Sidewinder’s View: “Candyman” (1992)

Watched the movie Candyman again recently. I first caught the film during its initial theatrical release in October 1992. My opinion back then was, yeah, I liked it, it wasn’t bad, but…

I couldn’t quite put my finger on what it was about the movie I didn’t like, what kept me from recommending to fellow Horror fans I knew. It just didn’t knock me out like I’d hoped it would. Something about the movie just seemed…off.

Now, after some years have passed, I’ve finally figured it out. And, as a result, my opinion of the movie’s considerably less than it was the first time around.

With his first line of dialogue, Candyman makes no bones about his killing of innocents. Then the movie tries positioning him as some sort of vengeful, righteous victim- turned-supernatural-monster…who derives power from his flock (the local poor and downtrodden residents of the Chicago housing project Candyman haunts) and their fearful belief in him.

When that belief is jeopardized by Virginia Madsen’s character’s efforts to de-mythologize his legend, Candyman exacts what is, essentially, a PR stunt by slaughtering several innocent people, even threatening to slaughter an infant he’s abducted, while framing Madsen for the crimes, also, because…

…uh, she physically resembles his lover from the forbidden affair that led to his fatal lynching in a past life by a mob of racists over a hundred years earlier. And he wants to get back together with her, or some such convoluted thing.

So: the Candyman character’s intended to be scary and sympathetic, at least in the way the film’s writer-director, Bernard Rose, opts to depict him in the film.

Why?

Because he was lynched by a mob of racists over a hundred years ago (Okay)…maning now he’s got a license to kill (Okay)…innocents, mostly women and children (o–huh?)…because if he doesn’t, nobody will fear him anymore (what?!)…and his power, which seems merely to consist of his ability to kill innocent people or frame them for murder, will diminish. (are you f-in’ kidding me?!)

Not only do I find Candyman’s ‘sympathetic’ motivation unsympathetic, but it actually strikes me as utterly psychotic, sadistic and completely selfish. In so many words, he’s an evil SOB, plain and simple.

Now, if he were instead carrying out revenge on the actual mob of racists who lynched him and turned him into a monster, I might be able to get behind the character.

But he’s not doing that. His only real purpose? Self-aggrandizement, feeding his own ego, his own twisted vanity, via the pointless suffering of innocents, yet the filmmakers have the audacity to position him as some sort of tragic monster.

They failed. Any time a Horror filmmaker shoots for significance by steering their monster onto the Tragic route, as opposed to the plain ol’, traditional Scary route, it diminishes the impact of the final product.

Candyman strikes me as a partially effective, somewhat interesting failure, the product of a pretentious filmmaker embarrassed to be making a Horror picture, who, in an attempt to justify their slumming, has gratuitously tacked an Important Message onto what would otherwise be, in their view, just another silly scarefest, an irrelevant b-picture snotty critics are all too prone to dismiss.

The ‘social justice’ angle attributed to Candyman always felt disingenuous and misplaced to me, but I wasn’t sure why. Now I see it: the character’s not concerned with social justice. He’s merely a narcissist on an ego trip.

He’s not seeking any kind of justice, neither for himself or for his ‘flock’. He just wants his ‘flock’ to fear him. Great character to have for your movie’s monster, yeah, but don’t tell me we ought to feel sorry for him. Sympathy for the guy he was, sure, the guy who got lynched, but…that’s not who he is now. Now he’s a straight-up monster. That’s it.

With the sadistic and brutal Candyman, the filmmakers seem to be telling us ‘society made him do it’.

I call BS on that.

I believe in individual responsibility for one’s own actions.

Generational guilt is BS. The sins of the fathers are not the sins of the sons.

Collective guilt is for terminally confused, indecisive cowards and Stalinist control freaks.

I didn’t see it at the time, but my gut feeling on this issue is largely what prevented me from liking the film.

And, on a lesser note, another reason I couldn’t get behind the movie had to do with the hopelessness and despair of the Madsen character’s predicament.

I guess I just don’t enjoy stories centered around characters framed for murder by supernatural antagonists and forced to endure the worst kinds of personal loss, especially when the story wraps up, as Candyman does, with the framed character dying a horrible death after having lost everything else.

At a certain point in the story, it became painfully clear Madsen’s character was powerless, her life so royally fucked, courtesy of Candyman’s self-serving, lethal smear campaign against her, that her only remaining option was oblivion.

I find it difficult to remain emotionally invested in a movie when its protagonist is so obviously doomed. There’s no longer any real suspense left in the story, just a series of narrative downbeats punctuated by a finale ripped straight from the pages of Nihilism For Dummies.

The fact that Madsen’s character returns as a murderous “Candywoman” who takes revenge on her philandering husband doesn’t make up for her previous downward spiral being such a bummer. A pretentious, self-satisfied bummer at that.

Tragic and sympathetic monsters need to stay in the arthouse, where audiences aren’t expecting scares, but Important Statements dressed up in genre trappings.

Y’know, the more I think about this movie, the less I think of it. It starts off strongly enough, but at a certain point, the story and its characters just lose me.

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