Movie Review: "Candyman" (1992) |
Candyman – 1992

Written and Directed by Bernard Rose
Based on a short story by Clive Barker
Starring Virginia Madsen, Tony Todd, Xander Berkeley, Kasi Lemmons, Vanessa Estelle Williams, Gilbert Lewis, Ted Raimi, Michael Culkin

Candyman arrives from such a promising and fertile ground of tragedy, it’s a shame the first film only touched upon it’s potential. That is not to say it isn’t a good film, it just could have been a great one. The premise: two Chicago graduate students (Lemmons and Madsen) are doing a paper about urban legends when they come across the tale of Candyman. The legend includes the repeating of his name 5 times to summon him and his nasty hook. Later we discover it’s source being a young man captured, with his hand chopped off and replaced by a hook and then tortured to death by bee stings.

What the story isn’t, for the most part: a bunch of dumb youngsters saying the phrase Candyman and suffering the consequences of his massive hook. It would have been a typical slasher film in that case.

Instead, Rose creates a connection between Madsen’s Helen Lyle and the anti-hero, to the point where the deaths all point in her direction. The connection will be obvious once one hears Culkin’s arrogant professor tell the tale from whence Candyman derives.

What the film has going for it are the performances of Madsen and the incredible dulcet tones of Tony Todd. If the film had not made such an explicit deal of the summoning of the Candyman, this would have worked quite well as a seduction to the side of exquisite pain. That we don’t see more examples of this foolish game creates a sort of lopsided effect. What makes this man from the past come back and kill? Is it the summoning, or his attraction to Helen?

The film holds up, for the most part. Madsen plays up the allure of Todd’s eloquent voice to the point where the attraction is palpable. To this point, the film could have used more of a clear direction and maybe a flashback or two to establish Todd’s character as he was in his earlier life.

The connections to systemic racism are actually played eloquently compared to the hammering that the idea receives today. The people who suffer from it aren’t held back by it. Instead they move forward in life as they live that reality. It makes them seem less like helpless victims and more like adaptable human survivors. I am particularly looking forward to seeing Williams in the current film.

(***1/2 out of *****)

Candyman 2021
Candyman – 2021

Director Nia DaCosta
Screenplay Nia DaCosta, Jordan Peele, Win Rosenfield
Starring Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, Teyonah Parris, Nathan Stewart-Jarrett, Colman Domingo, Vanessa Estelle Williams

When one considers the fact that the relatively inexperienced Nia DaCosta has been handed the reigns to the second Captain Marvel film before this sequel to Candyman had even been released, the advertising for the film became unnecessary. This viewer was brought to heel the moment Vanessa Estelle Williams made an appearance on the trailer. There is more acting in that few seconds than there is in most films.

As it turns out, Marvel made the right choice. Candyman, the “spiritual” (instead of exploitive) sequel to the 1992 original, is superior in every way. In fact, this film is so good, it makes Bernard Rose’s film essential viewing, if only to complete the context.

The story revolves around the modern Chicago art scene, where visual artist Anthony McCoy (Abdul-Mateen II) and his girlfriend, art gallery director Brianna (Parris) live in a new condo built on the spot where Cabrini-Green projects used to stand. Both have shadows in their past that are angling to catch up with them. Anthony stumbles across a former resident of the projects (Domingo) whose revelations about the area’s history light an artistic fuse. This inspiration comes at a cost.

As a horror film, Candyman has thrills built in so cleverly, it’s almost unnecessary to show any gore. That we get it does not diminish it’s effectiveness. The scenes are constructed with a logic and foreshadowing that allows us to forget about predicting what will happen next. We know who is going to die, and yes, they pretty much deserve it. The camera lens is always effectively placed for maximum effect and artistry. The original feels ancient, clunky and obtuse in comparison. The work of DaCosta and cinematographer John Guleserian (About Time) is right up there with some of the best horror of all time.

The social commentary of this film is pushed up to its most effective result. They tell a story of gentrification and white men in suits without making it laborious and overwrought. Any normal person viewing this would see the evil and horror present within its story is not carrying a hook and swarmed by bees. It’s a fine line to walk to tell the story of history from the side of those not in the winner’s circle. Peele and company makes it clear without spreading the blame to everyone not part of their social circle. It’s a tough thing to make something that proves a point without making a viewer unnecessarily defensive. Peele has found this vein and mines it thoroughly.

The acting for this film is exquisite. There is no one here that couldn’t be part of The Silence of the Lambs. Abdul-Mateen II and Parris are headed for Oscars in their futures. Domingo (a steadying influence on Fear The Walking Dead and incredible in Ma Rainey’s…) lends even more than exposition to the story. Williams, wins over the movie with just one motion within her lone scene. We get every ounce of dread that we should have from this story.

This is a film, like many of Jordan Peele’s enterprises post Key & Peele, that works on several levels. He’s found a director who at least shares this talent. If one could choose a storyteller to both entertain and educate, he’s got to be near the top of the list.

(***** out of *****)

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