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October Challenge – Candyman

2 min read

Candyman may have rightly become a cult film, but its director Bernard Rose remains a curiously maligned figure, even in the horror movie circuit. When people heap praise upon Candyman, they usually do so via Tony Todd, the actor who brought the hook-handed horror to life, or Philip Glass, whose score gives the proceedings a lurching, epic intensity.

Exactly why Rose has been so routinely ignored remains to be discovered. Though he doesn’t have the best filmography around (indeed, the only other two of his films that can even come close to matching Candyman are Immortal Beloved and 1988’s Paperhouse) there’s no use pretending that he is anything but a consummate filmmaker when the script is right. Indeed, a lot of Candyman’s successes belong to Rose and his keen visual eye. He has a brilliant sense of the baroque, and his lavish setpieces have a kind of mythic wonder, albeit one drenched in blood and gore.

Candyman Inserted

One need only look as far as Candyman’s striking visual imagery to realise Rose knows how to make his sub-text visible. The film is obsessed with mouths – from the bees that fill Candyman’s gaping maw to the wall graffiti that Helen Lyle climbs through – and indeed, the movie is ultimately about how the act of speaking can be an act of violence. Speech becomes a weapon, and Rose’s mouth motif continually reminds the audience of this.

Of course, the film also has a striking element of post-modernism, one it borrows from Clive Barker’s original short story. The movie is about telling stories – particularly scary ones – and by having its main character become a mythic figure in the conclusion, the movie is commenting on its own existence as a text. Helen Lyle becomes a myth in the film’s conclusion, but she has already become a myth simply by virtue of being in a film in the first place.

Rose is aware of this textuality but never allows the film to spill over into open and obvious post-modernism. He keeps things subtle when he needs to keep them subtle, and he blows them out to baroque proportions when he needs to do that. He is a fantastic filmmaker, and Candyman is a genuine reminder of his talents.