Of all the sweets to be found on Scream Factory’s recent Collector’s Edition Blu-ray release of Bernard Rose’s Candyman, one of the most interesting features is the audio commentary by authors Stephen Jones and Kim Newman. One of four bonus tracks on the disc, the duo’s talk is a lively discussion boasting interesting perspectives on the film, Candyman creator Clive Barker’s work, and much more. It’s on that track that a surprising revelation was made.
As Jones tells it, Barker’s short story “The Forbidden” (the basis for Candyman) first saw the light of day back in 1985 in his horror fiction semiprozine Fantasy Tales. This means that a Barker story had been published in advance of its appearance in his Books of Blood anthology series, as “The Forbidden” wouldn’t arrive until later that year with Volume V. This should be noteworthy for both fans and collectors, as most of the author’s initial, shorter works apparently made their inaugural appearances in those volumes, rather than other anthologies, fanzines, etc.
Upon hearing this, your writer immediately tracked down a copy to purchase (thank you, eBay). Blame it on both my horror fandom and my being a comic book nerd, but I couldn’t pass up the opportunity of adding the first print appearance of a horror icon to my collection. After a long week’s wait, I finally had the issue in hand. While I’d read the short story many times before, I couldn’t help but open up the tiny, digest-sized mag and make a seriously cool discovery.
Directly preceding “The Forbidden” was a two-page spread announcing the story’s title and an illustration of the story’s supernatural villain. That’s right, for the story’s first publication, “The Forbidden” was graced with what would be the very first depiction of Barker’s character, over a half decade before Tony Todd would portray him onscreen!
While Todd’s presentation of Candyman as a regal monster in a fur-trimmed coat differed greatly from Barker’s description of his villain (waxy jaundiced skin, rouged cheeks, blue lips, eyes like rubies, and a patchwork coat are all given mention), so too does Fantasy Tales artist John Stewart’s own image deviate from the author’s words – giving us a beastly man in silhouette with wild hair and a far more elaborate hook hand than was shown in the later films. Bees abound in the image, which also gives us glimpses of the graffiti-lined doorway that features prominently in the story, as well as the razor-blades-and-sweets image that Rose would later tackle in his film version. It’s a fascinating first look at what would eventually become an iconic monster, if for no other reason than its considerable differences from its literary inspiration and the eventual cinematic boogeyman we got onscreen.
With renewed interest in the character set to explode with Jordan Peele’s production of director Nia DaCosta’s upcoming “spiritual sequel” to Rose’s film, it’s a perfect time to revisit Barker’s original story and ruminate on how the horror icon we have might have turned out very, very differently in other hands…