Stomping Around in the Dark: ‘Candyman’

Posted: October 6, 2009 in Horror, Jeff Holland, October Horror, reviews, Threat Quality
Tags: , , ,

candyman 1I think I figured out why this country seems to frown on academia – with the lone exception of Indiana Jones, scholarly types in movies seem to all be arrogant, snobby, and reckless to the point where you wonder if they traded their self-preservation instincts for an advanced degree.

This is what Candyman teaches us, which is why I am suggesting this alternate title for it: White People Think They’re Sooooo Fucking Smart.

Grad student Virginia Madsen wants to learn about an urban legend and decides to venture into gang-controlled projects (this isn’t, like, a racist assumption, or anything – the characters mention just how many gang-related murders have occurred in this apartment complex). So what does she do? She chides her friend for packing pepper spray and tells everyone in listening distance that she’s NOT a cop, so, y’know, it’s okay to talk to her. Or kill her and dump the body. Goddamn white people.

candyman 3I am also a bit confused about this movie’s opinion of its own characters and their relative intelligence. Madsen thinks she’s got the most genius, brilliant, brain-lickable idea for a paper ever: a paper on urban legends! It is, in fact, so brilliant that even IN THE MOVIE, there is another (snide, jackass) academic who mentions he wrote his own well-regarded paper on the subject ten years earlier. So, exactly who does Virginia Madsen think she’s going to impress with this candyass, Freshman Comp level bullshit? And exactly how are we supposed to take this character seriously, if even the movie thinks she’s a pretty shoddy researcher?

What’s sad is, there is a really interesting idea in this movie: an urban legend that really was “urban,” a boogie-man designed to put some kind of logic on illogical horrors committed every day in the ghetto. It also speaks to the nature of immortality through shared storytelling, particularly in urban minority cultures.

But the movie approaches the idea of urban culture with all the subtlety of a “Chappelle’s Show” sketch (it might be Candyman’s ostentatious fur coat, or maybe that he pops up behind desks and over beds like he’s a kid hiding that makes me kind of wish it were Dave Chappelle, at least), and besides that, even the grad student studying the subject doesn’t really bother putting much thought into it, other than kind of admiring some graffiti.

Because after all, it’s not about ghetto culture. It’s about what a white lady thinks of urban Candyman 2culture (which Candyman even says – it was always about Virginia Madsen, apparently – which was around the time I looked down at my snarky note – “Goddamn white people!!!” – and realized this movie was trying to beat me to the punch on everything).

I should also point out that in addition to not really caring about its themes, by the end, Candyman doesn’t really care about making any fucking sense. The Candyman is a ghost, and a spirit – and also apparently made of BEES – but because Virginia Madsen really wants to save a baby, she’s able to stab him with a piece of wood and he crumples like a ragdoll. And then she saves the baby, and dies, but becomes a Candyman-like urban-legend-ghost herself, complete with a…hook? But, Candyman had a hook for a reason. Ghost Virginia Madsen’s hand was never severed, so how did…WHAT?

Other thoughts:
– Philip Glass’s score adds a shocking level of unintentional comedy to this movie. It’s not just that it’s incredibly pompous, with the keyboard set on organ and chorus sounds – it’s that it ONLY shows up when something scary is supposed to happen. If someone walks suddenly into the frame, the score goes apeshit with “AH-HAAAA-HAAAAAA!!!” noises. And then it completely disappears for another five minutes, waiting patiently for the next startling, possibly supernatural occurrence.

– “Your death will be a tale to frighten children. To make lovers come closer in their rapture. Come with me, and be immortal.” Now, I’ve still never read any Clive Barker, but after sitting through three film adaptations with lines this purple and self-important, I have to ask: does his prose actually read like this? And is it written exclusively for socially-awkward mascara-smeared Cure fans?

– God bless the makeup artist who realized that drying blood isn’t bright, fire-engine red. I’m assuming that discovery was made a couple years after this one.

– Candyman’s stump is always oozing and crackling. I realize he had a tough time of it and all, but could NOBODY have cauterized the wound before attaching a hook to it?

– Hey, remember when you could smoke, like, EVERYWHERE? This movie remembers it fondly. At first, I kept thinking, “What are we supposed to be getting out of Virginia Madsen’s constantly lit cigarette?” And then I realized it wasn’t a character tic, it was just something you could do in movies back then.

  1. braak says:

    That fur coat is a little wacky.

  2. V.I.P. Referee says:

    …and why in purple/royal blue? Just a design choose or a clue?

  3. V.I.P. Referee says:

    (“Choice” not “choose”)

  4. Jeff Holland says:

    I believe the colors are meant to signify that Candyman is The Mac Daddy of hook-and-bee-specific inner city spirits.

  5. Dave says:

    I do love David Cronenberg’s role in Nightbreed, even if the film looks like something Stephen Frears directed whilst on crack.

    And is it written exclusively for socially-awkward mascara-smeared Cure fans?

    I thought that was The Crow?

  6. Jeff Holland says:

    Hmm, I’m detecting a pattern: I also really dislike ‘The Crow’!

    Because I am a generous man, I have always attributed that to the possibility that maybe it’s difficult to make a fluid and compelling movie out of digitally inserted outtake shots of your dead leading actor.

  7. Melissa says:

    I kinda remember thinking the movie would be better if the Candyman made it much more convincing that the chick killed all those people, and not him. Like, wouldn’t it be horrifying if you saw a scary ghosty thing kill some people, but it really seems like YOU did it, and you’re in jail, and you’re covered in blood, and it’s terrible! That’s the scariest part about that movie.

  8. braak says:

    Yeah, that would have been a pretty good movie.

  9. Jeff Holland says:

    Melissa, I totally agree – there was a point in that movie where the horror could have come from Virginia Madson’s confusion. Maybe she WAS going crazy. Maybe she got too involved with this whole “Candyman” thing.

    But no, they opted for Tony Todd popping out from behind desks to remind her that, no, this was all his idea.

    Every year I devote all this time to old horror movies, and every time the things that would have made them great is totally obvious to we the viewers, but not so much the people making the movies. Really makes you wonder about their priorities.

  10. […] the best of the last five years of having to put up with crap like Candyman so I can occasionally stumble onto something good, I humbly submit these TQP-approved entries for a […]

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