Candyman is an interesting film. Like Hellraiser before it, this Clive Barker flavored horror stands on the outside looking in as far as mainstream horror is concerned. I’d argue both Candyman and Pinhead have earned their rightful place in the annals of horror history, but neither had the type of breakout success needed right out the gate to sustain a franchise, be it critically or financially.
This first film was a modest success, but, again, was not of horror icon status. If you are like and are (a loser) an enthusiast of box office data, you know how it usually goes in the horror genre. Usually, a horror film will hit it out of the park early on, and then, see diminished returns with each film thereafter. It is all about synergy and cost efficient decision making. That way, even if a film like Spiral: From the Book of Saw does a nosedive, the low-cost and the box-set sales later on will have you churning a profit for years to come. This film’s sequel saw profits cut in half in theaters, and the third film didn’t even receive a theatrical release at all. Be that as it may, and thankfully so, word-of-mouth and goodwill kept Candyman and Tony Todd’s portrayal of the antagonist relevant. Couple that in with the breakout success of an otherwise unrelated film Get Out and a new horror maestro in the shape of one Jordan Peele, and audiences have shown a pent up demand for horror centered around an African American cast. Thus, before I sit down and watch the 2021 film Candyman, I decided I would head back to where it all started.
Written and directed by Bernard Rose (whose acting resume includes only one film I’ve otherwise seen – Sx Tape), Candyman is far removed from the Clive Barker penned short story it was based on. The famous line “Be my victim” is still featured, however. In the novel, Candyman is a waxy yellow and jaundiced, whereas in the film, we have the wonderful Tony Todd. The film is about a Chicago graduate student whose in the process of completing a thesis on urban legends and folklore. After stumbling on the legend of “Candyman,” an original spin on something like, say, Bloody Mary. Basically, if you say Candyman in the mirror a number of times, your dead meat. If you peel back the onion, you’ll find more about Candyman’s backstory, that he was the son of a slave and was murdered for a relationship had with the daughter of a wealthy white man.
This is a film I am mixed about in a lot of ways. By now, I have seen Candyman at least thrice in my adult life, and who knows how many times in my youth. Each time, I come away with a different opinion about it. I think a lot of it is dependent on having the right mindset. The film is poetic and grandiose in such a fashion that is always refreshing to see for a horror film, especially one from the ’90s, abiding by a lot of the slasher genres’ sensibilities. At times, I think it does really well at capturing that sense of importance and validated self-worth, but there’re other times when I feel like it can feel a little like it is trying too hard. One example is the little boy Jake from the film, whose long-hanging stares into the camera suggest an insight that feels, at worst, unearned, and, at best, kind of pretentious.
Another example is the score, which, by itself, I enjoy a lot, but, in the film, can feel repetitive and distracting. It is an example of a score that I can hear and swiftly associate with Candyman, much like I can do with Elm Street’s or Halloween, but also feel like could have been woven in differently. If you look at “Helen’s Theme” by itself, I have goosebumps simply from playing it on YouTube as I write this. Again, I’m not criticizing the score itself, but its placement in some instances.
I love Tony Todd’s portrayal of Candyman in the film and that is something I have felt again and again each time I watched it. I love the look of him. He’s handsome, and suave yet grimy in someway, and his voice captures manages to capture that same aesthetic within itself.
The film can, admittedly, feel a little humdrum and difficult to become invested with on a narrative level. This is what I meant about heading into the film in the right frame of mind. If you approached it as a slasher flick, you’ll be left wanting afterward. Likewise, this is not a film I felt like I got the most out of while watching, but, instead, it is a film I found myself more enthralled with after the fact. Even early on, I appreciated what it was going for, and I appreciated a lot of the cinematography and aesthetic, like the portrait of Candyman they keep coming back to. That in mind, the storyline is a little longwinded and classical, which can make it feel, at times, predictable as well. Thus, I’d say it is a film that is better in-retrospect than as you’re watching it, at least in my experience.
The acting, for the most part, is on-point, especially between the portrayals of Helen and Candyman, respectively, and likewise, there is not any one decision that is made that throws everything overboard. It is mostly consistent with itself from begin to end. The end of the film, I will say, is a tad of a nitpick for me though. You know how everyone criticized Titanic and how the wooden plank should have been a little smaller? I thoroughly believe they should have went with saying Candyman three times, not five times. Especially given how unnatural and forced it makes the end feel. The social commentary is a little ham-fisted, but is appreciated. I love the idea of horror being used as a way to provide social commentary on racism / and what the ramifications of prior and current mistreatment of black people has led to. However, I can’t help but feel it was absent the polish and nuance needed to make it feel organic and natural. This film feels like it is trying to be important, which is a double-edged sword. This is one of the reasons I am so excited to see what the Peele-produced Candyman has instore.
In the sum of its parts, I don’t know if I would call the original Candyman film a great film, per se. In the same way I don’t know if I would call the original A Nightmare on Elm Street a great film, when you take it, warts and all. I love A Nightmare on Elm Street, however, and likewise, there’re a lot of things to love about this film. I would argue I was more enamored by the voice and presence of Candyman himself, the Gothic-vibe of the score, and the overall “feeling” of the film more than any particular scene in the film. Although, there was a scene where Candyman kills a person from behind a desk and flies out of the window and it’s just … chef’s kiss.