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A SIERRA NEVADA
(MICHAEL MADSEN & JOHN SAVAGE).
Probably the biggest problem with a movie like this, for a horror fan (the target audience), is that it is too derivative. Now there are fans who say "Well of course its derivative! It's based on Urban myth!"
Don't get me wrong, the tale of looking into a mirror and saying a dead person's name has been around for a long time (Bloody Mary is the chief example) and exists in nearly all cultures today ranging from North America to England to the Philippines. CANDYMAN was a movie just waiting to happen. And when it comes to Urban Myth, I have to admit that CANDYMAN is a lot stronger than that URBAN LEGEND crap from 1998 (They are making a sequel to URBAN LEGEND. Can you imagine how bad that one is going to be?)!
So then what's wrong with the movie? After all, it was based on the short story The Forbidden by Clive Barker, from his anthology In The Flesh. That was 1986, back when he was good for Horror (Now he's good for fantasy. This is not a fantasy site so...)!
It stars Virginia Madsen (DUNE, ZOMBIE HIGH, PROPHECY, THE HAUNTING) as the heroine Helen Lyle who is a student working on her thesis, investigating Urban myths in general and the legend of CANDYMAN in particular.
Strange little creepy things start happening as Helen pursues her detective work in cahoots with her cohort Bernadette (Kasi Lemmons: VAMPIRE'S KISS, THE SILENCE OF THE LAMBS). She makes disturbing discoveries of how ancient myth not only survives, but thrives. Unexplained murders that take place around the nearby Cabrini-Green Projects in Chicago are attributed to The Candyman. The adults there know and believe, the children there know and believe, but Helen and Bernadette do not.
Things don't really start jumping until about halfway through the movie.
Now understand, I'm all for taking your time to tell a good story, BUT HALFWAY THROUGH THE MOVIE??? Only when Helen narrowly avoids being killed by a gang leader does CANDYMAN start getting really scary. The gang leader (Terrence Riggins: RETURN OF THE LIVING DEAD II) has been using the legend of the Candyman as protection from the retribution of those he wishes to victimize. He walks around with a spike in one hand and the children believe him to be THE Candyman. It is only after he beats Helen and leaves her for dead, AND she returns to pick him out of a police line-up of suspects, does she has dispel the myth and fear from the lives of the folks in the Cabrini Projects.
Regardless of whatever other hells they may have to live with, the murders committed by the fake Candyman can now be laid to rest. Those who may see him again will attack him readily, as they no longer believe in his otherworldly immortality.
Only now, ONLY NOW (!) do the Merry Mishaps occur! All else has been build-up and exposition! E-Freakin' GAD!
So okay, we are now half way through the movie and it's really starting to click. The movie comes alive thanks in no small part to the "Real" Candyman (Tony Todd: All the CANDYMAN movies, THE CROW, FINAL DESTINATION [all]). Now the wild and creepy stuff begins and it is well worth watching.
But wait! What about the big problem I mentioned? Why is this movie derivative?
Bit of History -
The movie DRACULA and THE MUMMY were both originally written by Bram Stoker. Though the first movies had little to do with the books, they both retained the main plot device, in that the murdering "Monster" was also a tragic figure who died a horrible death for the love of their one true.
Years, centuries, or millennia later, they are resurrected by various means and quickly go about establishing their reputations (unstoppable killing thing) while at the same time trying to re-capture the love they lost. For both stories this was in the form of a modern woman who crossed their path and looks enough like the old flame to pass muster.
Ever since we have seen tons of DRACULA and MUMMY movies throughout the 20th century. All with the same angle driving the plot. We have even seen the same plot drive African American vampires (BLACULA), and this is what drives CANDYMAN as well. It is lifted from Bram Stoker, not Clive Barker's original story, and so the movie bogs into tired re-hashed hack work.
Written and directed by Bernard Rose (PAPERHOUSE) I found that "Rose the Director" is way more creative than "Rose the writer" (Bernard also plays the role of Archie Walsh in this film). I would find it hard to believe that Bernard could not understand the more original concept of Clive Barker's "Forbidden". Anyone who has seen PAPERHOUSE knows that Rose is a guy well at ease with the surreal.
Possibly the screenplay was written in an effort to get studio money by giving the "heads" a plotline that they could easily grasp without too much thought. Thinking takes time and time is money. Whatever the case, CANDYMAN suffers for it as the grafting of one plot device over another is an ill fit.
Where Bernard Rose fails as a writer he amply makes up for as a director. The world he creates and the fears he instills in the audience are so palpable you can almost smell the blood.
Rose demonstrates a sure hand as he depicts Helen's world rapidly and inexorably falling apart. As Helen, Virginia Madsen has a way with her eyes. She can talk and physically express herself all at the same time, from her bodily movements to her facial tics. We are talking minutia here, but with close-ups it rounds itself out to give her character of Helen a real-life plausibility. Watching Madsen is fascinating and she carries the movie well.
Because of the failed writing, CANDYMAN has two endings. The actual one and the follow-up epilogue. Both are anticlimactic.
Thanks to good direction, great acting, and scenery so real you can almost (ugh) taste it - Giant Zombie Kudos go to Production Designer Jane Anne Stewart, Art Director David Lazan (TEACHING MRS. TINGLE) and Set Decorator Kathryn Peters (DEVIL IN A BLUE DRESS). All in all it was a great team making a good movie from a mediocre script. That couldn't be easy!
3 Shriek Girls.