THE UNSEEN HORROR rises once more, for another entry from the world of Clive Barker. NIGHTBREED proved that Barker had the imagination to pull of hordes of monsters. However, today’s film also demonstrated Barker was capable of social commentary in his horror. Barker even touches upon urban legend, while still giving us gore and thrills. So without further ado, let’s look into the mirror, and speak the name of CANDYMAN.


Chicago grad student Helen Lyle is trying finish her thesis on urban legends. She learns about the legend of Candyman. He was a freed black man that was killed by a mob using honey and bees during the Civil War. The legend states one way Candyman can be summoned. A person looks into a mirror and says his name five times. The residents of Cabrini-Green (a notorious Chicago housing slum) believe that Candyman killed at least one woman recently. Helen investigates to get thesis material on belief. She finds the ‘Candyman’ is nothing but a street thug using the moniker. However, by discrediting the legend, Helen summons the real Candyman. He torments Helen, pushing her to kill herself, so that his legend might be restored.

The Meaning Behind the Sweets

CANDYMAN is based on Barker’s short story ‘The Forbidden’. That story focused more on the British class system. However, director Bernard Rose convinced Barker it could have another meaning. Together, they adapted it into the film version. There were behind the scenes issues though. Producers worried the film would be offensive to African-Americans. Rose met with the NAACP multiple times, who encouraged him to make the film. The organization said it would be ‘perverse‘ to not allow an African-American to play a ghost or slasher villain.

The film also dealt with the difficulties of filming in the real-life Cabrini-Green. Many gangs occupied the neighborhood. However the filmmakers reported they were open to the filming. In fact, many of the ‘gang members’ seen in the background of the film were actual Cabrini residents. The gang members may have been entranced by the idea of being in a film. However, it is also possible they thought the film might shine a light on their lives. Thankfully, it did.

Real Life Horror of CANDYMAN

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CANDYMAN carries a great deal of metaphor for African-American life at the time. Helen initially believes that the legend is something that the Cabrini residents use to deal with their difficult lives. In real life, Cabrini-Green had started as an housing project, meant to encourage different income levels to settle there. However, the city began to abandon the project after World War II, leading to years of declining services and degradation. Ignorance and lack of caring brought down the neighborhood. The smae things brought down Candyman (who now haunts the area). Helen represents that as well.  She wants to study the Cabrini residents, but has no intentions to help them. In that way, Candyman also represents the anger many African Americans felt (and feel) towards the system.

Even Candyman himself holds a greater symbolism. He is a product of a culture that saw him as unworthy to even love one of their own. He functions as a living embodiment of the horrors of racism and bigotry. It’s actually quite telling that most of the white people dismiss him as myth. They don’t want to be reminded of the horrors they once did. Even Helen is disregarded as insane when she starts talking about him. That is what give Candyman his real power– he is a symbol of the horror that we have done to each. And we would rather deal with a story then the reality.

The Candy Makers

The symbolism of CANDYMAN is quite heavy. However, it only functions with the right people to tell the story. CANDYMAN depends on the performances of Helen and Candyman to work. Virginia Madsen takes Helen through multiple stages– her initial curousity and slight arrogance, the strain of Candyman’s murders, questioning her own sanity, and finally, a martyr. She moves through both pity and admiration as the film goes one. Madsen even agreed to be hypnotized in scenes to give Candyman’s presence more effect. The only performance that surpasses hers is the epic, career making work of the Candyman himself, Tony Todd.

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Todd had had many roles before Candyman, but this may very well be his signature role. Todd infuses the character with subtle menace with his tall stature and his unbelievably deep voice. He captures the violence and anger of the character, but also brings elegance and presence to the role. It’s almost like watching an African-American Dracula, one that fully believes in his own myth and everything that comes with it. Todd’s very presence onscreen is enough to bring chills, as you can see by his introduction.

CANDYMAN: Say His Name

CANDYMAN is arguably one of the 90’s best horror films, and a personal favorite. It manages to be scary, but also bring in ideas of race, myth, and belief. It’s not a movie you walk away from with your nerves or your soul unshaken. Simply put, this is a horror classic that deserves the same kind of respect given less socially relevant monster like Jason and Freddy. So this year, look into a mirror, and see if you can say his name five times.

And if you survive that, come back next time for a look at horror on the small screen…

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