Outside of Blacula, perhaps no figure personifies “black horror” more than Candyman. And like Blacula, the iconicity is deserved. This movie is one of the most atmospheric and genuinely frightening films of the ’90s — granted, it’s much scarier before Candyman (Tony Todd) reveals himself to be a rather mild-mannered-looking dude with a retro fashion sense and, judging from his hooked hand, HMO coverage.
Like any good horror villain, Candyman has some emotional baggage: he was a free black man in the 19th century who was lynched for having sex with a white woman, and now his spirit is royally pissed off. Candyman manipulated our “Is it real?” fears years before the Urban Legend series, daring us to conjure the boogeyman by saying his name in a mirror five times (a take on the Bloody Mary legend, which was re-visited in Urban Legends 3).
The film is basically a gothic throwback to the old MGM movies of the 1930s, but set in an urban wasteland, with skyscrapers instead of castle spires and gun-toting drug dealers instead of torch-toting villagers. As in The Mummy, Candyman is resurrected to find a woman who appears to be a reincarnation of his past lover, and he sets about to have her. Did he not learn his lesson the first time? Leave the white women alone!
Todd’s resonant Barry White baritone lends to the power of Candyman’s seduction skills — a la The Mummy and Dracula — as he draws in Helen (Virginia Madsen) without having to use lines like, “Do you have any black in you? Would you like some?” He does, though, have an unconventional manner of courting: he frames her for murder. Charming! (To top it off, he kills her bestie, played by Kasi Lemmons, who learns a valuable lesson about being a black sidekick in a horror movie.)
Documenting Helen’s journey into the Cabrini-Green projects in Chicago to investigate the legend, Candyman vividly touches upon some of the same themes of race and poverty as The People Under the Stairs…but with fewer punches to the groin.