I was first introduced to Clive Barker through his "Books of Blood" collections after seeing an advertisement in which Stephen King described him as something like "the future of horror". Mr. King's opinion was well-placed, Clive Barker wrote incredible stories that raised the horror-fictional bar. I was introduced to Barker's films with Hellraiser, which remains one of my favorite horror film franchises. I believe that Barker, though, would see these early offerings from his career as stepping-stones toward something else, something somewhat more fantastic and awe, rather than fear, inspiring. Candyman, which Barker wrote, is far more true to the expression of Barker's fantasy-tales than his previous works. Like any other art form, this shift from what one has become known for to what one truly wishes to express is often dissatisfying to fans, who normally clamor for more of that which they are familiar with.
Candyman also stands out as what is probably one of the first truly "urban" horror stories. It is centered on the Cabrini-Green tenements of Chicago, one of the most impoverished, neglected, and gang-ridden housing-projects in history. The people of these communities develop their own cultures under the pressures of their existence, including their own myths and legends. These "Urban Legends" are the starting-off point of the story; the protagonist and her friend are researching a thesis on Urban Legends, and discover the legend of the "Candyman", a kind of bogey-man that haunts Cabrini-Green. A number of disappearances are blamed on the Candyman, as well as an occasional miracle. The two women enter into the dangerous neighborhood to investigate a recent disappearance and make contact with neighbors of the victim. With some effort, they get the neighbor to speak about the event, even though they tenants normally live by a code-of-silence regarding the incidents, especially to outsiders, fearing reprisals from gangs or the Candyman himself.
Helen Lyle (Virginia Madsen) is the protagonist of the story, and has become obsessed with the Candyman myth, so much so that she begins having visions of the figure and it begins affecting her relationship. She finds herself tracking down the legend on her own, and is lead to a public-restroom by a child from Cabrini-Green were she is accosted by a local gang-lord who is using the Candyman myth to oppress the people in his territory. Helen survives the assault, but now the visions of the Candyman have intensified. A man claiming to be the real Candyman (Tony Todd) approaches her in her college's parking-lot and renders her unconscious. When she awakens, she finds herself in the apartment of her original informant at Cabrini-Green; the tenant's rottweiler has been decapitated and their baby is missing. Helen is arrested at the scene, but is bailed out by her husband.
The Candyman exists only because his "flock" continues to believe in him and perpetuate his legend. When Helen was assaulted by a fake and named her attacker, the real Candyman's legend was diminished, thus he needs her to re-establish the strength of his myth. Alone in her apartment, Helen is again assaulted by the Candyman, who pricks her neck with his hook-hand, causing her to bleed. When her friend arrives, Helen is unable to stop the Candyman from killing her.
Through the story, the Candyman's legend is revealed. He was the son of a slave and a talented artist who fell in love with a white-woman. For this crime, his hand was cut-off, and he was covered with honey and allowed to be stung to death by bees. His body was burned and his ashes scattered over what would become Cabrini-Green.
Helen is accused of her friend's murder, and is sent to a mental-hospital. During an interview, than Candyman kills her doctor and frees her, predicting that she will help insight new terror in the tenants of Cabrini-Green. Helen must choose between the life of the missing child in exchange for her own.
Candyman is a lush tale, typical of Barker who is known for thinking in ways and introducing ideas that are generally not considered by the mainstream. Candyman's greatest strength, other than the writing, is the portrayal of the actors. Tony Todd is particularly convincing as the legend who is both trapped by and revels in his own myth. Candyman shares elements with the Gothic Horror story; a detailed mythology, a villain that is both monstrous and at the same time a sympathetic character, a romantic quality, and a moral. Though a long way from the more familiar Hellraiser films Barker is known for, Candyman's mix of old-world horror and modern urban legend is well worth seeing.