Monday, October 27, 2014

'90s Horror Poll: Day 26 - Candyman

#4 - 12 Votes

There hasn't been another horror author who fuses cerebral and visceral scares the way Clive Barker does, nor any who locate the erotic undercurrents of horror archetypes the way his best work can. Naturally, Barker's work has proven difficult to adapt to the screen. The first two Hellraiser movies are fascinating, but the series quickly went downhill; Nightbreed was famously mutilated in postproduction (and, coincidentally, is available this week for the first time in a version closer to Barker's original vision); Lord of Illusions and Midnight Meat Train are interesting but uneven. Beyond a few other movies, such as Rawhead Rex (which I haven't seen), which aren't exactly well-regarded, most of Barker's work hasn't been adapted for the big screen. The most successful Clive Barker movie is easily Candyman, which drastically reworked the details of Barker's story "The Forbidden" but gets closer to Barker's voice than even the movies he directed.

Barker and writer/director Bernard Rose, who'd previously directed the excellent Paperhouse, chose to move the location from a Liverpool slum to the Cabrini Green projects in Chicago and, most significantly, changed the Caucasian boogeyman of the story to the spirit of a murdered slave. When grad student Helen Lyle (Virginia Madsen) becomes fascinated with Candyman while researching her thesis on urban legends, she unwittingly conjures him and is blamed for the murders he subsequently commits. Rose never fully settles the question of whether Candyman (Tony Todd) is real or if he only exists in Helen's imagination while she actually commits the crimes; it's a choice that could have been frustratingly vague, but Rose pulls it off wonderfully (and it's the rare modern horror movie that nails the ending). Either way, it's suggested that Helen doesn't unearth Candyman as much as bring him to life through her curiosity; like the victim in the urban legend chanting his name in front of a mirror, Helen invited Candyman, who is a dark manifestation of her (and, by extension, our desire). I wrote about this back in April*, but it was fascinating to see a 35mm print of Candyman at the end of an all-night horror marathon - while my lack of sleep certainly contributed to this feeling, it was though, after many hours spent gorging on horror, the screen was looking back at me and forcing me to question why I wanted to look.

*This one's going to be a little shorter, only because I wrote about Candyman this year and a few Halloweens ago. One thing I don't think I mentioned either time, though, is how effective Rose's deceptively simple visual aesthetic is. The clean, geometric visual compositions and grayscale color palette create a firmly realistic sense of place that is dramatically violated whenever Candyman shows up (and whenever copious amounts of blood are spilled). Rose hasn't made a movie that made much of an impression since 1995's Immortal Beloved, but his work in Candyman and Paperhouse is as strong as just about any big-name horror director. 

U.S. Release Date: October 16, 1992 (Also released that day: Consenting Adults, The Public Eye, Night and the City)

What critics said at the time:

"Horror pictures, especially those that are as purportedly ambitious as this one, must function as allegories, with their key figures emerging as metaphors. However, in its emphasis on gore for its own sake, 'Candyman,' for all its expensive sheen and unsettling dark and derelict key settings, never gets to come together, leaving it seem merely silly and pretentious, an effect underlined heavily by a Philip Glass score in his familiar insistent and repetitive style." - Kevin Thomas, Los Angeles Times

"Uniquely for a modern horror film, this has grown-up characters with complicated relationships, an acute grasp of the interface between social despair and supernatural horror, enough heart-stopping shocks to keep you battered, and a strong central performance from a non-bimbo heroine. Madsen, hitherto a regulation glamorous blonde, is a revelation as the frightened, and finally frightening, protagonist, and her scenes with the dignified but eerie Todd skirt perversity in a truly haunting manner. With its odd little asides to fill in the various Candyman stories and the ambiguous scary-romantic relationship between heroine and monster, this cuts with a bloody hook through the superficiality of most recent horror movies and demonstrates that you don't have to be stupid to be scary." - Kim Newman, The Good Times

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