Candyman (1992)

99 minutes – Rated R for gore, psychological trauma, language, and NOT THE BEES!

I remember walking to the comic book shop when I was younger and carrying home a bundle of comic books. When I was ten, there were ads on the back of some of those comic books for a movie called Candyman. I had not yet watched any horror movies yet but I already appreciated the darker imagery. However, what scared me immediately was that there were bees on the mini poster. I have been deathly afraid of bees for a long time now. I never had a good relationship with the stinging insects but that relationship took a dive when I was little. I was hanging out in my family’s backyard near the woods and I pulled on a vine, probably to test it for Tarzan-like properties. Immediately once I yanked the vine, I was swarmed by a whole nest of bees. All of my senses were overwhelmed with pain and chaos and I had to be told what happened next. My mother ran to the rescue, pulled my shirt off and swatted the bees away with it. It took a long time for me to physically recover but I have never looked at bees the same way again after that.

The nineties seemed to be full of both slasher movies and urban legends. The early nineties were pre-internet and we got a lot of our urban legends from word of mouth. That meant that they spread slower but it also meant that a lot of them stayed less pure. As we saw with old fairy tales, as soon as cultures collided, tales seemed to merge. Perrault and Grimm seemed to dominate over any other tellings of other stories. Certain versions of tales are probably lost to time as certain authors or storytellers became more popular. Similarly, we learned one basic version of certain urban legends like Bloody Mary or the Guy With a Hook for a Hand. When the internet really fired up, these urban legends came to be called ‘creepypasta’ and you could immediately google the original version and every variation anybody ever wrote. While one author dominated, they no longer overwrote all previous versions. I am not sure which one I like better but there is something scarier when somebody is telling you a story across a campfire than reading it on the screen of a computer.

The movie was made in 1992 so the film quality is not that great. For some reason, movies started to look a little washed out in the 90s. Still, as long as you’re expecting it, it’s not a problem. Much of the movie is set in and around Chicago’s legendary/notorious Cabrini-Green projects. There is so much attention to detail in a lot of the sets. A derelict set of apartments looks as decrepit and dirty as real derelict buildings I have been in. Special care is given to really awesome (and creepy) graffiti related to the killer. Much of the filming was done in the real Cabrini-Green to make it more realistic (actual gang members were used as extras). The blood effects and the prosthetics are so good but of course they are, it’s a Clive Barker movie. So, how were the bees? They were absolutely terrifying every time they were on screen and each appearance was worse than the last. Way more terrifying than those TV movies about real-life killer bees even. The thought that they are all real and were specifically bred for the movie is even scarier. Finally, the atmosphere was definitely helped by the addition of a spot-on Phillip Glass organ, voice and piano score.

The movie stars Virginia Madsen, a woman whose voice I have heard a lot of in cartoons. She is a dogged academic trying to research urban legends and she gets intrigued by a killer known as Candyman. There is a joy and excitement in her performance early in the movie as she pursues stories and does the necessary research. She is joined by her research partner played by Kasi Lemmons. Now, usually it would not be important but Madsen is white and Lemmons is black. Candyman himself is also black (played by Tony Todd). So, the movie is about a white academic delving into black urban legends and quickly getting over her head. The acting really reflects that as Madsen happily acts clueless while Lemmons often acts as the voice of reason, trying to protect her oblivious white friend. We also have Vanessa Williams giving a great performance as a resident of the projects who provides them with more information. Madsen is perfect as a woman on the verge of a nervous breakdown. Tony Todd is so great as Candyman. It takes a lot of charisma to be horror movie monster without something obscuring the face like a mask or a disfigurement. A handsome slasher is hard to pull off but this movie definitely did it.

Overall, I really liked the movie. I had been lead to believe that the movie was just another nineties slasher movie but it felt like a lot more than that. The movie was psychological in ways that I was not expecting. The story also had a bunch of twists that I did not fully expect. It also attempted to approach the subject of class and race differences, even including references to slavery. The same cultural power imbalance that led to places like Cabrini-Green being constructed and getting as bad as they have.

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