Rated R, for gore involving hooks and bees. It's the reason that I hadn't watched this movie until today. Hooks and bees just seem like a particular brand of horror that didn't really excite me. There's a lot of gore in this film and some really uncomfortable racial politics in this movie that probably don't hold up to scrutiny. The nudity and the language often seem gratuitous. It's a very R rated movie.
DIRECTOR: Bernard Rose
Do you know how much I want to see the new one? "You want to see it a lot" is the answer. That's what you should be saying. I mean, I'm not dying to see it, or else I would have already seen this one. But the fact that I keep seeing trailers for the new one and it seems fascinating makes me want to watch it. But I had to confess that I hadn't seen the previous entries. I figured that I should at least see the OG entry, if not parts 2 and 3, before sitting down to the remake / sequel. Well, I think that my fear of this movie might have been a little too hyped up because what other people saw as a staple of horror, I watched as an extremely messy and problematic film.
Before I dive too deep into this, I would like to say that I find most of Clive Barker to be messy and undercooked. Some of you just shut down and ignored me and you have every right to do that. Barker's obsessed with knives and carving people up does nothing for me in terms of storytelling. It's the same thing with Eli Roth, so keep this all in the front of your mind while I write this. Candyman is a lot of...that. Part of it is that I don't really understand Candyman as a character. There are so many elements to this character, but none of it is really fleshed out. Some of the elements are very clearly spelled out. His hand was cut off and replaced with a hook. At one point, he was covered in bees. That already seems like a hat on a hat, but I can see that this is all about unnecessary cruelty, so who am I to complain? But it seems initially that Candyman's motive, like many supernatural villains, is to ensure that people believe in him. Belief in Candyman gives him strength and that's what he needs to survive. But then there's another element that I'm not sure where it comes from. I'm talking about Candyman's need for Helen as a romantic figure.
The motivation for Candyman's pursuit of Helen is his love for an impregnated white woman, which resulted in the lynching. But there isn't much about that relationship. All of the origin of Candyman is condensed in a really quick exposition dump at a dinner. We don't get what Helen's attachment is to the pregnant white woman. Is Candyman simply finding substitutes through all white women? If so, um...I don't know how much he really loved that original woman. The movie has this real need to make Helen special. That's where the movie really falls apart for me. I get this vibe that the movie wouldn't have been made unless there was a white, attractive lead spearheading the movie. They wanted this to be a movie for everyone as opposed to the Black horror movie. There's a lot of consequences that kind of stem out of this idea.
Helen is a bit of a White Savior in this one, only with the notion that she comes to a bad end. She doesn't come to a bad end because she does anything wrong. She still maintains the rules of the horror movie and stays away from vice. She's only really punished for evoking Candyman's name. But in terms of virtue, the movie presents her as "one of the good ones." She visits Cabrini-Green because she has this good heart and that she shouldn't be afraid of Black people. But really, her time at Cabrini-Green is a means of exploitation. She is not there as an equal. She dresses "conservatively" and is only there to help herself to juicy content for her Master's thesis. This isn't looked negatively upon. She gets comments that what she is doing is dangerous. But it also seems like there's so much white privilege being thrown around this story that it really should be checked. Why would Anne-Marie want Helen in her apartment? If race and socio-economics was taken out of the equation, would Anne-Marie just invite a stranger into her apartment to look at her child? It's just bananas.
The message that ultimately stems out of Helen's quest for the ultimate Masters' thesis is a form of racial tourism. The Black tenants of Cabrini-Green are kind of relegated to a place of otherness. Anne-Marie has some agency, but the rest of the people in this tower are almost animalistic in their ritual phobia of their home, whether it be the eponymous Candyman or of Black-on-Black crime. Instead of showing a complicated dynamic within the tower, Black culture is once again relegated to the disadvantaged and almost the savage. Like travel narratives that treat other cultures as less civilized, the residents of Cabrini-Green are fearful of the dark. They set fires to their large piles of furniture to destroy the Candyman. Instead of having control or intelligence, they act like a force of nature. I think a lot of this comes from the fact that this is a movie made by a white director and written by a white writer. This is an imagined situation of the Black perspective. Heck, this blog is the same thing, but I also know that I don't really see a lot of progress being made in this movie. Instead, what should have been an opportunity to be one of these truly amazing pieces of Black horror becomes another reason for white America to fear Black America.
Maybe part of me is broken. I may have seen too many horror movies, but there wasn't anything that really ticked my buttons for a scary movie. Yeah, there were cool gory scenes for me. But the fact that Candyman himself was all over the place in terms of his power set confused me. The movie kept teasing the notion of Helen's sanity, but it never really pulled the trigger on that. Instead, it let the world think that she was crazy, but we always had the sense that the Candyman was real, an odd choice considering that Candyman's motive for murdering folks was to ensure that they believed in him. Why would he frame this white woman into all these murders if he wanted to take the credit for them? The film does the same thing with the baby. The movie seemed to be the first movie to brutalize a baby (not something I want to see, but I always considered it to be taboo in horror) only to backpedal. It's even more nuts considering that she was institutionalized for a month while the baby was missing. How did that baby survive? Did Candyman raise a baby for a month? Also, if his goal was to force Helen into being his unwitting servant, how does her medically induced coma help him at all?
It just seems so weak for the most part. There's so many elements and no one said "No" to any of them. Perhaps the '90s played a large part in the themes of the film, but a little bit more crafting would have done wonders for final product.
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Film is great. It can challenge us. It can entertain us. It can puzzle us. It can awaken us.
Mr. H has watched an upsetting amount of movies. They bring him a level of joy that few things have achieved.