Arrow Video: Forbidden Fruit: Candyman (1992)

"They will say that I have shed innocent blood. What's blood for if not for shedding? With my hook for a hand, I'll split you from your groin to your gullet. I came for you."

Candyman (1992) was an extremely progressive horror film for its time, mixing social commentary on race and class issues with a supernatural-tinged slasher flick. On the surface, it's about the power of myth and legend and how it can affect the general populace, but as one digs deeper it becomes apparent that it is also about desire for what is forbidden and the consequences that can arise when one tries to satisfy that desire.

The narrative revolves around Helen Lyle (Virginia Madsen) a Chicago based grad student who is doing her thesis on urban legends. Her research turns up a local legend about a man named Candyman (Tony Todd). Similar to the Bloody Mary story, Candyman can be summoned by saying his name five times while standing in front of a mirror after which he will appear and murder the person who called him. He has a hook for a hand and uses it to eviscerate his victims. Helen becomes obsessed with him and it begins to affect her personal life and relationship with her husband.

Much of the film takes place in the Cabrini-Green housing project, which was a real life slum in the north part of Chicago. At the time, it was inhabited by low income people and riddled with gang warfare and deplorable living conditions. This setting is just as frightening as Candyman himself, with its graffiti and filth covered walls and derelict apartment buildings. The individuals who inhabit Cabrini-Green do not do so out of choice--it's because of their lack of money. They can only afford to live in this squalor, trying to raise their families the best they can. Helen makes treks into the ghetto to find out information about Candyman, unaware of her privileged status that allows her to treat its denizens as a curiosity and not as actual people. She eventually becomes emotionally involved with their plight outside of her detached academic interest, but once that happens she is in too deep and cannot escape.

It's impossible to ignore the racial subtext of the character of Candyman. Legends say that Candyman was originally named Daniel--the son of a slave who was a talented painter. He was employed by a wealthy white man to paint a portrait of his daughter Caroline. Daniel became enamored with her, but after their relationship was discovered he was chased by an angry lynch mob. His hand was chopped off and coated with honey. This honey attracted a swarm of bees who stung him to death. Thus, began the terrifying legend and subsequent haunting by the being known only as the Candyman. He is eternal and omnipresent due to his notoriety with the locals.

The bees have a two-fold meaning in this film. They reside inside of Candyman's chest which is revealed later in the film. They symbolize his buzzing and seething wrath at his unfair death at the hands of the mob. They swarm inside of him, having built a hive in his person. Anger has a permanent place in his heart. On the other hand, bees are attracted to sweet and beautiful things such as flowers. They use the nectar they gather to produce honey, a delicious treat. When Candyman beguiles Helen the bees swarm out of his mouth, enveloping her. She is his nectar, his long lost love, he craves her. 

This duality of the bees is important because it reflects the nature of Candyman. He is simultaneously a monster and a tragic figure, sustained by his anger for being wronged in his former life. This is mirrored in Helen's life as well as she is constantly undermined in her graduate class for being a woman and disrespected by her philandering husband. Helen and Candyman are drawn to each other by their individual suffering.

Themes aside, the visuals and music in Candyman are fantastic as well. Philip Glass provided a sumptuous and hypnotic Gothic score for the film and it completely elevated the mood. It's absolutely haunting and will stick in one's mind long after the credits have rolled. Tony Todd is amazing as the titular Candyman, with his sexy deep voice and his elegant and regal bearing. You can totally empathize with Helen's fascination with his persona. The cinematography is excellent as well with some surreal and creepy sequences.

Candyman absolutely stands up to the test of time and it feels even more prescient today. It had the guts the explore race relations within the context of horror without resorting to stereotypes or moralizing while still remaining scary and engaging.

--Michelle Kisner