propaganda Films, Candyman Films. Screenplay by Bernard Rose, based on the short story The Forbidden by Clive Barker. Cinematography by Anthony B. Richmond. Produced by Steve Golin, Alan Poul, Sigurjon Sighvatsson. Music by Philip Glass. Production Design by Jane Ann Stewart. Costume Design by Leonard Pollack. Film Editing by Dan Rae.
Virginia Madsen is terrific as an Illinois university post-grad who is working on a thesis about the connection between underserved communities and their superstitious beliefs in urban legends, in tandem with a class being taught by her professor husband (Xander Berkeley). A number of her interview subjects have told her the oft-repeated tale of the Candyman, a myth based on a nineteenth-century painter who fell in love with a rich white woman and was brutally maimed and tortured to death by her father because he was black. People still believe that this Candyman can be summoned by speaking his name five times into a mirror, after which he appears and tears them apart with the hook he uses in place of his chopped-off hand. Madsen hears of a murder in a building in Chicago’s notorious Cabrini-Green housing projects that is reportedly the work of this mythical figure, the properties were built over the land that he died on, so she and her academic colleague Kasi Lemmons head to the south side to look into it; what she finds are a series of hollowed out apartments in a building that has some rather intimidating drug gangs hanging out in its corridors and some interesting graffiti on the walls within it.
Fully uninterested in any of the superstitious warnings she is given about her research, Madsen jokingly tries the mirror routine at home and none other than the Candyman himself shows up before her very eyes, after which she begins to wake up in places she doesn’t remember going to, surrounded by dead bodies that she doesn’t remember being responsible for but that the authorities believe are murders she committed. The story she spins about who the real killer is only lands her in psychiatric care, the danger getting more serious as she is not only about to be put away for life for murder but is also feeling that the otherworldly villain is closing in on her internally as well.
The outcome is a delicious twist for anyone who really enjoys a good, cynical horror tale, in this case adapted from the story The Forbidden by Clive Barker, its Liverpool setting and British class bias allegory moved to the horrors of American slavery lurking beneath the surface of present-day financial inequality in this film version. Great actors and an unapologetic indulgence in very upsetting violence actually enrich the socially conscious undertones of the story, taking on racism, housing, a touch of jerrymandering and the treatment of victimized women as mentally ill. Bernard Rose manages to package all these themes without ever giving them more focus or energy than the exciting plot itself, sometimes unable to overcome the usual failures of logic that plague adaptations of Barker’s writing (the rules of the supernatural are not always clear) but still delivering an exciting and effective tale that deservedly became a cult classic (while the series of wooden period pieces that he went on to direct most decidedly did not).
Toronto International Film Festival: 1992