Death in the Mirror
Unlike most horror movies, Candyman, Clive Barker's latest, has an interesting plot. It suspends disbelief and provides plenty of freaky things to ponder. But that doesn't mean it isn't scary. It's scary. After seeing it, you may need someone to hold your hand whenever you look in the mirror.
The story is pretty easy for college students to relate to. Helen (Virginia Madsen) is writing a doctoral thesis on urban myths at the University of Illinois-Chicago. In the course of her research, she stumbles upon the myth of Candyman, a mysterious being who rips people's guts out with a hook. After hearing that residents of a housing project attribute a recent murder to Candyman, she decides to investigate.
Candyman, she learn, was a Black portrait artist who impregnated a white subject centuries ago. An angry mob chased him to the present location of the housing project, sawed off his hand with a rusty blade, covered him with honey and let bees sting him to death. Helen's investigations yield some great material, but Candyman takes a fancy to her--she looks just like his lover--and puts a crimp in her style.
The movie is an effective mixture of fantasy and reality--you're never quite sure whether Candyman is real--but there are weak moments. The portrayal of the academic lifestyle is ridiculous: at a dinner, Helen tells a professor that she will "bury" him with her findings, and the professor sneeringly refers her to an article he wrote on Candyman 10 years ago. When her research partner gets killed, you almost expect her to be happy over her increased prospects for tenure.
But in general, the direction skillfully manipulates time and distance to create moments of pee-in-your-pants terror. From the ominous overhead shots of Chicago's freeways to the imposing grayness of the University of Illinois, the dark backdrop intensifies the terror. And terror abounds, most notably during Helen's psychiatric exam and her memorable first kiss with Candyman (his mouth is filled with bees). The soundtrack by Philip Glass is appropriately haunting.
Perhaps the most intriguing aspect of the movie is its treatment of interracial relationships. Candyman was killed because he violated the taboos of a racist society. But even in 1992 he has problems wooing Helen. In the final moments of the movie, Candyman offers Helen the prospect of immortal partnership with him and a baby he kidnapped from the projects.
But this interracial family (from hell) is not to be. Helen kills Candyman and takes over for him as number one hook-wielding psychopath. The spirit of Candyman lives on, but in a lily white--albeit burnt--body. Racial integration is possible on a very limited scale. Whites can integrate Black culture but cannot mingle with Blacks.
In early American drama and frontier fiction, a mythical American spirit embodied by an Indian hero lives on through white people even though the hero dies. "American" culture is transferred to Europeans without the threat of intermarriage. In a retelling of this story--a Black replaces the Indian figure--Candyman accepts its own problematic version of Black culture as American, but this American spirit survives only in a middle-class white body.
directed by Bernard Rose
Starring: Virginia Madsen