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Review: Candyman

Bernard Rose creates a startlingly effective shocker that gains power upon further, sleepless-night reflection.

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Eric Henderson

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Candyman
Photo: Columbia Pictures

Maybe it was because it came out amid the fierce hype for Francis Ford Coppola’s Dracula, which flamboyantly reverted the horror genre away from rural America and outer space back to the Gothic castles and candlelit cobblestone roads of the past. Or maybe it was because, thanks to the Rodney King beating and subsequent L.A. riots, urban racial tensions were once again at the front of national consciousness. But when Candyman (directed by the visionary Bernard Rose, who was responsible for 1988’s Paperhouse) was released in late 1992, it became a surprise darkhorse smash and damn near stole Stoker’s thunder on the pages of Fangoria. Helen Lyle (played with consummate early-‘90s sexiness by Virginia Madsen) is a Chicago grad student working with a colleague on a thesis about modern urban legends and how disenfranchised minorities use them as a detachment strategy to absolve themselves, supposedly, of their own responsibility in the creation of their dire situation. Before long, she uncovers the Candyman myth, which centers around the notorious Cabrini-Green complex (literally, a modern-day forbidden turret). Though Helen’s intentions are undoubtedly good, director Rose (working with a Clive Barker short story) seems to recognize the inherent futility behind her middle-class, ivory-towered, bleeding-heart quest (early on, he repeatedly shows her seeming to feign interest in interviewing, for instance, the school’s black janitors—smoking as though she can’t wait to get back to civilization). So, beginning with a dinner scene in which she is mocked by a pompous professor (who informs her in no uncertain terms she’s breaking no new ground), Candyman charts the systematic social degradation inflicted upon Helen by her mentors, militant Cabrini-Green gang members, the police, her husband, and ultimately the Candyman himself. Played by Tony Todd (and his velvety basso profundo voice), the Candyman is a svelte, sexual monument, far removed from the silent brutality of your average serial slasher. Rose’s dizzy, Jungle Fever-ish romanticism is juxtaposed against his cold, Cronenbergian dystopia to create Candyman’s uniquely baroque use of modern urban blight, subtle political undercurrents, and hints of fallen woman melodrama. It creates a startlingly effective shocker that gains power upon further, sleepless-night reflection.

Cast: Virginia Madsen, Tony Todd, Xander Berkeley, Kasi Lemmons, Vanessa Williams, DeJuan Guy, Carolyn Lowery, Barbara Alston Director: Bernard Rose Screenwriter: Bernard Rose Distributor: Columbia Pictures Running Time: 99 min Rating: R Year: 1992 Buy: Video

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