I Finally Found a Film That Terrified Me

Like can’t turn over on my side facing the wall while going to bed because I’m afraid of something is going to come out of my closet or mirror scared.

In case you don’t know me: I’m 25 and horror films are my jam. It takes a lot to scare me.

So who achieved this feat?



For anyone not familiar with his bee-chested, hook-wielding glory – this is Candyman.

Like most horror monsters he comes with a legend, which I will attempt to paraphrase from Wikipedia:

In 1890, Candyman was the son of a slave who earned money, status and ultimately freedom because of an invention that revolutionized the shoe-making industry. Candyman grew up going to all the best schools and was a prodigal artist who become well-known for painting portraits of the wealthy. Eventually he painted a portrait of one client in particular, he fathered a baby with the man’s white daughter. The man sent out a lynch mob to punish and murder Candyman. They cut off his painting hand and replaced it with a hook before smearing his entire body with honey stolen from an apiary resulting in death from hundreds of bee stings. His corpse was burned in a pyre and his ashes were scattered in an area where a modern-day housing project, Cabrini-Greens, stands.

However, the film does not show this “historical” event and introduces it as an urban legend a grad student, Helen Lyle played by Virginia Madsen, is building her doctoral thesis around for the University of Illinois. Along with her partner Bernadette she decides to uncover the legend through interviews with those who have either heard and/or believe in Candyman. Eventually this leads her to Cabrini-Greens, a real-life Chicago housing project ruled by gang warfare, where the residents believe a woman was murdered by the ominous hookman. However, Helen believes the residents are actually using Candyman as a psychological tool to cope with their everyday lives in the projects.

There is a lot to be said about Helen’s white savior complex, the history of Cabrini-Greens and its failure as a community for the low-income residents of Chicago, and the other racial elements of the films, but that’s for another entry.

All problematic issues aside, Helen is partially right. A gang leader called Sweets is arrested after attacking Helen (IN THE GROSSEST BATHROOM IN FILM HISTORY) and we find out he was using Candyman as a way to up his credibility and to spread fear. However, after 44 minutes of a Candyman-less Candyman, Helen soon comes to realize that Candyman is very much real and he’s ready to fuck. things. up. He’s a life-ruiner. He ruins lives!

He does this for two reasons:

  1. Helen said his name five times in the bathroom mirror (Don’t even risk that, dude, come on.)
  2. She has caused people to doubt his existence, which is his primary mission – to stay alive through as he refers to writing on the wall and whispers in the classroom. He’s extremely poetic for a serial murderer, but I think anything Tony Todd recites sounds like poetry so there’s that.

So that’s where my personal reaction to this film comes in. Movies where character’s lives are falling apart around them because of some force (human or not) stress me the fuck out. Even a movie like Meet the Parents puts me on edge. I don’t know if it hits home with the series of unfortunate events that have followed me through life (a.k.a. white girl problems), but I just feel for these people who can’t catch a break. And Helen really can’t catch one. Everywhere she turns is another wall where she is forced to question her reality and sanity. I felt the same way watching Black Mirror: Bandersnatch for the record.

Another key element to why this film continues to haunt me days after just merely listening to a podcast about it and then watching the film is the fact that it falls into a little niche genre – urban horror.

Farms, forests, cabins in the woods – I can deal. I know the formula. I know the rules. If you don’t just watch Tucker and Dale vs. Evil. However, horror films set in urban locations tend to bend the typical rules of horror and Candyman is no exception.

For example, Cabrini-Greens in itself becomes a character to fear. From its aforementioned horrifying external restroom to its haunting graffiti (some of which features Candyman himself), this is not a place you want to be any time of day. In fact, we mostly see it in broad daylight throughout the film.

There’s also the fact that Helen discovers if you pull off the apartments’ bathroom medicine cabinet there is no wall between one apartment to the next – just the two cabinets on either side and a small space in between. I don’t even live in an apartment and I felt violated. I seriously wanted to check my closet for secret holes some evil entity could crawl through. This notion is that palpable.

The other thing about urban horror is that if you’re dealing with the supernatural it has an entire city to follow you around and fuck with you. One of my favorite films, Jacob’s Ladder, also exhibits this. The two films would pair nicely together in that sense. Additionally, we see the urban setting as a villain in David Fincher’s nameless city in Se7en.

Although Candyman frightens me and hits all my scare buttons, I absolutely love it. From Phillip Glass’ haunting score featuring a full choir (why do choirs just take music to the next level?) to Bernard Rose’s excellent direction it is truly a horror masterpiece.

With that being said it’s no surprise that the film is set to be remade by Jordan Peele this year with an expected release date of 2020. From what I read the film will deal with gentrification, which I would love to see Candyman to take on. But if he fails he can always sell the honey from his bees at the neighborhood farmer’s market. If you can’t gut them, join them?