The Macabre Brothers share an affinity for bargain-bin horror films. It’s actually more like an addiction – hardly a month goes by without one of us wasting $5 on some dubious DVD title. Such impulse buys may not deserve a full review, but like porn, they’re worth a quick and shameful glance. In Basement Ramblings, we answer your most meaningful question: Is this month’s piece of crap worth the price of a Big Mac?
Clive Barker knows his way around a good legend. The author-screenwriter doesn’t always know how to tie off the yarn he spins around it, but the twisted bastard behind Hellraiser and nasty ol’ Pinhead (plus tons of Hellraiser sequels) nearly crafts another odd horror masterpiece with the Candyman series. It’s his twist on the centuries-old Bloody Mary legend: repeat the name of a cursed spirit into a mirror and, somewhere and for some reason, the spirit appears for very real vengeance.
Candyman: Farewell to the Flesh (I’m gonna say Candyman II) was released three years after the original and, thankfully, gives us a new story with new characters. The first was all about the Candyman legend and how it took root in small towns, with plenty of deaths by the baddie’s two favorite weapons: thousands of bees and a hook in place of his right hand. The sequel is all about the legend itself and Candyman’s hometown of New Orleans, where Annie Tarrant (Kelly Rowan), the well-meaning daughter in a wealthy modern family, accidentally unleashes the hook-handed former slave during the hedonistic insanity of Mardi Gras. In other words, it’s the origin story for one of Barker’s more sympathetic (yet still malevolently gruesome) creatures.
The film begins with a convenient little recap of the legend, followed with a convenient death by hook to set up the mandatory whodunit subplot found in all ’90s movies. At the center is Annie’s brother, Ethan (TV regular William O’Leary), who’s been at a mental institution since confessing to their father’s murder a few years earlier. How was papa Tarrant killed? Hook vivisection.
Annie knows Ethan didn’t do it, Ethan knows he didn’t do it, and even mama Tarrant (the wonderful Veronica Cartwright of Alien) knows her son didn’t do it. But dammit, hard-nosed detective Ray Levesque isn’t fooled by the haughty Tarrants and will stop at nothing to make the rich kids from the plantation mansion pay. Cue the random bits of police procedural.
While cops are busy framing Ethan, New Orleans parties through Mardi Gras and Annie braces for the inevitable appearance of Candyman. See, she recited the curse in front of her class to prove there’s no such thing as Candyman — that he’s only an illusion, that the wounded, howling slave young Matthew keeps drawing is a figment of the collective imagination.
We all know how well that worked for Prof. Ponytail (did you even read the intro?). Candyman appears soon after, all bees and hooks and rumbling voice. Big, bad Tony Todd (he’s 6’5″) reprises his role from the original with vigor. This go-round, he gets more legitimate screen time between the mandatory death scenes. He should, if for no other reason than it’s his origin story. Barker eventually introduces the idea that Candyman’s slave self, Daniel Robitallie, was lynched by a group of plantation owners when they found out he got a white girl pregnant. They lopped off his hand — he was an artist — and covered him in honey, then watched as bees turned him into a mass of living boils.
Candyman shows all of this to Annie, but only after killing her mother, brother, husband and a few others, including the grumpy detective. His vague connection to the compelling central family and cop-drama storyline are just a few of many issue with this flick, but they tend to be small and easily overlooked, just like the detective’s role. Now, that said, he stars in Barker’s ode to the terrifying clawed-to-the-ceiling death in A Nightmare on Elm Street…
Where I found it
On Netflix when searching for the 1992 original in honor of Mardi Gras. I’ve only seen that one in its hacked-up, edited-for-TV version, but no still luck and so I went with the sequel instead. To be honest, I think I’ve always confused the two and assumed that the first one had a ton of Bourbon Street parade scenes, but nope. This is the one I was looking for anyway.
Why it caught my eye
I’ve never seen part two from start to finish in its goriest (and probably best) form. Plus, the Netflix description hinted at a Candyman origin story. It was about time I foundnd out more about the token black man of horror villains.
Everything Annie and Candyman do in this movie is a joy to watch. For those who missed it, Annie is played by Kelly Rowan, better known to me (and most folks) as Kirsten Cohen from The O.C. Damn the makeup designer who decided to give her an awful bob cut in Candyman II — it looks like something even a 12-year-old would laugh at — but it doesn’t matter when Rowan flexes her dramatic muscles. She makes just about everything part of the Candyman legend believable, even when the scripting nearly forces her to be yet another damsel in distress.
Then there’s Todd as Candyman. He plays a wonderful boogeyman, with the gravely voice, menacing presence and otherworldly movements of a true demon from beyond. In the first half of the film, Annie and her husband discover a shrine to Candyman. Looming over candles and skulls is a ghastly painting of the creature, his arms outstretched and his mouth gaping wide, a pitch-black face with pure-white teeth and eyes. It’s a frightening image, and unlike so many disappointing horror flicks (just about every Christmas creature feature ever) the flesh-and-blood version of the legend lives up to the nightmarish drawings.
Speaking of flesh and blood, this is a Barker film and so there’s plenty of viscera to go around. Candyman II isn’t as diabolical as the Hellraiser films, but every death is pretty damn memorable, or at least more memorable than Annie’s husband. His hook gutting is shown in more graphic detail than the rest. Then there’s the white witchdoctor (yep), who’s turned into minced meat when Candyman opens his chest to unleash a swarm of bees. It’s a preview of Candyman’s lynching at the hands of a white mob. Fitting, if the film’s thoughts on race weren’t so murky.
The story just never gets compelling. There are plenty of compelling pieces — the Candyman legend, Annie’s connection to plantation owners, the ongoing Mardi Gras narration by Kingfisher, a radio DJ channeling Dionysus — but they’re often hampered by that obnoxious procedural subplot and a few other non-starting plotlines.
Look at Matthew, Annie’s precocious young student who draws graphic images of Candyman’s lynching and even has a shrine to the ghost in his house. Needless to say, his preacher father doesn’t approve, although he (like everyone else in the poor side of NOLA) knows Annie was a dumb, white idiot for repeating the curse.
The Matthew elements are meant to add another layer of human drama, all while commenting on racial tensions in colonial and modern-day New Orleans. There are even several eerie allusions to disastrous flooding and catastrophe in the city’s poorest neighborhoods — remember, this was made a decade before Hurricane Katrina — and the climactic showdown purposely shows levee-like walls crumbling beneath waves. Eerie, but the bits and pieces are too scattered and disconnected to ever mean anything. It’s not that they were boring — it’s more like they never hit the right notes. I like to think it’s not totally Barker’s fault: his books tend to be more tightly wound than his movies, with more insight into his twisted worlds, and the endings are always much bleaker.
Candyman: Farewell to the Flesh gets muddied by ’90s melodrama, but with a legend this rousing and a character this compelling you’ll hardly notice, especially when the hook comes out. There’s enough Mardi Gras horror here to last all of Lent.