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MPAA Rating: R (For Violence and Gore)
Running Time: 99 minutes
Starring: Virginia Madsen, Tony Todd, Xander Berkeley, Kasi Lemmons
Based on "The Forbidden" by: Clive Barker
Written and Directed by: Bernard Rose
Retail Price: $19.94
Features: Audio Commentary with Writer/Director Bernard Rose, Author/Executive Producer Clive Barker, Producer Alan Poul, Virginia Madsen, Tony Todd and Kasi Lemmons, Sweets to the Sweet: The Candyman Mythos featurette, Clive Barker: Raising Hell featurette, Bernard Rose Storyboards, Previews
Specs: 1.85:1 Anamorphic Widescreen, English Dolby Surround, French Dolby Surround, English Subtitles, French Subtitles, Portuguese Subtitles, English Closed Captions, Scene Selections (28 Scenes)
Released: August 17th, 2004
Helen Lyle (Virginia Madsen) is an Illinois grad student who, with her friend Bernadette (Kasi Lemmons), is researching and writing a paper about modern folklore and urban legends. Helen soon begins investigating the myth of Candyman (Tony Todd), a former slave with a hook for a hand who murders people and comes alive when one looks into the mirror and says his name five times. Candyman has been terrorizing the projects in Caprini Green in Chicago, so Helen heads over there to investigate. Helen doesn't believe in the myth though, and just to make sure she's right, says Candyman's name five times. Of course though, poor Helen is wrong and Candyman appears and begins a murderous rampage. Helen is placed in the center of the crimes and blamed for them. As the murders pile on, nobody seems to believe Helen is innocent and she tumbles into her own state of madness. Will Helen finally believe in the legend, so that Candyman can be stopped?
In my opinion, "Candyman" is one of the best horror films of the 1990s. While I personally don't find the movie that scary (for the record, I do not really get freaked out by horror films), it definitely has chilling moments, can be really creepy and ultimately it really gets under your skin. The movie's premise involving being framed for murder and not believing in legends have been done many times before, but thanks to writer and director Bernard Rose, these concepts still feel rather fresh. With that said, Rose proves to be a gifted storyteller in a number of ways.
While I can't compare the film to the original Clive Barker short story, I can say that Rose's script is pretty strong in structure and accomplishes a lot. It's pretty clear that right from the start of the film, Rose cares about setting the tone and developing the characters. Rose makes Helen a strong-willed heroine who's thirsty for knowledge, or rather, dispelling the myths. He also adds a human intrigue to her, particularly through suspicions that her husband isn't faithful to her. There's an intelligence in Rose's writing too &emdash; his dialogue is natural and poised, and while there are dark and chilling moments in the movie's first 40 minutes (Caprini Green is a scary place), a lot of it is development that really pays off. Relationships are established so that they are believable (such as between Helen and Bernadette), and details about the origins of Candyman are revealed at just the right moments. From there, the movie just escalates &emdash; everything builds organically as Candyman creates havoc, and things just get more and more intense for Helen.
Yet what makes "Candyman" so interesting is that like the characters, the mythology behind the antagonist is clearly defined and developed. Candyman can be considered a monster, but only to some extent. The backstory that Rose provides is pretty fascinating, probably since it is grounded in human origin with a slight historical context. The film also makes a few points concerning race, many of which are pretty subtle. While the crowd at Caprini Green may seem stereotypically common as well as the on-goings there, there is some backbone &emdash; maybe even heart &emdash; to be had in the relationship between Candyman and Helen as well as interracial ties to the past. In its own ways, the movie deals with hanging onto the past and how myths have gone on and evolved, yet at the same time devolve people's attitudes in believing certain truths.
As a director, Rose shows that he's a great visionary and uses proper restraint. The film is violent and rather gory, but only when it has to be &emdash; this isn't a mindless, throwaway horror flick for the sake of being one. The shock moments and violent scenes may be hard for the more nerve-wracked viewers to swallow, but they are not overdone and really deliver. Yet there really is some great lighting and imagery in the movie, particularly when it comes to the bees and when Candyman appears before Helen (not to mention the quick cuts of Helen when she's under Candyman's spell). The film also moves at a smooth pace, and each scene only adds to the rising thrills. Everything in the story ties together well, nothing plods and it's really hard not to get caught up in the story. We all know Helen's innocence, but everybody in the movie doesn't &emdash; this only adds to the edge-of-your-seat moments.
The acting is uniformly tight, which is another reason why the film is a success. Virginia Madsen is excellent as chain-smoking heroine, who captures a certain cynical attitude as Helen, that gradually grows into fear and supreme terror. Madsen is good at running around and denying the murders, but a lot of the performance comes from a fine attention to her precise body language. Xander Berkeley is fine as Helen's husband, and Kasi Lemmons also commands strength and reasoning as Bernadette. And of course, there's Tony Todd as the menacing Candyman. Todd certainly commands a presence with his broad physical appearance and deep voice, but he also makes the villain thrilling and a fascinating character to watch. And on a different topic, the basic Philip Glass score also fits well within the movie's framework.
Unfortunately, as with most horror films, the Candyman character proved popular and a franchise was born. In 1995, a sequel was released that bombed (and was directed by Bill Condon of "Gods and Monsters" no less) and in 1999 the character returned again in a direct-to-video title. While the character has definitely become diluted, the two less-successful sequels shouldn't taint the original movie &emdash; which is still the best, and is a fine example of horror done correctly. For fans of the genre who have never seen the movie before, or even film fans in general, then let me make it clear: "Candyman" is not to be missed.
"Candyman" is given the anamorphic widescreen treatment in its original aspect ratio of 1.85:1, and the results are a mixed bag. The transfer wasn't cleaned up too well, so there are plenty of detractions on the print: dirt pieces, blemishes, nicks and scratches. There is a little bit of noise as well, and for the most part the image is soft and grainy. Thankfully there's still plenty of good to behold on the transfer: colors are very well saturated, black levels are strong and detail is solid too. While it would have been nice if this transfer was cleaned up a bit more, it's not a complete waste.
A 5.1 remix definitely would have been splendid, but I was pretty surprised in just how enveloping the English Dolby Surround track was (a French Dolby Surround track is available too). The Dolby Surround track really packs a punch with the sound effects &emdash; the grisly murders sound sharp (hooks are deadly) and the sudden jolts of action are quite discrete. The little noises come alive too, such as the cackling of fire and the quiet moments of anticipated action. Philip Glass' score sounds very good, and the dialogue is very clear and easy to hear. Overall there are strong dynamics, and the fidelity is pretty high too. English closed captions are available, as well as English subtitles, French subtitles and Portuguese subtitles.
Originally released back on a barebones DVD in 1998, "Candyman" has finally gotten the special edition treatment. First up is an audio commentary with a host of participants: writer/director Bernard Rose, author/executive producer Clive Barker, producer Alan Poul, Virginia Madsen, Tony Todd and Kasi Lemmons. It's a lot of people, and each person is introduced before they say something to avoid confusion (even if everyone's voice is pretty distinct). Nonetheless, this is a really great track and finely edited &emdash; it's pretty clear everybody was recorded separately. This track covers all aspects of the production, such as Rose talking to Clive Barker and making the jump to screenwriting; the location shooting, the actors talking about their craft, what it was like to work with all those bees (poor Virginia Madsen &emdash; she's hyperalergic to bees) and much, much more. I have to say I enjoyed Rose's comments the most though: he's clearly passionate about his work and movies, not to mention the art of the horror film &emdash; he offers some sound advice at the end of the commentary of what "type" of horror flicks to avoid. If you're a fan of the movie, you definitely need to listen to this superb commentary.
Sweets to the Sweet: The Candyman Mythos is a rather flawless featurette. Running about twenty-four minutes, those who listen to the commentary will find a bit of retread here... but it's still very much worth a watch. Well paced and put together, the featurette features all the people from the commentary giving new interviews here as they discuss the origins of the movie, its creation and the impact "Candyman" made on moviegoers. Highlighting all of this are clips from the movie, a bevy of stills and all sorts of reference footage. This is all very enthralling, and hell yes &emdash; it's in anamorphic widescreen.
The other featurette on the disc is also quite good, which is Clive Barker: Raising Hell. Running a little over ten minutes (and also in anamorphic widescreen), the gravelly-voiced writer explains that he doesn't limit himself to one career occupation, but mainly talks about his inspirations, his life growing up and just what got him into horror. This is a great and candid interview, highlighted by film clips and personal stills. Also on the disc are Bernard Rose Storyboards, which is an automated gallery of the filmmaker's pre-visualization of his script. The boards are interesting to look at, especially in seeing how concise of a vision Bernard got to bring to the screen.
And of course, there are previews for other Columbia/Tristar titles. Oddly though there is no trailer for "Candyman," even though the "Sweets to the Sweet" featurette shows clips from it and the original DVD had it. Hmm.
The "Candyman" franchise would eventually tread in to direct-to-video territory, but the original still remains engrossing and fresh over a decade later. The DVD has a decent transfer and a strong Dolby Surround mix, and while there are only a few extras, they all still shine. Horror fans are encouraged to pick this one up, otherwise, this makes a very satisfying rental for those seeking a few chills or a trip to early 1990s terror. Just don't look into the mirror and say a certain name five times when you're done watching it.