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Sweets to the Sweet – ‘Candyman’ Celebrates 25 Years

Sweets to the Sweet – ‘Candyman’ Celebrates 25 Years

This month marks the 25th anniversary of Bernard Rose’s Candyman – a beautiful and haunting film that is just as effective, relevant and terrifying today as it was upon its release. Based on a short story by Clive Barker, Candyman gives us a horror boogeyman who lives within his own legend, killing to spread rumors of his deeds and then feeding on belief.

In Candyman, graduate student Helen Lyle (Virginia Madsen) is studying the history and effects of urban legends. Her research takes her to the Chicago housing project, Cabrini-Green. Long known for crime and gang-perpetrated violence, it is also home to the legend of Candyman – a vicious figure with a hook in place of his hand who will appear should you dare whisper his name five times while staring into a mirror.

Like all good ghost stories, Candyman’s legend is rooted in fact. He was born the son of an affluent freed slave. His father had achieved a great amount of wealth after the Civil War and Candyman was raised as a part of Chicago society. That is, until he made the mistake of falling in love with the daughter of a wealthy businessman. Candyman was hunted down and viciously murdered by an angry mob in the location where Cabrini-Green would eventually come to be built, and his spirit and legend are a very present part of the complex. Kept alive and fed through stories of horrific violence, his presence is more than a scary story told in the dark, as he hold sway over the residents of the projects. As Helen’s research brings her closer to his story, she finds herself becoming more entwined in his influence, becoming a part of his legend herself.

The film is singular in the way it portrays its boogeyman. The Candyman relies on the legend surrounding him to flourish, keeping the people of Cabrini-Green whispering and glancing fearfully into the shadows for some sign of his presence. He feeds on the anxiety and fear generated from his story. Rose skillfully builds on the way ghost stories are spread to tell the tale of Candyman, using the idea of how legends evolve and last to give its titular character life and power. Candyman was created through an act of violence, but he continues to exist because his legend has become larger than life itself.

A particularly fascinating component of this film is the setting of the story. We rarely see ghost stories told in such a distinctly urban environment. Small towns, suburbs, old houses and isolated locales are plentiful, but we don’t often see a ghost story set among the concrete spires of a city. Ghosts, at their core, represent something old and antiquated. Something of the past. Cities represent the present. The now. The two rarely come together in supernatural storytelling, but Candyman demonstrates that even the most modern of settings can have a dark backstory that haunts it to its core.

This setting is further solidified by giving the Candyman character distinctly American roots. Barker’s original story, set in Liverpool, examined class as an underlying theme, and didn’t really give the Candyman a backstory.  By setting it in the United States and making Candyman a Black man, Rose added another layer of complexity to the film. This incorporation of race ties the film more distinctly to America’s history and links it to inequalities that are still a part of our society today. Candyman was killed by a racist mob, and his spirit now resides and roots its legend in the walls of a housing complex – a place where the new elite have pushed the poorer people of color. He is a spirit that was very of his time when he was killed, and is still of our time in the modern setting of the story – a link between past and present.

The story is brought to life by an incredible cast. Genre legend Tony Todd inhabits the role of Candyman beautifully. Coming on the heels of Tom Savini’s Night of the Living Dead remake in 1990, Candyman cemented Todd as a horror centerpiece. His portrayal of the tragic boogeyman is both alluring and terrifying. Like Helen, we are inexplicably drawn to Candyman whenever he’s onscreen, yet fearful of him at the same time. His deep voice softly imploring her, “Be my victim” is beautifully hypnotic. As entrancing as he is, he is also brutal. The film doesn’t skimp on the gore, and Candyman is not afraid to rip his victims to pieces as he sees fit. It is this brutality that makes his allure all the more dangerous.

Virginia Madsen provides an excellent counterpart in Helen. She is intelligent and insightful and refuses to be deterred as she searches for the truth behind the events terrorizing Cabrini-Green. Her ambition is ultimately her undoing when it leads her headlong into Candyman’s grasp, but it is also what keeps her fighting. Kasi Lemmons and Xander Berkeley round out the cast in vital supporting roles.

As vital as the story and cast is in bringing this classic to life, so too is the phenomenal score by Philip Glass. Beautiful and haunting, it perfectly sets the tone of the film.  It captures the elegance of the world that Candyman came from while also creating an air of unease and mystery.

Candyman is a unique and fascinating film that captured our minds and nightmares twenty-five years ago and still has them in its grip today. This is a film that is socially relevant and amazingly effective. It is a tale for the ages that will draw you in and leave you whispering Candyman’s name in the dead of night…just be sure you don’t get to number five.



  • James

    Such an excellent film. One of the few movies that actually spook me when I was growing up.

    And that voice…Tony Todd was perfect.

  • The chicken man

    It creeps me out to this day. Such an amazing, haunting movie.

  • Frankenstein


    • HarryIsAScam

      It is on blu ray.

      • Frankenstein

        yeah an import for me…with a mediocre transfer and zero special features..meh

  • I’m still trying to figure out why this film doesn’t get more attention. This brilliant work of horror cinema should be a bonafied classic by now. Easily the second best Clive Barker adaptation, only behind Hellraiser (and it’s close).

  • Bart Crowe

    That Philip Glass theme is criminally underrated.

    • Christian

      The whole score is beautiful.

  • Boydon

    ughhhh i am fucking livid that netflix decided to remove it just as i was gearing up to revisit it for the anniversary.

  • Boydon

    btw this is a great read about the title sequence, if anyone’s interested:

  • Demented Daniel

    All these other crap-tastic movies we get on blu-ray, and yet, still no Candyman…

    • Chad Langen

      Candyman is on Blu-ray. I have it.

      • frodawgg

        I don’t know where you are, but there’s not one here in the US. I have the European import, which suffices for now, but the quality seems like it simply a DVD transfer. They really need to put out a proper HD remaster, with surround sound. Unless it was originally in stereo (IMDb notes Dolby, but doesn’t specify the mix), the sound mix on the disc is doing it a disservice.

  • Christian

    Be my victim.

  • sliceanddice

    rewatched this for the anniversary and once again bowled over by odds (almost entirely vocal) performance.

  • Christopher Alan

    Saw this in the theatres back when I was 10 years old with my dad. I absolutely love horror movies always have but this movie scared the shit outta me and stuck with me for a while. I was afraid of the bathroom for at least the next 2 months months after I saw it. To this day it’s one of the very few films that really frightened me.

    • MrX13

      Frighten me as well, I would say CandyMan maybe two times in the mirror but too chicken sh!t to say it a third time….hahaha. It was a great movie and appreciate it for what it was.

  • Elizabeth

    Candyman is such a gorgeous movie. And it proves that horror stories can be adapted in a classy way, while still being scary.

  • Jeremy Cropf

    Incredible film! I had the chance to interview the director Bernard Rose and do a 25th anniversary retrospective of the film on the SIFF podcast here:


    Well-written article. Thanks for posting it! I’m glad to see you’re writing here now.

  • Weresmurf

    This is one of the most amazing modern American Gothic films I’ve ever seen. I still love revisiting it. The way it’s shot, the way it captures the slums, making them feel otherworldly, the way it makes everything have an almost transcendent beauty to them. There’s just something about this film that was never captured in any subsequent sequel, that held Candyman above the other horror movies at the time, I would say only Hellraiser II around this time period came close.

    • MrX13

      For sure, a different type of horror movie set in a different time and location. It worked well and still is creepy af. Loved the first CandyMan!

  • Steve Newton

    am I the only person in the world who thought Candyman

    • thetrueflesh

      Yes you are.




    This deserves a remake

  • Nicolas Caiveau

    I suddenly realize that Candyman 3 takes place nowadays, though released in 1999. It was suppoded to take place 22 years after Candyman 2, which took place in 1995. So Candyman 3 takes place in 2017 ! Time to release Candyman 4 to me^^

  • Ryan

    One of my favorite horror movies! I wish a new film would have been made by now, but the first 2 are fun watches during this time of the year!

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