Thursday, July 8, 2010

Candyman (1992) Or "What's the matter Trevor? Scared of something?"

'Candyman' was one of those movies that came out in the period of time in which I was too young to be allowed to view such cinema. I'm not going to date myself here by saying just how old I was when said film came out, but I was young. And I was a pretty damn sheltered kid.

So basically, 'Candyman' entirely passed me by. But it is a personal goal of your humble narrator to go back and reclaim the movies that came out whilst she was but a tiny confection, or before I even began baking, so to speak. Also, the 'Candyman' urban legend is one of those ones that every little kid was tortured by, at least in my childhood he was basically the male version of Bloody Mary (although Miss. Mary caused much more fear in this Pie than the man with the candy ever did).

But there is a trouble with movies in the vein of being recreations of Urban Legends, as a child these were things that scared the ever living crap out of you. The man with the hook for a hand was always waiting in some ally, Bloody Mary was in every friggin mirror, the Bogeyman was always either under the bed or in the closet, and let's not even get started on the babysitter with the killer upstairs business.
So here's the thing, how is a movie ever going to be able to even touch upon the complete and utter horror these things instilled in you as a child? It's impossible, that's just a fact. Learn to love it.

So basically, I was geared up to snort and poo-poo my way through 'Candyman', as I have through all film adaptations of Urban Legends that I have seen before (although, the 'Bloody Mary' episode of Supernatural was actually a pretty darn good try). I won't lie, I kind of wanted to hate this movie.

But Goddamit, I didn't. In fact, I found amazing merits buried in it. And you know, I could probably have dismissed this movie as rubbish all together if they hadn't had such an amazingly strong female lead to carry the entire movie on her shoulders.

Dears, Darlings, and fellow Spooky-Dos meet our Intrepid Heroine, Miss Helen Lyle.

She is smart as a whip, obnoxiously gorgeous, and will spend the whole movie having life and the world essentially crap all over her.

The movie opens with Helen interviewing a college girl who tell her a story that is "the scariest things she's ever heard, and it's totally true". It turns out to be a story about the aforementioned guy version of Bloody Mary crossed with the "Hook man" legend. Long story short, horny teenagers say Candyman's name five times in a mirror, he show ups and fillets the girl. And her roommate's friend's boyfriend totally knew the people it happened to.

Which is how we learn that Darling Helen, along with her awesome best friend Bernadette are graduate students working on a thesis about Urban Legends.

Helen's husband, Trevor, is an enormous Douche-bag who teaches at the university where Helen and Bernadette were interviewing college freshmen about what urban legends they'd come across. So, of course, he decides to make a lecture about Urban Legends to his class (which is who knows what, maybe Anthropology?) and ruin their study collection possibilities by wising the kids up to it all.

Helen is, justifiably, torqued. Trevor, the douche who is also rather obviously giving "extra credit", if you get my meaning, to one of his students, all but tells Helen that she is being a hysterical female and he is not going to let her silly little thesis interrupt his teaching schedule.

We're less than ten minutes into the movie and I'm hoping that Trevor gets terribly, terribly maimed.

But anyway, sweet hubbie's bastard tendencies force Helen to look further than college freshman for her study group. But she lucks out whilst typing up the interview she had with the freshman that opened the film, a woman cleaning the classroom she is in comments upon it. This leads Helen to interviewing said cleaning lady and her co-worker, which then leads her to a rendition of the legend that actually corresponds with a crime that happened in the Projects.

So Helen, in true Nancy Drew fashion heads out to the place the grisly murder took place, dragging reluctant voice of reason Bernadette along with her. In the projects the 'Candyman' legend is alive and kicking, so to speak, and everyone and their mother alternates between living in abject fear of him, and blaming him for all the normal hoo-ha.

Helen is an educated woman and is not to be bothered with superstition, so she insists to these people that their own personal Bogeyman is complete Horse Feathers. And as such COMPLETELY DAMNS HERSELF.

In true Freddy Kreuger fashion Candyman understands that the only way to exist is through other's faith in his legend. So in true "shun the non-believer" fashion he reveals himself to her, creepily, in a parking lot. Insisting that either she let him kill her or he will make her pay for the loss of faith she has caused within his congregation. Trouble is, I won't lie, Candyman looks pretty Badass whilst being a total creeper, and I wasn't exactly mad at the dulcet tones of his smooth baritone voice.

Which is when everything goes to Hell in a hand basket, so to speak. Candyman brutally murders people left and right and sets Helen up to take the fall, insisting that the slaughter will continue until she gives herself up. And we aren't just talking in a "give up and let me kill you, you difficult woman" way, it's all pretty down right sexual. Almost romantic, in a frightening sort of "Phantom of the Opera" way.

But Helen, God bless her, she is one tough cookie. Horrible, horrible things are happening all around her and she keeps on fighting. And looking perfect the whole times, yes, even when she is drenched in the blood of those that Candyman has slaughtered, and having a near hysterical meltdown, she still looks basically awesome.

But it is only when all the shit starts to hit the fan that the real reason I found myself enjoying this movie began to pick up. No, it's not just because this movie had a villain I could get behind, which is important to me and all, but not the big reason here. The allegory between Urban Legend, belief in something allowing existence becomes a subtle, and amazing theme.

Helen, herself, is not unlike Candyman. No, she doesn't go around gutting people with her festering hand with a hook jammed in it, granted, but she only exists as long as she is believed in, as much as he is.

She begins the movie, strong, vibrant, confident in her existence. But this is when she has the, supposedly, happy marriage, a wonderful best friend, and the respect of her peers. As this all falls apart, as there is suddenly a lack of people's belief in her Helen seems to be feeling herself disappear, much in the way Candyman described himself as doing when the legends were not to be spoken of him any longer.

Taking out the twisted romantic aspect of the Candyman's feelings toward Helen, he is offering her something that douche-bag Trevor, or anyone else really did. A chance to truly exist because she will always be remembered, believed in. Even if it is only for the crimes that Candyman has perpetuated and framed her for.

And yes, I have acknowledged that it is sick to think of 'Candyman' in the sense of being a romance. But there is a highly romantic aspect to it, more romantic than you can perceive between her and Trevor. Even before things began to go south we were more than reasonably sure that that her sorry excuse for a husband was having one of those "special" teacher relationships that involve lot's of staying after school for "extra credit assignments".

And once the going gets even remotely rough Trevor is more than willing to throw his hands up and be done with her, more than anything else because this is the perfect excuse for him to move in with his barely legal trollop. And when confronted with this, Trevor essentially counters with a "yeah, but you're a crazy person who killed people, even though you were never proved guilty, so I put all your stuff on the lawn with a 'free to a good home' sign on it."

Well, not in so many words, but you get the picture.

Candyman, in his own psycho way, is sort of the Byronic love interest for Darling Helen. He offers her eternity with him. They'll live forever so long as there are people who will speak in whispers about them, and he is happy to have that forever include her in the main focus of it.

I know it's wrong to think it, y'all. But it is a little bit sweet.

Sweet in a "I probably shouldn't have stopped seeing a therapist" kind of a way, but eh, I've seen the Phantom of the Opera a bazillion times and I still get upset every time Christine chooses that tool Raul over the Phantom. Sure the Phantom murdered truckloads of theater folk, but didn't he also write her the loveliest songs? I'm just saying.

But Helen proves that she is firmly the hero of this story, because she believes she can be strong. Once she shakes the shackles of her horrible marriage, and even avoids the seductive lure of the Candyman, she truly comes full circle and is truly in her own by the end of the film.

Which is why I can't be mad at this film.

I don't consider myself a feminist, but the strong female character that was Helen is arguably one of the strongest women in Horror cinema. Yes, I know everyone always looks first and foremost to Sigourney Weaver's character Ripley. But I argue that the self-rescuing Helen should be considered at least as highly. After all Helen fends off an evil that cannot be jettisoned out an air lock, because it exists in the very fibers of the mind.

And she never has to walk around in her panties to do it either.

Go Helen. You rock, Rock.


  1. So nice and refreshing to read a review from someone essentially discovering a famous genre movie for the first time and being truly excited about it. For me, Candyman is pretty much perfect. It just works on so many levels; as a comment on socioeconomic and race issues, as an exploration of the power of storytelling and its capacity to for continuous evolution, and, of course, most importantly , simply as a great horror movie. Also, Tony Todd makes me go a bit tingly, which is always nice.
    I thoroughly enjoyed this post, Spooky Pie. Thank you.

  2. Great angle. I saw this film again recently. I too tested the mirror scene myself but luckily nothing happend...yet

  3. I was also too young to see Candyman when it came out. I saw it for the first time last year and I loved it. The Bloody Mary legend never scared me but I had a great time tormenting my friends with it.

  4. @Jinx I'm glad that you enjoyed this, I try, occasionally, to find a more scholastic standpoint on movies. I don't always. And there is a whole subset of movies in this era that I had missed out on that I'm really looking forward to discovering for the first time.
    And, as always, I am flattered by you reading this humble blog.

    @Sarah thank you! I'm actually surprised that Helen has not really been discussed as a great example of a strong female voice. And I have, to this day, never done the mirror thing.

    @Emily really? Mary never bothered you? She was the great terror of my childhood. I was one of the kids being tormented with her, unfortunately.

  5. It's absolutely my pleasure. I'm very much enjoying reading your take on great movies and really looking forward to what you have to say about others. Keep it up.
    I wrote a substantial part of a recent review that was just about boobies so I'm probably not in a position to comment scholastically about anything.
    I must admit I'm too scared for the mirror thing too. Though we did have a problem with bees in our house last year and my husband suspected I had been trying to summon Tony Todd.

  6. Great review! I think you're right about the romantic aspect of the film, it is kind of sweet in a messed-up way. Seems to happen quite a lot in supernatural horrors, someone gets offered a good old Faustian give-yourself-to-me-and-you'll-live-forever deal... Dracula, 'The Mummmy' and, err... Ghostbusters II?

  7. @Oriel I'm glad someone else sees the romance aspect of it! It felt, in a way, very akin to 'Phantom of the Opera' for me.

  8. Great review Spooky! I fortunately was able to see this movie when I was young and it scared the everlovin shit out of me! Even today I can't really make myself sit down to watch this because Candyman still kinda creeps me out (he's the only 80's horror icon that ever got to me). Despite that I agree that this is a pretty awesome movie! Kudos on the 'Phantom of the Opera' correlation between Candyman and Helen...I never saw it that way before. ^_^