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Candyman – Steve Newton’s Retro Reviews

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Twenty-five years ago today Candyman was released in American theaters. It caused quite a stir in horror circles because it was based on a short story by the then-new face of fear, Clive Barker.

Didn’t do much for me, though.

Here’s my original review from ’92:


On paper, Candyman looked like it had the makings of a fright fan’s wet dream. It was based on a short story from Clive Barker’s Books of Blood, the collection of gut-wrenching, in-your-face horror tales he churned out before getting all artsy and overblown in novels like The Great and Secret Show and Imajica. And it was directed by Bernard Rose, whose excellent 1988 feature Paperhouse successfully blended dreams and horror into a powerful coming-of-age drama. Then there was the soundtrack by Philip Glass, the man whose tunes helped make The Thin Blue Line one of the most haunting documentaries around.

Sadly enough, with all the things Candyman has going for it, it turns out to be not much more enthralling than the last Freddy Kreuger slash-o-rama. Instead of a dead person who only kills folks in their sleep, the Candyman only kills when folks say his name five times while staring into a mirror.

And we know how easily that can happen.

Candyman is the preposterous story of University of Illinois doctoral candidate Helen Lyle (Virginia Madsen), who sees a way of securing her scholarly reputation by writing a thesis on the urban legend of the titular baddie. Supposedly the Candyman was a black artist who, in 1890, after impregnating the daughter of a rich white man—was murdered by a gang of thugs who sawed off his right arm and got bees to sting him and burned his body and stuff.

They scattered his ashes over the site that became Chicago’s poverty-stricken Cabrini Green housing project, and nowadays the Candyman—with a big hook stuck into the stump of his arm—jumps through medicine cabinets and slaughters people.

Madsen’s none-too-bright character—remember, she doesn’t have her doctorate yet—calls up the Candyman (Tony Todd), who promptly frames her for three grisly murders in a row. Meanwhile, her sleazeball professor husband Trevor (Xander Berkeley, the guy who got the liquidy steel sword through his head for drinking milk straight from the carton in Terminator 2) is doing the old in-out with one of his hot-to-trot young students. It almost makes you wish that the pitiable C-Man—whose booming voice results in an unexplained, doe-eyed attraction from Lyle—would mend his ways, throw off that meathook, and steal her away from the creep.

But the romantic element Rose struggles to bring to the film just expires like most of the characters—very few of whom you care about anyway. There are few serious scares in Candyman, unless the sight of a man with a mouthful of buzzing bees freaks you out. And the only really funny bit comes in the last scene of the film, when a newly resurrected “Candygirl” is surreptitiously called back to try her own hand at spleen removal.


For more from Steve Newton, visit his website about rock ‘n’ roll and horror movies, Ear of Newt!

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