Starring Tony Todd, Virginia Madsen, Xander Berkeley, Kasi Lemmons
Directed by Bernard Rose
Distributed by Scream Factory
The name nobody should say five times – Candyman – has been on plenty of horror fans’ lips recently, not only because of this ridiculously loaded special edition Blu-ray fans have been craving for years but filmmaker Jordan Peele just announced he’s producing (not directing, as clickbait headlines would love you to believe) a remake to Bernard Rose’s Candyman (1992). Peele is a talent, but this is not exciting news. How could anyone hope to improve upon Rose’s seminal horror film? Not only did Rose expand upon Clive Barker’s short story, “The Forbidden”, by fleshing out characters and rooting his film in the decay of urban America, exposing still-hot prejudices and issues regarding race, but he created a veritable horror icon with Tony Todd’s captivating performance. The only area where I could see Rose’s film needing improvement is the ending (which has never really worked for me), but that doesn’t justify remaking a classic that – 27 years later – still brings a chill up my spine whenever Todd’s gravelly voice beckons.
Helen (Virginia Madsen) and Bernadette “Bernie” (Kasi Lemmons) are a couple of graduate students researching urban legends, interviewing locals to get their take on storied scares. One tale that keeps coming up is that of Candyman (Tony Todd), a hook-handed villain said to appear when his name is uttered five times while looking into a mirror. For kicks, Helen and Bernie tempt fate by doing just that later in the day. The two women then decide to visit the home of an apparent victim, a place where Candyman is rumored to reside: the notorious Cabrini-Green housing projects, a squalid harbor for drugs and violence. There, they find evidence neither proving nor disproving Candyman’s supposed crimes. Later, during a dinner with Helen’s husband, Trevor (Xander Berkeley), the women are schooled by a colleague, Phillip Purcell (Michael Culkin), who informs them of Candyman’s backstory and his incentive for vengeance. Armed with all this knowledge of Candyman’s past and his rumored present, Helen refuses to abandon her search for truth, leading her right to the man himself.
Like all good films there are a number of reasons why this one works so well, but here’s the biggest: Tony Todd. His towering and intimidating presence, coupled with that mellifluous voice that flows like sweet honey over asphalt, instantly turned him into a horror icon. I had the pleasure of flying with Tony to a few conventions and I can tell you this, the man cannot walk two feet in any direction in an airport with someone yelling out “Candyman!”; often multiple people at once. Todd didn’t just create an icon for a genre, but for an entire race. Candyman is a tragic figure; the victim of a (mostly) bygone era of racism when a black man even looking in a white woman’s direction was asking for trouble. In Candyman’s case, that “look” extended to true love with the wrong woman. Todd’s portrayal captures glimpses of Candyman’s pain but what perseveres over all else is his unyielding quest for vengeance and remembrance. His legacy, those tales – that is what keeps him alive. I still don’t fully understand why he kidnapped that baby (or how he fed it) but this is a shining example of a character being fully married to an actor, much like Robert Englund with Freddy Krueger.
Another reason this film has endured is composer Philip Glass’ unnerving choir-and-organ score that sounds far too polished and elegant for such decayed urban horror, yet here it is raising the hair on arms and shuttling a chill into the air. Rumor has it Glass didn’t know what kind of film he was scoring until it got released (was he scoring cold?) and he was none too happy upon learning it was horror. Why, then, would he return for the sequel? Oh, right – $. Candyman doesn’t quite have his own theme – though strangely, Helen does – but Glass’ use of classical instrumentation and a wordless choir creates these incredible leitmotifs that are simply beautiful. The score is a real juxtaposition to the film itself, though it does work wonderfully for the eponymous star who was raised in polite society.
For as much as I love the film, even all these years later the ending just doesn’t quite work. The first time I saw it, some 27 years ago on VHS – and it terrified the SHIT out of me and my friend that night – I remember being confused why you-know-who was suddenly taking up the mantle. Having seen the film a dozen times or more since then, yea, it just doesn’t work all that well. I know what Rose was going for, and tonally it fits in with Barker’s original short story, but I think it could have been handled differently. I don’t consider it a slight against the film, though. This is the essence of horror, expertly crafted all around. Todd would return for a further two sequels – Candyman: Farewell to the Flesh (1995) and Candyman: Day of the Dead (1999) – though only the former is worth watching. I wish Peele the best of luck with that remake but I’d rather see him create another new black horror icon than retread one already done so well.
Similar to the recent U.K. release from Arrow, Scream Factory has included two cuts of Candyman: the theatrical version and an unrated cut. The difference between these two is negligible, with only a bit of extra blood during one death later in the film making up the additional footage. But, you know, we want that blood and so the unrated cut would be the version to watch. Just don’t go in thinking there are any major differences or scene extensions.
Culled from a 2K scan from a recent 4K restoration, supervised and approved by director Bernard Rose and director of photography Anthony B. Richmond, the 1.85:1 1080p picture is stunning. The grimy crust of Chicago’s inner city is hauntingly captured; every trashy detail and burned-out husk that once resembled a gleaming structure. When Helen sees “Sweets to the Sweet” scrawled in feces on a bathroom wall, you can almost reach out and feel the craggy surface through your screen. Closeups are, as Candyman might say, exquisite. There are a few softer shots here and there, nothing to gripe about.
As usual, Scream Factory has included an English DTS-HD Master Audio track is 2.0 stereo and 5.1 surround sound flavors. The multi-channel track is enveloping, filling the soundfield with Glass’ sumptuous score. Dialogue is punchy and balanced. Candyman’s frequent guttings produce visceral sounds, audibly ripping through the speakers like a dull knife through undercooked meat. Todd’s voice is booming, ominously projecting with dark harmony. Just as with the video quality, there is nothing to gripe about here.
DISC ONE – THEATRICAL CUT
- BRAND NEW NEW 2K RESTORATION from a new 4K scan of the original negative, supervised and approved by writer/director Bernard Rose and director of photography Anthony B. Richmond
- NEW audio commentary with writer-director Bernard Rose and actor Tony Todd
- NEW audio commentary with Stephen Jones and Kim Newmanå
- Audio Commentary with director Bernard Rose, author Clive Barker, producer Alan Poul and actors Tony Todd, Virginia Madsen and Kasi Lemmons
- Audio Commentary with director Bernard Rose, from The Movie Crypt Podcast hosted by filmmakers Adam Green and Joe Lynch
- Sweets to the Sweet: The Candyman Mythos featuring interviews with director Bernard Rose, producer Alan Poul, executive producer Clive Barker, actors Virginia Madsen, Tony Todd and Kasi Lemmons
- Clive Barker: Raising Hell – an interview with author/artist/filmmaker Clive Barker
- Interview with actor Tony Todd (2014)
- Bernard Rose’s Storyboards
- Theatrical Trailer
- TV Spots
- Still Gallery
- Screenplay (BD-Rom)
- Optional English SDH subtitles for the main feature
DISC TWO – UNRATED CUT
- BRAND NEW 2K RESTORATION from a new 4K scan of the original negative with high definition inserts for the uncut footage from an archival film print
- NEW Be My Victim – an interview with Tony Todd
- NEW It Was Always You, Helen – an interview with Virginia Madsen
- NEW Reflection in the Mirror – an interview with Kasi Lemmons
- NEW A Kid in Candyman – an interview with actor DeJuan Guy
- NEW The Writing on the Wall: The Production Design of Candyman – an interview with production designer Jane Ann Stewart
- NEW Forbidden Flesh: The Makeup FX of Candyman – including interviews with special makeup effects artists Bob Keen, Gary J. Tunnicliffe, and Mark Coulier
- NEW A Story to Tell: Clive Barker’s “The Forbidden” – writer Douglas E. Winter on Clive Barker’s seminal Books of Blood and Candyman’s source story, “The Forbidden”
- NEW “Urban Legend: Unwrapping Candyman” – A Critical Analysis Of The Film With Writers Tananarive Due And Steven Barnes
- Optional English SDH subtitles for the main feature
Candyman is one of the best horror films of the ‘90s; a bleak, powerful picture that draws from horrors both imaginary and all-too-real. Scream Factory’s Blu-ray release for U.S. audiences comes stuffed with hours of excellent bonus features, stellar a/v quality, and offers up two (very slightly different) cuts of the film. Look into your wallet and say his name five times.