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By Richard Harrington
Washington Post Staff Writer
October 19, 1992


Bernard Rose
Virginia Madsen;
Tony Todd;
Xander Berkeley;
Kasi Lemmons;
Vanessa Williams;
Michael Culkin
Under 17 restricted

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"Candyman" is the latest attempt to transfer Clive Barker's imaginative horror from the printed page to the big screen, and it succeeds often enough to sustain his reputation, though Barker is only the executive producer here. Fellow Brit Bernard Rose directed, and he keeps the ratio of outright fear to escalating dread just about even, while drenching the film in blood often enough to ruin viewers' appetites.

Based on a short story titled "The Forbidden," "Candyman" envisions an urban nightmare in which the bogyman is on call for those foolish enough to doubt him. And in Clive Barker's world, that's never smart.

Helen Lyle (Virginia Madsen) is a Chicago doctoral candidate who is somewhat skeptical about urban folk myths until she learns that a series of murders in the city's tough Cabrini-Green projects are being attributed to said Candyman, a Captain Hook-like phantom who appears when his name is chanted five times before a mirror.

Seems that in the last century, Candyman was a famous black artist who fell in love with a rich white man's daughter when he was hired to paint her portrait. The enraged father hired thugs to cut off his painting hand (hence today's hook), covered him with bees that stung him to death, and then burned his body, scattering the ashes over what became Cabrini-Green.

Helen and reluctant fellow student Bernadette (Kasi Lemmons) decide to gather data for a doctoral thesis by interviewing residents of Cabrini-Green, who seem less than eager to talk. Still, Helen manages to make some headway without surrendering her doubts, at which point things start to go terribly wrong. After all, Candyman's legend is rooted in people's fears and whispers, and his very existence depends on perpetuating them.

He decides to wreak his revenge by framing Helen for a series of grisly murders, all the while gaining control of her world as she loses her tenuous grip on his. Their relationship turns out (not unexpectedly) to be something of a Gothic romance, with Candyman wanting Helen's companionship in the eternity of myth as a substitute for his own unrequited love a century before.

Rose adapted Barker's short story, originally set in a Liverpool slum and absent racial undercurrents. In the movie they exist partly in Helen's intrusion into Cabrini-Green, where a hard-working single young mother (Vanessa Williams) points up the connections among racism, poverty and oppression. There's also a racial subtext to Helen's tortured relationship with Candyman (including a kiss that will really set people buzzing).

Rose invests the film with plenty of frightful atmosphere (aided by a Philip Glass score), allowing Madsen to descend into madness at a pace that drags the viewer along, somewhat unwillingly. As Candyman, the towering Tony Todd is an elegant horror who can be seen only by Helen and the moviegoer, and his lair is as disturbing as any in recent horror vehicles.

Madsen is a much better actress than is usually found in such a role. However, if you don't like splashes of blood or bees swarming out of bodies, you may want to think twice about this one.

"Candyman" is rated R and contains gore, nudity and explicit language.

© Copyright 1999 The Washington Post Company

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