Clive Barker's Candyman
The previous incarnation of The Celluloid Highway was a Facebook group entitled The Never-Ending Encylopaedia of Horror, Science Fiction and Cult Cinema. At its peak the group attracted close to 700 members, but I was never satisfied at Facebook as a platform for inflicting my ramblings on the world. The most controversial moment came when I published a review for the 1992 Polygram production of Clive Barker’s Candyman. I was accused of racism (totally unjustified), anti-Americanism (some justification) and even received a death threat! - I kid you not. For all my American readers out there I should point out that my Anti-American stance existed for precisely the same amount of time George Bush Jr was in office. The very small incident of hysteria that my review generated reminded me of some of the things I’d read during my researches of the ‘Video Nasty’ scandal which beset the UK in the early 1980’s. It’s amazing how some people read what they want to read, or see what they want to see, and seem to be oblivious to the intentions or context of the cultural artefact. I apologise for this rare autobiographical detour, but the film Candyman will always hold a dear place in my heart; how can I not love the film after receiving a death threat over my review for it?
Rose and his collaborators make evocative use of the slum-like housing development where the film is largely set, and the screenplay is at pains to emphasise the class divide between the academics who conduct their well funded research within its environs, and the African-Americans who struggle to survive. Academia itself is depicted as an isolated world of pettiness and ego (and this reviewer can testify to the reality of that depiction) with Helen Lyle (a great performance from Virginia Madsen) using members of the ghetto populace to further her aims. Lyle herself is an unusual heroine for the horror genre - she is self-sufficient and emotionally strong, hypocritical and complex, but the actress brings dignity and pathos to a very unsympathetic role. The device of the urban myth would go on to have considerable commercial caché in the age of the post-modern horror film. But Candyman puts these immature efforts to shame, it stands out due to a genuine interest in characters and motivations, in moral dilemmas and the weight of history. It explores weighty and difficult themes such as race, class, and events in the past which some may prefer to remain hidden. This is all very good, but does it actually work as a horror film? the answer is a resounding yes. The set pieces are imaginative and beautifully orchestrated and brought chillingly to life by an excellent score by avant-garde composer Phillip Glass. So when you are next piqued with vanity and find yourself staring at your reflection in a mirror, think twice before uttering the word ‘Candyman’!
© Shaun Anderson 2010