'Candyman': THR's 1992 Review

Courtesy of Photofest
There's a new bogeyman in town, and he makes all other pretenders to the terror throne look like a bunch of cuddly Disney characters.

On Oct. 16, 1992, Bernard Rose's Candyman hit theaters. Based on a Clive Barker short story, the film centered on a Chicago grad student investigating an urban legend about a hook-handed killer who could be summoned by saying his name five times in the mirror. THR's original review is below.  

So long, Freddy. Take a hike, Jason. Hasta la vista, Chucky. There’s a new bogeyman in town and he makes all other pretenders to the terror throne look like a bunch of cuddly Disney characters by comparison. He’s called the Candyman, but bears absolutely no relation to the guy who can take a rainbow and sprinkles it with dew. This Candyman can elicit some bona fide shivers while the picture that bears his name is high-caliber horror in its purest, most primal form.

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British director Bernard Rose, who previously demonstrated a unique take on the genre with 1988’s disturbingly surreal Paperhouse, has taken a short story by horrormeister Clive Barker and transplanted it from Liverpool to Chicago. Trading on the theme of urban mythology, Candyman concerns itself with an ambitious, no-nonsense doctoral student of anthropology (Virginia Madsen) who has selected as her thesis the subject of oral folklore and superstition.

Her research takes her to Cabrini Green, a (real) Chicago public housing project that has degenerated into a boarded-up ghetto overtaken by gangs. A vicious, unsolved murder had been committed on the site, said to be the work of Candyman, a hook-handed killer who could be summoned by repeating his name more than four times while looking into a mirror.

Dubious and receiving little support from her philandering college professor husband (Xander Berkeley), Helen digs a little too deep, only to discover you can’t keep a good bogeyman down.

Keeping the tone taut, Rose heightens the suspense by bringing out his main attraction as late into the film as possible. And as portrayed by 6-foot-5, classically trained actor Tony Todd, Candyman is indeed a powerful presence with a baritone rasp that is both frightening and seductive. As the initially skeptical Helen, Madsen turns in a sturdy performance combining strength of conviction with just the right amount of vulnerability to ensure maximum audience identification.

Among the supporting performers, Vanessa Williams (the actress, not the singer) is similarly strong as a fiercely independent ghetto mother, while Berkeley is effective as Helen’s unfaithful husband.

Candyman’s special effects are equally impressive, particularly indoor scenes involving the principals and thousands of swarming bees wrangled by in-demand entomologist Dr. Norman Gary, whose work was recently seen in My Girl and Fried Green Tomatoes. Meanwhile, cinematographer Anthony B. Richmond forgoes the usual dark shadows by shooting his subjects in direct light, giving Candyman a decided edge over his nocturnal counterparts.

And noted composer Philip Glass has contributed a gothic, ethereal score that distinguishes the proceedings from the usual synth-and-strings drone. — Michael Rechtshaffen, first published on Sept. 14, 1992