review by Patrick Samuel

Directed by Bernard Rose, Candyman is based on a short story called “The Forbidden” written by horror-meister Clive Barker. My first encounter with Candyman came back in 1993 when my older brother had just rented it on video and asked me if I wanted to watch it with him. Sure, why not. I was already used to horror movies by then, having grown up on an unhealthy diet of them by the time I was 10 years old, so Candyman didn’t seem like a big deal. To my surprise and horror though, I found myself only able to watch about 30 minutes of it, I found the suspense and tension coupled with the eerie Gothic music too much to take and always had the feeling in the pit of my stomach that something really horrible was about to happen. It wasn’t until 1995 that I was able to sit down and watch the film again in its entirety and I was glad to finally be able to do it. Although I couldn’t sleep that night.

The film’s protagonist is a graduate student, Helen Lyle (played by Virginia Madsen) who is researching for a thesis on urban legends. While out interviewing college students about stories and urban myths they might have heard while growing up, she gets to hear about the Candyman (played by Tony Todd). According to the legend, Candyman appears to whoever looks into a mirror and calls his name 5 times. As Helen starts to investigate the story further she finds herself drawn deeper and deeper into Cabrini Green, a run down part of Chicago famous for its poverty, violent crimes and murders and at the same time her own personal life begins to spiral beyond her control. Candyman starts to become a little too real for her especially when she defiantly, and ultimately, stands in front of the mirror and summons him. Unsure of what is real or a hallucination anymore, Helen loses her grip on the world and her mind as Candyman tightens his grip on her. It’s a terrifying, gritty and tragic fairytale, but one that is rich in the world it portrays and the characters who bring it all to life.

I guess what scared me so much about Candyman was that it felt a little bit too close to comfort. As a young teen, I was growing up on a low income housing estate with my family in a run down part of in East London which didn’t look too different from Cabrini Green, but also, I had heard similar legends myself. I remember being told as a little boy to never look into a mirror after midnight. Friends at school once told me a friend of their friend’s looked into a mirror after midnight and saw the Devil looking right back at him. OK, so perhaps I was a wee bit gullible at the time, but the Lord’s honest truth is even to this day I will not look into a mirror once it’s gone past midnight, even if I walk past it I won’t look into it. An important thing to remember about urban legends is that it never happens to anyone you know, it’s always a friend of a friends, or your brother’s mate, or you next door neighbour’s friend’s uncle’s girlfriend it happened to. That’s the main identifying feature of an urban myth if you’ve ever heard one, and that’s what the film taps into; the ambiguity of it and not being sure at all if the killings are being done by a mere man or a monster from beyond the grave.

While Candyman spawned 2 sequels, it goes without saying that the original is by far the best. The second movie is worth seeing after though; it takes place in New Orleans and manages to take the story a little further, explaining more about Candyman when he was a man and what happened to his family after his death. It paints a very vivid picture of life in deep south during colonial times and of New Orleans pre-Katrina, as much as it did with Cabrini Green and I think that is the strongest thing about these movies; they show you how these horrors are created, and not just Candyman, but the real horrors such as poverty, crime and violence.

Candyman was one of the last few great horror movies of the early 90’s, in the days before the post-modern slasher movie, the reality TV show angle and the post 9/11, based-on-video-game and nuclear fallout/zombie zone movies of the 00’s took over. Just don’t say his name in front of the mirror, no matter what you believe!



  1. The short story, The Forbidden, is set in England, but the events in the film take place in America.
  2. Sandra Bullock was second choice for the role of Helen. At the time, Sandra was still unknown and it would be another 2 years before she made her mark in Speed.
  3. In 1990, director Bernard Rose had asked composer Phillip Glass to score the music for his upcoming Candyman movie. Glass accepted the job and wrote a Gothic score for the movie with orchestration comprised of pipes and organs. However, when Clive Barker and the producers relieved Rose from his job of directing the movie and changed the direction of it, Glass felt that his work had been compromised and was deeply unhappy with the film as a finished product feeling what was initially brought to his as a low budget independent project with creative integrity had become a low budget Hollywood slasher flick. It wasn’t until 2001 that the soundtrack was finally released together with music from the sequel, Candyman 2: Farewell To The Flesh, which Glass also contributed too.
  4. “Sweets to the Sweet” which is written on the walls in two areas of Cabrini Green is actually a line from Shakespeare’s Hamlet.
  5. Cabrini Green, the area in Chicago featured in the film actually exists. Known as a public housing development, Cabrini Green also became famed for the poverty of the families it housed. With poverty came violence and crime which ravaged the area for years. Used in the film, it tied in with the idea of how people can create stories, myths and legends as scapegoats for their own problems. Cabrini Green went from being a solution to Chicago’s need for housing to becoming the equivalent to Brooklyn’s Hells Kitchen. In recent years though, in a nationwide bid to put an end to high rise public housing, houses on Cabrini Green have started to be torn down to make room for new mixed income communities. The move has angered residents who are being moved out of their homes, but the city of Chicago has assured people that they will be able to afford the new homes. Residents however feel that they are being moved from their homes because the land has become too valuable and new problems are arising because of an increase in homelessness in the area.
  6. The exterior, hallway and stairway scenes were actually filmed for a few days in the infamous Cabrini-Green housing projects, though the producers had to make a deal with the ruling gang members to put them in the movie as extras to ensure the cast and crew’s safety during filming. Even with this arrangement, a sniper put a bullet through the production van on the last day of filming, though no one was injured.
  7. Like the Cenobites in Clive Barker’s Hellraiser series, Candyman has to be summoned by the protagonist of the story as a divination ritual. As divination rituals go, they tend to vary from one culture to another; but they are practiced throughout the world. Participants in divination rituals are concerned with gaining knowledge or insight; the forbidden fruit of human beings. But as with Clive Barker stories, the knowledge and insight that come with the summoning also brings great amounts of suffering to the one who summons. While most people who perform divination rituals are accustomed to contacting the Gods, characters such as Helen who summon Candyman are contacting more a demon rather than a God and more out of curiosity and disbelief, and as a way of testing how much they know about the world, reality and what they believe.
  8. Sony Pictures, the current owners of the rights to the Candyman series, are contemplating a remake. Along with every horror movie from the last 20 years (Halloween, Texas Chainsaw Massacre, The Hills Have Eyes, Prom Night, Friday The 13th and the immanent Nightmare On Elm street), it seems that Candyman was inevitable, so you can be sure the Scream remakes are just around the corner as well.
  9. In southern parts of America, it was customary to drape cloths over mirrors in a house where a wake of the deceased was being held. It was widely believed that the deceased person’s soul could become trapped within the mirror if left uncovered instead of making its way to Heaven or Hell.
  10. Over at you’ll find what appears to be a current investigation into a haunted mirror. The investigators recently acquired what was claimed to be a haunted mirror from a guest at a private party. The owner wrote that for 10 years it had been in their family’s attic and that there have been many strange incidents such as moaning during the night, cold from the surface and reflections appearing. Sounds pretty much like a normal mirror to me, but would you dare to say the name “Bloody Mary” or “Candyman” in front of it in the dead of night? No, me neither.

While the Candyman story may not be an actual urban myth as the film describes, there are however a couple of urban myths which might have inspired its writer Clive Barker, such as Bloody Mary. Mostly told around campfires or at sleepovers, Bloody Mary appears to whoever calls her name in front of mirror 3 times (or more, depending on who’s telling the story). Mary was supposed to have been a medieval child-murdering medieval who was executed/put to death by the town’s local villagers who came back from beyond the grave to kill those speak her name. Other legends of Bloody Mary link her to Queen Mary I of England where she is driven mad by children she lost during various stages of pregnancies. Bloody Mary either scratches your eyes out when she appears, or strikes you on the head. Sometimes she is said to drive people insane by her mere appearance.

Directed by Bernard Rose
Produced by Clive Barker and Steve Golin
Written by Bernard Rose
Starring Virginia Madsen, Tony Todd, Xander Berkeley, Vanessa A. Williams
Music by Philip Glass
Cinematography Anthony B. Richmond
Editing by Dan Rae
Distributed by TriStar Pictures
Release date: October 16, 1992