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  • Review by Leon Mason

MOVIE REVIEW: Candyman (1992)

Probably the most progressive and interesting horror film of the ’90s. Fact is, if you have Philip Glass doing the soundtrack, you are not dealing with the average slasher flick. Now would be a good time to go back and re-watch Candyman, as the new film is coming in August this year.

In the documentary on the making of the film, 'Sweets to the sweet', Kasi Lemmons is quoted as saying the average white person doesn't see where most black people live: ''You don't have to know about us, we have to know about you.'' This brings up all sorts of interesting debates, and reflects how transgressive and ahead of its time Candyman was. Not only did the filmmakers tackle the subjects people did not want to talk about, they shot in a real Chicago district that was judged as a no-go area for whites. To film, it was considered risky, and indeed the crew had an incident where one of the trucks associated with the production was shot at, the bullet coming in through the roof. As pointed out in the movie, people suspected all the residents were 'gangbangers', thieves and on drugs. Whereas most of the people in these buildings were in fact families, just trying to live normal lives, day by day.

Kasi goes on to point out that villains are often victims, and this is true. Look at Frankenstein's creature, and such, to see that the 'monster' is most often placed into a situation of judgement and torture, with which to fight back and even things out a little.

The difference here being that the antagonist has no mask; Tony Todd has no make-up, his untouched face is the face of horror. Digging into the mythology, the film represents a world of intellectuals examining urban myths, and being distanced from that world. They can study, examine and comment on, but to go into that world is a much scarier prospect.

As it was being filmed, the Rodney King riots were taking place and the world was in racial turmoil. Of course it was, and has carried on being, a magnet for black people to enjoy horror films, as before, and largely since, black horror was campy. Films such as Blackula proving that point. Here the material was taken seriously; in fact this is an arthouse film and one of the rare successful attempts made at being both. It carried with it all the hallmarks of the ’80s/’90s slashers, but turned so many aspects on their heads.

The performance of the main actress, Virginia Madsen, has to be taken as one of the very best in the genre. One of the reasons it is so believable is the lengths everybody went to get to a level of method acting that it drove Madsen out of her mind. She began with being hypnotised, and this might explain the look in her eyes in several scenes.

It takes 45 minutes, half the length of the film, before you even see Candyman at all. When Madsen first sees him, it is one of the most striking and unusually acted scenes on film; she looks mesmerised. The tears coming down her face so real, the stuttering coming from a very deep place. This is due to her being 'under' as she was placed in a position of complete submission. It creates quite an impact, if being a little dubious in the technique to get a performance, whether the actress was willing to do so, or not.

Clive Barker, whose short story the film is based on, sums up the risk and pay-off of taking on Candyman: ''As long as there are the ones who will love me with passion, I can bear to be hated with passion too''.

So, if you share the director’s disdain for clichés such as screaming in horror films, and want more meat to chew on than the usual cannibal exploits, or teens getting spliced up by deranged psychos, go for Candyman. Just don't look in the mirror when you repeat the title, five times over.



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