OK: Candyman, Candyman, Candyman, Candyman, Candyman.
I had my boy Sherman set the Wayback Machine to 1992. He was promptly hacked to death by Michael Myers as we flew past Halloween H20, but I arrived safely for my viewing of Candyman. My interest was piqued when I saw in the credits that the music score was by Philip Glass and his black turtleneck collection, and that it was based on a short story by Clive Barker, who made one of my favorite genre pictures, In the Mouth of Madness, as well as the first-rate Hellraiser.
After the Koyaanisqatsi credit sequence that traverses the highways of Chicago like it’s part of the opening ceremony from the 2016 Rio Olympics, only with BEES!!, the young girl that narrated Days of Heaven starts detailing an urban legend she’s heard. The story is depicted on-screen with young stud Billy and Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret engaging in the erotic play(?) of calling the Candyman in the bathroom mirror and there’s bees or something and it doesn’t matter because it’s just a college student relating the Candyman urban legend to a graduate student working on her thesis.
“So we were just fictional characters in a story being told by other fictional characters? So we’re not even real to this movie? I gotta lie down for a second…”
The University of Chicago’s Urban Legends department is doing really well, judging by how many people are attending this lecture on the subject. Professor Notacheater is killing it and basking in his students’ verbal worship after class, and our graduate student interviewer from before is his wife and catches her gork husband being a little too friendly with one student. Even worse, it turns out he just stepped on her game by doing his (apparently famous) urban legend lecture the same semester she’s gathering urban legend narratives from the underclassmen. It’s this kind of riveting drama of determining whether sample research audiences will be softly influenced by similar curricula occurring at the same time during sampling in higher education among academics that drew me to that blood sport in the first place. I was hoping for a heated discussion about whether participant observation for their qualitative research should be conducted, but the movie had somewhere else to be.
She’s in it for the kicks.
So while Shampoo Commercial Model and her more ethnic research partner (if you catch my drift) gather more stories for their thesis (for the U. of Chicago’s Candyman MFA), they listen to a Candyman story of murder most foul that sounds authentic and took place just across town in an apartment complex that University of Chicago professors don’t live in (you know the ones I’m talking about). They take the Bechdel Test that evening by smoking 1992 cigarettes, drinking wine, talking about their work and presumably listening to “Lime in the Coconut” and dancing around the kitchen at some point.
When Shampoo gets the foggy notion that her building was constructed exactly the same as the apartment complex (the one in the bad neighborhood, wink wink) where that true-sounding story came from, she pushes in a part of her bathroom wall that was built to do that for some reason and determines that what holds true on Earth must also be true in Heaven so they decide fuck it, we’re going to break into that apartment where all the Candyman murdering occurred and also decide to call Candyman in the mirror just for shits and gigs. Because taunting forces you can’t begin to comprehend is a common trait among academics.
Chevy Chase misheard this and showed up at their door in a shark costume.
After a LITERAL jump scare with the surely not-awful Professor Gropesalot falling into bed drunk while Shampoo sleeps, we’re back with the Didactic Duo as they engage in some participant observation for their qualitative research (hey! They did end up talking about that!). They drive to the wrong side of town (you know which side) to find more proof of Candyman. To The Humanities: Social Sciences: Sociology: Folklore: Urban Legends Studies!
Walking through Not-Kevin McCallister’s neighborhood, they’re harassed by a gang (*arches eyebrow, nods knowingly*) and survey a Candyman Graffiti Art Instillation. Shampoo takes photo evidence of Candyman culture and then crawls into an apartment that Candyman murdered/made honey in. You know, these two say they want to be academics, but they’re acting a lot like detectives.
“I don’t have a PI license, but I have an MA in Anthropology, so same diff.”
Finally, the coolest damn mural to Candyman is shown, and it will be a shame to find out that they didn’t use this set to shoot a rap video in. A woman comes across Shampoo snooping around in the apartment and this bit of truth passes between them:
Shampoo: Oh, we’re not cops, we’re from the university.
Woman: Well you don’t belong here, honey!
Pictured: Someone not belonging somewhere.
But this woman lives in this building and invites The MA Maulers into her apartment. We learn that this woman, Anne-Marie, is a nice lady with a baby who is (rightfully, if you have ever paid attention to any period in American history) suspicious of white people. Good thing one of these researchers isn’t white! (if you’re picking up what I’m laying down). Anne-Marie relates to them that a terrifying specter haunts their building (Candyman, since it hasn’t been said in the past twenty seconds).
Smash-cut to a tobacco-and-smoke dinner in a fancy restaurant as some bloviating academic tries to upstage our graduate student heroes at their own game. He laughs and laughs and continues to look like a portrait of an 18th-century nobleman suffering from gout and gives a long expository monologue about Candyman’s origins, which for laziness’ sake I’ll just link to here for you fine people.
This movie was partially funded by the Bee Council of America.
Did you get all of that? Good. Black painter post-civil war falls in love with a white woman, is lynched and murdered. Also, tortured by bees. You know, basic Candyman story. Hey, American history allows for these kinds of narratives, so I don’t know what to tell you.
Shampoo decides to go back to the projects for more qualitative research. She encounters a kid there who tells her that Candyman’s after him and warns her that she’s not safe in this neighborhood (*tugs at shirt collar nervously*). She shames the boy into showing her around Candyman’s hood, an old public bathroom (?), and more correlative evidence (via doo-doo being used as ink to write on the walls, because yuck) matches other Candyman narratives (Careful, Shampoo! Correlation does not imply causation!). The toilet’s also filled with bees, which leads to questions about Candyman’s dietary regimen.
Because a bee-heavy diet can come back to sting you (*rimshot*).
She just can’t get enough of this restroom but is soon accosted by a very dangerous-looking man with a hook and his gang of ruffians. He’s “Candyman” on the street, you see, and he beats her, which is always unpleasant to watch. Two seconds later, she’s pointing him out of a police lineup. And she…apparently caught the Candyman! Whaat? Most successful horror movie protagonist ever! Who said higher education was a waste of your time, money, and youth? Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to get to the dumpsters behind the supermarket before all the good stuff is gone (The PhD candidates tend to get there right after the blood banks close).
So she wraps things up with the kid that helped her out, who still seems pretty worried about this Candyman fellow. Back at work (?), Shampoo and her research partner play catch-up, publishers are now interested in their work because “they made the local section,” which I don’t know what that means but OK, and all’s going well enough.
Then, a haunting voice calls out to…Helen! That’s her name! But I’m just going to keep calling her Shampoo. Anyway, we finally get a good look at the actual Candyman, who’s a pretty intimidating figure, what with his bloody hook hand and inviting you to be his victim and all. He chastises her for doubting his existence and puts the whammy on her. She fades out, and the next thing you know she’s waking up covered in blood on a bathroom floor with the sound of a woman wailing in the distance. Of course she opens the door and finds a very recently decapitated dog’s head on the floor.
No, I’m not going to show you that. Here’s the same breed of dog that was in the film with its head still attached because I’m perfectly OK with watching dozens of people getting eviscerated but don’t you dare hurt an animal in a film!
It turns out she’s in Anne-Marie’s apartment as the obvious perpetrator of some heinous acts, including abducting this woman’s baby. It’s a really disturbing turn in the film, and it just gets worse from there, including a very-much-so not-sexy strip search at the police station. It’s a fucking nightmare come true. She’s arrested for butchering a dog and kidnapping, and her totally faithful husband’s nowhere to be found at three in the morning (shocker), so she’s spending the night in jail. Meanwhile, David Lynch must have the baby, based on the art direction of the cut-to-the-baby scene. But wait, no, Candyman does. I wonder if he’s ever directed anything?
It’s All Eyez On Shampoo as she exits the police station the next morning and back to her husband, that sinus drip of a human being. She can’t make heads or tails of this whole sordid mess, and Professor Studentaffair goes to the store, leaving her to smoke and drink by herself (the selfish cur). She dives back into her Candyman research and nervously paces around the apartment, decides fuck this noise, and summons Candyman. Candyman’s giant hook hand bursts through the wall like Kool-Aid Man and he’s all like, be my victim, and also throws in the offer that she can take the place of the abducted baby.
Honestly, this is not the worst bargain ever offered by a supernatural force in a horror movie. Candman’s a very put-together horror villain. He must run a pretty tight ship down at Candyman, Inc. Shampoo’s like, fine I’ll be your victim, but backs out of it at the last minute. So guess what, bitch? Now Candyman framed you for brutally murdering your friend/research partner! What a piece of work Candman is!
This is the true stuff of nightmares—adult fears of losing your sanity, not understanding or being able to comprehend as you are stripped of your status in society, your respectability, and are accused of murder most foul with blood on your hands with no excuse or memory to convince otherwise. It’s Kafka Horror.
David Lynch pops by again to direct the car ride to jail, and Candyman is still like, stop resisting, why are you hitting yourself, why are you hitting yourself, and Bad Hubby stays by her side until she’s strapped down in the nut house, where she lays squirmy and alone.
“Sooo…what’s new with you?”
Candyman’s back and states the same offer as before, which she rejects again , so her waking life continues to degrade. At this point we have an abducted baby being kept in a wretched basement and taken care of by Candyman, and being strapped down all day and night in bed is just another part of daily life for Shampoo.
We join Shampoo on a visit to Dr. Burke, played by Mr. Demitri from My So-Called Life, and she finds out she’s been in the hospital for a month and has been charged with first-degree murder while tranked out. She says she can prove her innocence by calling Candyman because that’s really worked out well for her so far. So he appears and murders the shit out of Dr. Burke immediately.
This kind of qualitative research is not helpful.
She takes this moment to climb out the window and escape, stopping only to knock out and steal an attendant’s work clothes, because this helps prove her innocence (?). Shampoo makes her way back home to Professor Smuttypants who’s moved on by redecorating the place—and moving in that little tart from the beginning! (On another note: Professors dating students is never not gross. Fellow professors: keep your hands off the students! Sleep with your colleagues instead.) It’s a real tense reunion, since she’s out of her mind and on-edge and isn’t taking this new domestic arrangement well, but reads the room and books it.
Candyman turns into a river and speaks spooky prophecy and threats to Shampoo, who finally listens to her Nancy Drew heart and goes to confront Candyman on his turf. She finds a mural on the wall of his lair that reveals the violent tale of his origin (in case you don’t remember from the beginning: black painter, post-civil war, white woman, lynching, repeat for the next hundred years).
And there’s Candyman taking a snooze, which is kind of humorous. This guy gets sleepy? He needs a little nap-nap from time to time? Shampoo tries to out-hook the hook master, but he’s like OK FINALLY you’re going to be my victim, right? He assures her that the pain will be exquisite, gropes her with his hook like she’s a student and he’s Professor Easy A, and covers her with bees and he’s made of bees and bees, bees, bees!
Candyman suffers from Bee-and-Mouth disease.
After that scene for the trailers, Shampoo awakes in confusion, picks up the first weapon she sees (which she has to stop doing, since it’s only led to her being implicated for murder so far), and on the wall it reads, IT WAS ALWAYS YOU, SHAMPOO. She hears a baby crying, and hey! There’s that missing baby, hidden somewhere in the pyre…of flammable materials…that she starts climbing and…uh-oh.
Candyman’s Children’s Corps. dutifully march toward the pyre with gasoline and torches while Shampoo dives into the wreckage looking for that baby. A crowd gathers for the bonfire (which was an upcoming event that was mentioned waaay back in the beginning, so at least they loaded the ammunition for this Chekovian gun to eventually go off), and in the pyre Candyman, Shampoo, and Baby make three.
But whammo! Flaming stake to Candyman as Shampoo scrambles to get the baby to safety. Although on fire, she rescues the baby and escapes Candyman’s clutches. Baby and Anne-Marie are reunited, Candman burns to death (?) and turns into a million bees, and Shampoo lays on the ground with third-degree burns and pending murder charges.
Shampoo really flamed out by this point in the picture. She sure went down in a blaze of glory. She was on fire in this scene OK I’ll stop now.
Just kidding! Because she’s dead and we’re now at her funeral with Dr. Doubledate and his young chippy, when everyone from the Candyman projects (literally over a hundred people on-screen) march up through the graveyard to pay their respects. The kid from the beginning drops Candyman’s hook like it’s hot into her open grave, and fade to:
Her shit husband’s unhappy life with his petulant, bra-less girlfriend as he weeps tears of regret over how it all went down. Then he says Shampoo’s name into the mirror five times. She shows up and guts him nice and good with the hook, and his dopey girlfriend finds him all bloody and stupid-looking in the tub. ROLL CREDITS, FUCKERS!
Professor Notalive, relaxing at home.
- If you think my not-quite-racist little jokes were racist, think about this: I didn’t even give the African-American research partner a name in this review. Ain’t I a stinker?
- Bernard Rose, the director of his film, also directed one of my favorite historical biopics, Immortal Beloved, from which I include a link to the “Ode to Joy” sequence here because it is simply transcendent.
This was a pretty fun horror movie. Set in my favorite decade, it also gets points for having two main characters of color (one of them being a villain with a sympathetic backstory) and setting much of the story in the cultural milieu of the inner city. I also find horror movies that rip away the facade of normalcy and sanity of its protagonists effective, in that it throws into question our (the viewer’s) ability to discern what’s real or not, which is an affecting narrative trick. When not only our narrator, but the entire nature of the reality of what we’re watching, is unreliable, anything can happen. Being in the mindset of truly not being able to anticipate the next moment of what’s going to happen keeps an audience engaged (if they commit to the conceit of the fiction), and often keeps them in a suspended state of anticipation.
Clive Barker is a master of this type of storytelling, and it’s reproduced here with finesse. While I can understand how this type of movie has became staid in the horror genre (the wave of twisty-turny reality-bending horror movies glutted the market in the 2000’s), its initial treatment in horror films of the 80’s and 90’s remain fresh. For this, Candyman gets three and a half out of four Candymen.