*Beaucoup de Spoilers*
Saying his name five times will get you gutted and will prevent Ted Rami from getting laid. It will also cause you to be framed from murder, go crazy and possess undead vengeance powers.Or at least that's what I learned at Rue Morgue's Festival of Fear screening of Candyman this past weekend.
Candyman is both an impressive and head-scratchingly confusing. The film follows bad-ass academic Helen (the wonderful Virginia Madsen) as she and her friend complete their PhD thesis on urban legends while Helen tries to keep her suspicions at bay about her husband Trevor (Xander Berkeley) the too charming professor. And here begins my first problem with the movie. Helen and friend are dutifully researching and interviewing different students to gather information about this legend when they have dinner with Trevor's colleague who upstage Helen revealing the origins of Candyman which seem to be widely known. My question is: HOW THE FUCK DID HELEN NOT KNOW THIS?! Yes, I get that it makes for easy exposition and all that but really, you're going to write your thesis on this with someone else helping you and NOT bother to research the origins? Try getting a teaching job after that. Ouch.
The film links the origin story to one of the rougher areas of Chicago which leads Helen on an investigation. After a particularly nasty encounter which ends with her bringing a gang leader to the cops, Helen is visited by the real Candyman (Tony Todd) who then frames her in several murders to prove that the Candyman myth is very, very real and here begins my second problem with the film. What is Candyman? Is it a ghost? Is he still kind of a real person? Is Helen cray-cray? Based on the different things Candyman does throughout the film, I'm really not sure. I think by not including a few scenes it would have been much clearer. Now, I would have accepted any of the aforementioned possibilities but not all of them.
Candyman reaches its climax as Helen becomes more entangled in the myth to the point where she is an absolute necessity to its survival. This in turn makes Helen one of the most interesting female part in 90s cinema. She goes through some of the most dramatic character changes and the scene in which she confronts Trevor and his new girlfriend after escaping from the mental hospital is my favourite in the whole movie. The first half of the film she owns (as well as the very last scene) and it's pretty fantastic. And like other Barker films, once the film is forced to deliver and produce Candyman it falls apart (see also Hellraiser, Nightbreed etc). Once Candyman makes an appearance I felt a lot of the tension dissipate. There were less shadows and paranoia, it became an all out show of crazy which muddled many of the earlier plot points.
That being said, Candyman is one hell of an interesting ride that looks at the implications of race, class and history within the realm of horror. In many sense, this is horror at its best. It's well directed and paced like a dream. The film is able to alternate between reality and confusion without jarring changes in tone. It is an ambitious film, but like most ambitious films unable to answers its larger questions.