“If you look in the mirror and say his name five times he will appear behind you, breathing down your neck.”
Shout Factory and their sub-label Scream Factory is easily one of the best distribution labels of horror and cult films. Over the years they have given fantastic releases to films ranging from Raising Cain to The Thing. I check monthly to see what they are working on and I was very excited to see that they had finally landed the rights to Candyman. This was always a release that seemed a natural fit for the label and had been strangely missing on Blu-ray despite being one of the best-known horror films of the Nineties. The film is loosely based on the Clive Barker short story “The Forbidden” from his Books of Blood – Book 5. I found myself recently on a bit of a spree reading his books and that short story is one of his strongest from the set. When I saw that the film was up for preorder with an exclusive poster, I couldn’t resist ordering it. My little sister and I watched it together when she came in town,
At the University of Chicago, a grad student named Helen Lyle (Virginia Madsen) writing a thesis on urban legends and their basis, comes upon the story of the Candyman. People claim that if you say his name five times in the mirror, he will show up behind you. They claim he is missing a hand and has a hook in the middle of his bloody stump. Helen wants to prove that the urban center of the city had turned to this legend to explain some of the violence that had befallen their community. While doing research, she finds that her apartment used to be a housing project. She investigates several unexplained deaths attributed to the Candyman and finds a unique anomaly in the housing design in the projects. All of them have a wall in the bathroom that shares a mirror with the other side of the wall. This leads her to believe that the people that had been attacked by the Candyman were attacked from behind the mirror. Helen learns from another professor the story regarding Candyman (Tony Hale) and how he had lost his hand. He apparently was an artist and former slave. When he was found to have a relation with a white woman, the townspeople cut off his hand. They smeared a honeycomb on him from an apiary and allowed the bees to sting him to death. His ashes were spread where they built a housing project. As Helen investigates the housing project where his ashes were spread, she puts herself in danger both natural and supernatural.
The Nineties is an era that gets a bad rap for its horror films. I love horror from the Eighties and giallo films from the Seventies, but I also like horror from the Nineties – especially Lord of Illusions and Candyman. These two films share one thing in common – they are both based on short stories by Clive Barker. Barker’s stories and the films based on them are uncommonly intelligent even if they are not for everyone. Barker is too morbid for some, and for others he goes just a little too far into the fantastic. For myself, I like his books and movies for the amount of imagination that goes into them. His short story served as a small framework for what Candyman became. Under the direction of Bernard Rose, the film evolved into something more expansive and in my opinion even better. The film chose to be set in Chicago rather than working class England. The film chose to have African American actors in prominent roles and to make racial identity important to the film. None of that is in the story. The film manages to encompass the feeling of the story while being very different. Clive Barker was happy with the final product and as a viewer I feel safe in saying that you will enjoy it also.
While schlock was par for the course in most horror films from the early Nineties, Candyman reveled in bringing as much sophistication as it could to the subject matter that amounted to a retelling of the Bloody Mary urban legend. How many horror films from that time period would be able to coax modern classical music impresario Philip Glass to compose the soundtrack? Only director Bernard Rose would have the gall to bring this project to the same composer that had been used primarily for the documentary films by Errol Morris – one of the most beloved documentary filmmakers of all time. Bernard Rose approached the film as an art film and came out with something special. That is not to say that this film does not use a lot of familiar horror tropes. The film uses a lot of the jump scare tactics and there are scenes of violence that exhibit some bloodlust that is not common to many other types of films. What is surprising is that when the film first went to the ratings board, they tried to give it the dreaded NC-17 rating. In order to get an R-rating they shortened one killing scene and reduced the amount of blood that hits Helen’s face. This change achieves almost nothing but is the difference between the Unrated and Rated R cuts.
The acting in the film is strong. Virginia Madsen has proven her chops in numerous films and is good in the lead role. Tony Todd delivers one of the great horror-villain performances as the Candyman himself. Todd was excellent casting due to his strong build, unconventionally handsome looks, and booming voice. If we were looking for another great narrator for a film, I would throw his name in the hat. Supporting roles are filled well by Xander Berkeley and Kasi Lemmons. The direction by Bernard Rose is strong – especially for a horror film. To get a truly memorable performance out of Virginia Madsen he actually hypnotized her. Cinematographer Anthony B. Richmond was best known for his work on the classic Nicolas Roeg’s film Don’t Look Now before filming Candyman, and he does a fine job.
At the end of the day, this is some of the best horror cinema from the Nineties. It is one Blu-ray release that horror fans have been wanting for over a decade and now the wait is over. If you are like me, this fills a gap in your collection that has been a long time coming.
Video: How’s it look?
Candyman arrives on Blu-ray with a 1080p MPEG-4 AVC encoded image in 1.85:1 from a new 4K scan. The results of the new 4K scan are pretty amazing. Fine detail is excellent. From the opening shots above Chicago, to the final salvo of the film, this new transfer is revelatory and makes previous iterations of the film obsolete. I watched the film on my UHD 65″ television and it looked fantastic. Grain is evident but not obtrusive. This is one of the finest transfers in the Shout catalogue and fans of the film can issue a sigh of relief. It looks great.
Audio: How’s it sound?
Similar to the video, the audio presentation on Candyman is excellent. The DTS-HD MA 5.1 track gives a great surround treatment to the orchestral work by Philip Glass. This is one of the least conventional and most enjoyable horror film soundtracks out there and one of the defining differences between this film and others. The dialogue is crisp and clear. I didn’t notice any hiss and the track gave me the occasional jolt. Good stuff.
Supplements: What are the extras?
Disc One (Theatrical Cut)
Audio Commentary With Writer/Director Bernard Rose And Actor Tony Todd – a fun commentary recorded specifically for this release. Topics include Avengers: Infinity War and much more!
Audio Commentary With Authors Stephen Jones And Kim Newman – an enjoyable commentary with two authors that discuss the film’s relation to Clive Barker’s story and other topics.
Audio Commentary With Director Bernard Rose, Author Clive Barker, Producer Alan Poul And Actors Tony Todd, Virginia Madsen And Kasi Lemmons – this is the track that you should give a listen. Lots of great details. The best of the commentary tracks.
Audio Commentary With Bernard Rose, Moderated By The Movie Crypt’s Adam Green And Joe Lynch – this is another fun commentary where the director discusses the film with some dedicated fans. The discussion of visual effects alone is worth checking out this track.
Sweets To The Sweet: The Candyman Mythos – Featuring Interviews With Writer/Director Bernard Rose, Executive Producer Clive Barker, Actors Virginia Madsen, Tony Todd, And Kasi Lemmons – (1080p uspscaled, 23:49) this archival piece is great. It goes into solid detail about the intentions of all the people involved. Well worth your time.
Clive Barker: Raising Hell – An Interview With Author/Artist/Filmmaker Clive Barker – (1080p upscaled, 10:46) this archival interview is fascinating. Clive Barker discusses the beginnings of his career and the motivations that drove his work.
Interview With Actor Tony Todd – this is a short but enjoyable interview from 2014.
Bernard Rose’s Storyboards
Disc Two (Unrated Cut)
Be My Victim – An Interview With Tony Todd an interesting interview with the actor where he delves into his thoughts on the character and the film. One of the highlights is his discussion of the gangs that were paid off during the making of the film. Another highlight is the discussion of the studio worries regarding one scene.
It Was Always You, Helen – An Interview With Virginia Madsen – the actress discusses the role and film. Unbelievably, she was cast despite her allergy to bees. Also, she discusses being hypnotized on screen. Basically, it’s a great interview.
Reflection In The Mirror – An Interview With Actor Kasi Lemmons – the supporting actress from the movie discusses her experiences on the film.
A Kid In Candyman – An Interview With Actor DeJuan Guy – the actor who played Jake discusses working as a child actor in a dangerous environment.
The Writing On The Wall: The Production Design Of Candyman – An Interview With Production Designer Jane Ann Stewart – this is a fantastic interview about the production design of the film. I always find production design interviews interesting and this one is no exception.
Forbidden Flesh: The Makeup FX Of Candyman – Including Interviews With Special Makeup Effects Artists Bob Keen, Gary J. Tunnicliffe And Mark Coulier – this is more lively than you might expect because of the difficulties they faced creating the iconic hook.
A Story To Tell: Clive Barker’s The Forbidden – Writer Douglas E. Winter On Clive Barker’s Seminal Books Of Blood And Candyman’s Source Story, The Forbidden as a fan of Clive Barker’s books, I was excited that there was an extended piece on his work and the story on which the movie was based.
Urban Legend: Unwrapping Candyman – A Critical Analysis Of The Film With Writers Tananarive Due And Steven Barnes – this piece delves into the racial aspects of the film from the point of view of two African American critics and writers. It’s interesting to look at the film from this perspective. Good stuff.
The Bottom Line
Candyman is a milestone of horror cinema from the Nineties. This is easily one of the best horror releases of the last year. Shout Factory has gone above and beyond with an amazing transfer of both the Rated R and Unrated versions of the film. It has never sounded or looked better. The special features sprawl across two disks and they are well worth your time. New interviews abound. If you are a fan, you should probably buy this immediately and start watching the amazing special features on the disc. They are well worth your time. This is definitely a highlight from a great year from Shout Factory.