Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Sweets To the Sequel

I don’t think it’s an overstatement to call Candyman one of the best horror films of the ‘90s. Admittedly, this was a rather unimpressive decade that lie in a hazy hibernation until the deserved success of Scream, but still: Bernard Rose’s 1992 thriller about an urban legend’s hold on the Chicago projects remains a genuine classic for its rich atmosphere, striking visuals, haunting score, and complex and immediately iconic villain. 
A few years back, I caught some bits of the laughable third entry into the Candyman franchise on cable and deemed it a series unworthy of my attention past its innovative debut. Only recently did I discover that the first sequel, Candyman: Farewell to the Flesh, was directed by Bill Condon, the impressive maestro behind Kinsey, Gods & Monsters, and the underrated (and not quite Doll’s House appropriate) Dreamgirls. Dude even produced this year's classy, Hugh Jackman toe-tapping Oscars ceremony. His name alone convinced me to give the ol’ rusty hook one more try.
Quick Plot: The legend of Candyman continues to be whispered by schoolchildren and utilized by criminals. The smug historian of the first film, Dr. Purcell (I don’t know that they ever call him Dr.; I just assume ‘cause I’m confident that way) has written a book about the Cabrini Green legend and is on quite the publicity tour,  hitting up bookstores in New Orleans with publicity stunts and pretentious ponytailed snobbery. 

Upon summoning the slave-turned-slaughterer for his latest autograph-seeking audience, Purcell runs into Ethan Tarrant, a fiery redhead with dead daddy issues and lingering Candyman obsessions. A drunken argument ensues, driving Purcell into a public bathroom where he gets the first of three jump scares involving mirrors and black men that are not Candyman. Not surprisingly, his next mirror visitor is none other than Tony Todd himself, back with a fierce whisper and an entourage of bees.

We’re soon introduced to our main protagonist, Annie Tarrant (Kelly Rowan, now grown up after The Gate), middle school art teacher, sister of now wrongfully imprisoned Ethan, daughter of southern lush Veronica Cartwright (yes!), and wife to an obnoxiously cheerful husband. When her students start to fistfight over the existence of you-know-who, Annie teaches them a lesson by pulling the old say-his-name-five-times-in-a-mirror trick. Sighs of relief are breathed, backs are patted, and by nighttime, the dessert-making Mr. Annie is gutted to our extreme relief. 

Naturally, Candyman doesn’t stop with just one kill. Much like his flirtations with Virginia Madsen’s Helen, he keeps appearing to Annie in closed rooms to glide his hook over her chest, whisper empty promises, and reveal the intestines of any poor sap dumb enough to come too close to his latest obsession. Annie, meanwhile, learns that her family has a pretty fertile link to one Mr. Daniel Robitaille, which I’ll reveal following the mandatory spoiler alert:
Before he was the bloodthirsty, mirror-powered slicer, Candyman impregnated Caroline Sullivan, a plantation owner’s daughter who eventually gave birth to Annie & Ethan’s great grandmother, thus making our heroine the great great granddaughter of the titular murderer. Thus, he’s quite keen on having her die at his hands so they can be together in the underworld of milk and honey. Or something.

While I enjoyed Candyman: Farewell to the Flesh as a fairly decent if unimpressive sequel, my biggest problem was the basic fogginess of the actual plot. What, precisely, is Candyman planning on doing with Annie? Signing adoption papers in hell and raising a family? Calling her Line, the fetus Sinker, and starting a serial killer rock band to front next year’s Mardi Gras festivities? The film tries hard to ground Candyman’s tragic history in New Orleans folklore, but the actual purpose of his specialized hunting remains an idea rather than anything solid to hold onto.
High Points
The performances all around are quite solid, something that is incredibly vital for a mid-level horror film. Had Rowan, Todd, or even the scenery-chewing Cartwright phoned in their work, this would be a very different review

Although I find the slums of inner city Chicago a far more frightening and interesting setting, Condon does an excellent job establishing the many faces of his New Orleans location
Low Points
I guess when you have a score as powerful as Philip Glass’s unsettling chords, it pays to reuse the musical cues. At the same time, there are too many moments where the background sound overtakes the action, making us far more interested in closing our eyes to listen than keeping them open to watch
1995 was still the early days of CGI, but that doesn’t quite excuse the cartoonish swarm of bees that looks laughable in an already messy flashback sequence
Perhaps he works better as a mysterious character mostly hidden in the shadows, but Tony Todd feels rather wasted here. How many lines like “Let your fear nourish you?” can one man be forced to menacingly whisper?

Lessons Learned
The guy using the public bathroom stall beside you is not impressed by the fact that you wrote a book
Paper needs something on it because it has nothing on it
Forget ept: Candyman is a far more economical and far less icky solution for pregnancy detection

Just because your mother is a stereotypical aging southern belle does not imply that you will inherit any trace of a N’Orlans accent
Whining under your breath “C’mon guys,” will not prevent homeless gangs from looking at your car. Nor will wearing an earring

While this film comes nowhere near the horrific and surprising success of its predecessor, it’s a minor worthwhile viewing for any fan of the surprisingly small, not surprisingly soon-to-be-rebooted franchise. The DVD’s sole feature is a commentary by Bill Condon which could certainly be a solid investment, but unless you’re building a collection of before-they-were-truly-famous directorial features or the Tony Todd ouvre, I’d recommend a rental for a Sunday afternoon. 


  1. My mom is a stereotypical aging Southern Belle and I think that I've inherited a Nawlins accent. Typically films set in N.O. run the gammut and this one's okay. Angel Heart is probably the best, whereas Dennis Quaid's accent in The Big Easy is probably the best rendition. There's also Fulci's The Beyond, which is a whole other can of spiders. Anyway, very nice review, again, Emily.

  2. I haven't been to New Orleans since I was a kid, so I can never recall how much in a film is stereotype, how much is genuine, and how much is catered to tourists. I did like that Candyman showed the different parts of the city, from the suburban streets to the colorful Mardi Gras festivities. I love the idea of Mardi Gras, but movies have taught me I never want to be near it for fear of catching vomit on my shoes. Not sure how truthful a depiction that is.

    And I've never seen Angel Heart, but it's been sitting smack in the middle of my queue for some time. Perhaps it will get a bump.

    Thanks for stopping by Hans! And where's that eXistenZ review?

  3. eXistenZ? Totally forgot. I'm certain now to watch it again and prep for review. I believe that you'll love Angel Heart. 50s N.O., and Rourke is a New Yorker going South to solve a mystery. You should also go to Mardi Gras, especially when you're young. My partying days are over. Don't worry about vomit on your shoes: it won't eat thru your skin. I promise.:)

  4. It won't eat through my skin, but does that mean I'll need to buy new shoes? Because I really despise shopping more and more as I get older and further away from Mardi Gras appropriate age. Not quite as much as I hate being melted by demonic puke, but it's just such a hassle.

    Looking forward to your eXistenZ thoughts.

  5. I think the first Candyman is a classic horror film with its powerful music saturating the grime and stark Cabrini Green setting. Very haunting.

    I have seen the very powerful (!) third entry in the Candyman series more recently and more often than the second film since it seems to play on cable from time to time. So that kind of clouds my memories of the second film quite a bit, but some of it came back reading your review.

    I will have to revisit this one again some time...I didn't know that Condon directed it. Gods and Monster is a fine piece of cinema and incidentally, also attached to Clive Barker. I wonder if there is any connection there.

    Magical review..."pretentious ponytailed snobbery" is so funny!!

  6. I never would have thought to check it out had I not discovered the Condon connection. The guy even made a good Oscars ceremony! As far as a film goes, Candyman 2 is nothing that special but it's not an awful way to follow up the original (unlike, say, part 3!).

    I don't know that Barker had much to do with Farewell to the Flesh, but a name goes a long way so who knows. I'll have to Nancy Drew that fact a tad more.

    Thanks as always for your comments Matt!