When people think of horror films there’s a good chance that they’ll be thinking of the 1980s, a decade where horror ruled supreme. Whether it’s slashers, supernatural entities, or creatures from beyond our world, the 80s had it all. In contrast, the 1990s wasn’t exactly a huge decade for the genre. By the latter half of 90s horror had some big hits with the like of Scream and Ringu, but the early 90s was devoid of many real hits in comparison. One early 90s horror film that absolutely stands out in that era, and remains one of the best examples of the genre, is 1992’s Candyman.
Based upon the short story ‘The Forbidden’, written by Clive Barker as part of his Books of Blood series, Candyman took the concept of folklore and urban legends being real and transported it from Liverpool to Chicago. The film follows Helen (Virginia Madsen), a graduate student studying urban legends at the University of Illinois. During her studies Helen comes across the story of the Candyman (Tony Todd), a figure said to appear and kill you if you say his name five times in front of a mirror. Looking into the legend, Helen learns that it has a connection to Cabrini-Green, a predominantly Black, poor neighbourhood.
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Helen believes that the Candyman is nothing more than a myth, a figure created to scare children and to blame for some grizzly murders that happened at Cabrini-Green. As such she begins investigating the events. However, after being attacked by a local gang she begins experiencing strange events, seeing a figure claiming to be the Candyman. With Helen’s mental health deteriorating, she’s in even more danger when she’s accused of kidnapping a baby. Despite protesting her innocence the bodies begin mounting up around her. Is Helen losing her mind, or is the entity of the Candyman real?
Candyman is not the kind of horror film you’d expect to come out towards the end of the horror boom of the 80s. The Candyman isn’t a slasher killer, he’s not chasing down teens, he’s not stalking nightmares or breaking in the back door. You can watch the entire film and still not be completely sure if he’s even real. This is one of the great things about Candyman, the film presents you with a version of reality, the one that Helen is experiencing, yet never tells you outright whether it’s true. You can come away from the film believing in the Candyman, and blame him for the deaths and horrors, or you can see him as a manifestation of Helen’s broken psyche as she experiences trauma, with her being the killer.
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In a time where horror films presented very clear and easy plots Candyman tried to do something a bit different, and this is in part largely due to the writing, both from director Bernard Rose who adapted the story, and from Clive Barker himself. Like much of Barker’s works, the story is saying something more, and is more than just a scary distraction for the audience. The original short story dealt with themes of class, and how the poor suffer at the hands of their oppressors, and the movie does this too, though having turned it into a story about race and oppression. The movie has subtle commentary that other genre pieces often lack, and it elevates the movie into being about more than blood and gore.
The film’s music also helps it to stand out amongst its peers, with a fantastic soundtrack from Philip Glass giving the story a dreamlike, and surreal tone much of the time. Candyman was the first horror film Glass scored, and he approached it not as a lowbrow genre piece as other composers might, resulting in a score that made the film feel special, different, and like it was more worthy of respect.
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Over the years Candyman has had sequels, but none of them have really received the love that the first film has garnered over the three decades since it was first released. It came out at a time where horror was given little respect, and showed that the genre could have real substance. It made a star out of Tony Todd, lunching his career into new heights. And it remains to this day one of the best examples of how horror can get under your skin.
The new 4K Ultra HD release comes with two versions of the film, both having received 4K restorations from the original film negative. One is the original UK theatrical version, which most people will be familiar with, and the other is the extended R-rated US version, which adds more blood and gore into the movie. In addition to this, the new set comes with a host of extras. There are new interviews with stars Tony Todd and Virigina Madsen, an interview with Clive Barker where he discusses his work and how it drew influences from his life, and interviews with the production designer and make-up artists who talk about their work on the movie. There’s also an interview with writer Douglas E. Winter who discusses Barker’s writing, and a small featurette with writers Steve Barnes and Tananrive Due who discuss the impact and legacy of the movie, particularly with the Black community.
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The new release also comes with two full length commentaries. The first has director Bernard Rose and star Tony Todd. The two of them discuss working on the film but also veer off into other subjects at times, making it feel more like a conversation rather than a discussion of the movie. It’s a very relaxed and informal commentary, and they talk about a range of topics (they even discuss the Avengers movies at one point), so if you came to that commentary hoping for in-depth analysis of the film you might be left wanting more. Luckily, the second commentary delivers that, as author Stephen Jones and critic Kim Newman discuss the film, the impact it had, and the history of Clive Barker and his impact on the genre. There are also a trio of short films by Bernard Rose and trailers to round out the extras, along with an illustrated booklet filled with storyboards, and a booklet with new writing on the film, as well as some art cards and reversible poster.
This new release is a good set for fans of Candyman, and if you don’t have a copy of the film already this is definitely the one that I’d recommend picking up. Some of the extras are interesting and engaging, but I do wish we’d had a little more on there at times as I kept finding myself wanting to learn more about this iconic movie.
Candyman is out now on Limited Edition 4K UHD from Arrow Video.