31 DAYS OF HORROR #27: Jeremiah Kipp on CANDYMAN (1992)

Jeremiah Kipp – writer / director of recent festival hit Slapface – talks urban legends, liminal creatures and the art that lasts forever…

“I am rumor. It is a blessed condition, believe me. To be whispered about at street corners. To live in other people’s dreams, but not to have to be. Do you understand?”

His right hand has been sawn off and replaced with a hook, and if you look in the mirror and say his name five times he will appear.  Bernard Rose’s 1992 horror gem Candyman has all of the trappings of urban legend, and the main character Helen (Virginia Madsen) is an academic who seeks to forge the connection between the daily horrors of community and a monster in the shadows. 

As a metaphor for fears that lurk in twice-told tales and rumors, this film has a delicious ambiguity as we wonder if the titular monster is real, or if it’s coming from the protagonist going insane – however the film doesn’t cheat its audience, and spectacularly answers the question.

One of the reasons the original Candyman holds up as a modern classic is the tremendous care taken with all aspects of its making.  Based on a short story by Clive Barker, the dialogue is sumptuous, with all of the best lines given to the charismatic Tony Todd, who exhibits a yearning performance full of wild romanticism. “Be my victim” he intones, with the ardour of a lover.  Writer-Director Bernard Rose leans into the juxtaposition of scary housing estate Cabrini Green with the intense Gothic archetypal villain. 

Todd’s vampiric, alluring performance is complimented by an elegant score from minimalist composer Philip Glass, and photographed with dissipated grace by director of photography Anthony B. Richmond, who had previously lensed the classy genre film Don’t Look Now – also well worth seeking out this Halloween. 

Alongside Todd the superb cast also includes Xander Berkeley from The Dark and the Wicked, Kasi Lemmons from The Silence of the Lambs and Madsen as Helen, who only grows more ethereal as the film marches towards its tragic conclusion.  The acting in this film, rich in subtext, adds considerably to its depth and nuance.

Candyman was a huge source of inspiration for my most recent feature film Slapface, where the question of whether the creature is just a manifestation of other fears – or a legitimate beast of legend – is the tension that drives the story.  The key is for the creator to know for sure whether the monster is or is not actual; there’s nothing worse than the audience wondering if the writer is playing fair with them. 

Let’s just say that on Sesame Street nobody believed in Big Bird’s imaginary friend, but the viewers watching were in on it.  They knew for certain, and I think Clive Barker and Bernard Rose also had their feet firmly planted in the notion that there’s more to life than what we see in our limited human point of view. 

The imaginative power of Candyman is based on our belief system, and one of the joys of the film is that the villain craves his name being remembered, an artist of the macabre. To remember his name is to give him eternal life… 

Jeremiah Kipp

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