Candyman (1992) – UHD Review

1992’s Candyman is undeniably British auteur Bernard Rose’s most well-known film, but it’s also most likely his best—although Paperhouse and the early DV feature ivansxtc are certainly worth seeking out. It’s also the best film of the Candyman franchise, despite 2021’s soft reboot/sequel’s honorable attempt to bring the franchise back to its socio-political roots with a script by Jordan Peele. The themes of gentrification and class stem from the Clive Barker short story that originated the project, but in the original film Rose ingeniously transferred the Liverpool setting of the story to the Cabrini–Green projects in Chicago, which brought issues around race and the history of slavery into the story.

Candyman is probably the best straight-ahead horror film of the ’90s, a decade that, to be honest, wasn’t always the best for the genre. It’s an intelligent horror film made by a director who skews towards art-house cinema with a genre component. Rose was able to create a thematically rich character with his leading man, Tony Todd, calling back to the romantic monsters of the Universal horror films and giving Black audience what is for all intents and purposes a “Black Dracula.” It ends up being an inter-racial love story involving a white grad student, Helen Lyle (Virginia Madsen) who awakens the urban myth known as Candyman. It also deals with the trauma of slavery that was written out of history through the Reconstruction era, Candyman is the spirit of an African-American artist whose father was a slave. After the son falls in love with a white woman and impregnates her, he is killed by a lynch mob led by her father.

The film’s atmosphere is heightened enormously by the score by Philip Glass, which enhances the gothic fairy tale that Rose is telling. It’s the best completely original score Glass has done outside of Mishima: A Life in Four Chapters. The fatal flaw of the 2021 film for me was the near-absence of the Glass score, which is so evocative that the film felt almost incomplete without it. The cinematography is by Anthony B. Richmond, who also shot some of Nicolas Roeg’s most essential films including Don’t Look Now and The Man Who Fell to Earth, which elevates what could have been a fairly bland-looking horror film into something visually breathtaking. Roeg is clearly Rose’s main cinematic influence on his body of work, so it would make sense for Rose to hire him when he gets a chance to play with the big boy toys.

The two central performances are some of the best in the genre during the ’90s. Tony Todd has a very distinctive voice that is authoritative and completely terrifying but switches to becoming eventually sympathetic when the story calls for it. Virginia Madsen is an actress who has only gotten better when she has aged even at this earliest stage gives is a strong turn as the grad student who is writing her thesis with Bernadetta (Kasi Lemmons) on how the community uses the urban legend of Candyman to deal with the hardships of living in Cabrini–Green.

Candyman remains a high watermark of the horror genre in the ’90s. You could probably tear some of the racial politics of the film apart, since it’s mainly told through the eyes of this privileged middle-class white woman who places herself where she doesn’t belong. But the film cleverly tries to subvert what would be a white saviour narrative, and also gets into how Candyman represents the white demonization of the Black man during Reconstruction. The last act may have a few minor issues, but it’s a beautifully made piece of intelligent horror filmmaking, released at a time when there was very little of that. Just don’t say Candyman Candyman Candyman Candyman…..

The UHD release from Arrow Video is basically a 4K upgrade of the two-disc limited edition that came out in 2018. The various commentary tracks, interviews with cast and crew, Bernard Rose’s ’70s student films etc. are all included. It’s probably a release that would be ideal for somebody who missed out the two-disc Blu-Ray edition, because the contents of the UK theatrical disc are replicated here as well, including the 28-minute interview with Clive Barker. The transfer is from the same 4K scan that was applied to the 2K scan for the original Blu-Ray, but it’s of notably higher quality. The double-sided poster, booklet and lobby cards are the same as the previous Blu-Ray.

★★★★½

Ian Schultz

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