There was this story the girl heard, well, most people she knows from back home are aware of it really, of this other girl who was babysitting one night when one of the local bad boys came round. She already had a boyfriend, but she invited him in anyway, and they started getting amorous and ended up in the bathroom where, for some reason, she got the old idea of the Candyman in her head. You know, if you say his name five times in a mirror he will appear and open you up from groin to gullet? Well, she said it and nothing happened, so the bad boy went downstairs, but while he was sitting in the living room, he heard a scream and blood statted to pour from a patch in the ceiling...
Urban legends were the theme of Candyman, the biggest hit to be created from the work of British horror writer Clive Barker. The original short story had been set in England, but director Bernard Rose found that to get the money to make the film version, he had to relocate it to America, not that it made much difference to the quality of the tale. It was odd that for some, Candyman was simply another throwaway slasher movie, yet to others it was one of the scariest films of the decade, with very little middle ground in that opinion, but those who dismissed it as brainless shocker fodder, who included Philip Glass whose score here was one of the best of the nineties, were frankly misguided.
This was no repeat of the usual Freddy Krueger or Jason Vorhees cash machines, it was an intelligent way of putting those characters and their films in a proper context. Everyone who watches these things, even casually, has had the conversation where they relate the highlights of the scares and effects, so here Rose translated that into comparing such activity to the relation of urban legends, modern folk tales, a category for which horror movies fit into very snugly indeed. The main character is Helen Lyle (Virginia Madsen), a university researcher delving into the subject of those friend of a friend stories which do the rounds and have been for many years, with each new generation believing they are the first to have heard them.
The tale that intrigues Helen is that Candyman one, as she hears from cleaning women at the University of Illinois there is a genuine belief that he is an actual entity which has been responsible for a number of deaths in the inner city housing project they hail from. Taking her fellow researcher Bernadette (Kasi Lemmons) with her for moral support, Helen ventures to the tower block where a sensational murder occured recently and begins snooping around, snapping photographs. The mere act of getting too close to actual horror as opposed to the made up stuff she has been studying has a strange effect on her, and soon she has become mixed up with what appears to be the vengeful spirit of the Candyman (Tony Todd), a son of a slave lynched for getting his white lover pregnant over a hundred years ago.
We are asked to make up our own minds whether this is all in Helen's head, or whether she has tapped into a supernatural figure who has seen a way of bolstering the fear he needs to prevail in the modern world through this naive young woman. A weird romance is conjured up between them, with the Candyman getting Helen into all sorts of trouble - including baby kidnap and eventually murder - but there's a definite attraction between them which alludes to, but does not outright state, messages of race and sex and how we react to them in a social context. Of course, this need not trouble you if you want a straightforward horror movie, but there's a depth here that was rarely as effectively handled when many of its peers were opting for the succession of "Boo!" scares and gore in lieu of any substance. Couple that to a terrific performance from Madsen which keeps you guessing in its woozy fashion, and Todd on top form as the man of Helen's nightmares, and the result was a film that is still underrated, but was a gem nonetheless.