Based on a short story by Clive Barker called the Forbidden, Candyman is a film about urban legends. Helen Lyle (Virginia Madsen) is a grad student who is doing a thesis on urban legends. She discovers a legend within the tenements of Cabrini-Green of the Candyman. Borrowing from the famous Bloody Mary, the belief is that if you look in a mirror and say his name five times, Candyman appears behind you and guts you with his hook.
As Helen becomes more obsessed with delving into the heart of the Candyman myth, she starts to miss signs that other parts of her life are falling apart…especially her marriage. Her husband has an ongoing affair with one of his students. Candyman seems drawn to Helen, and commits murders to frame her.
Candyman is a pretty unique film, as it focuses on black urban communities (as did Wes Craven’s The People Under the Stairs a year earlier). The short story was set in England, but director Bernard Rose (Immortal Beloved) felt setting it in America would be a better and more appropriate choice. And the setting of Cabrini-Green was a masterful choice.
The film is highly effective. The backstory of the Candyman makes him and effective and tragic monster. The son of a slave, the Candyman had grown to prominence as an artist. He was renowned for his portraits. He fell in love with and had a child with a white woman. A mob chased him down, severed his hand, covering him in honey and replacing his hand with a hook. As he is dying, he is covered in bees…ultimately dying from the stings. This creates a powerful visual, as the Candyman is often covered in bees.
Much of what makes this film work is Tony Todd. Todd plays the character as charmingly regal, yet very menacing. Eddie Murphy had been considered for the role, but thankfully he was out of the price range. Because Tony Todd makes the character work in a way few actors could have. The film is definitely a gorefest, so the squeamish may wish to avoid the film.
Candyman adds to the pantheon of great monsters and is a solid fright film.