A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Candyman is a 1992 horror film in which a graduate student looking into a disturbing urban legend gets more than she bargained for. The movie definitely has some gory moments. A character talks of how he uses his grappling hook hand to slice people "from groin to gullet" and he lives up to his words. In a flashback scene narrated by a young boy, a mentally-challenged boy is shown lying on his back and screaming in a housing project public restroom, covering his groin and in a pool of blood; it's then revealed that the killer castrated him and left his "parts" in the toilet. Other bloody scenes involve meat cleavers and large knives. Lead character shown covered in blood after these grisly killings. Brief nonsexual female nudity: breasts. The lead character is almost always smoking cigarettes. Occasional profanity, including "bitch" and "a--holes." Some drinking, including a flashback scene in which teens drink and are on the verge of having sex.
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What's the story?
In CANDYMAN, Helen (Virginia Madsen) is a sociology graduate student who's working on a graduate thesis about "urban legends." In interviews, she learns of Candyman, a killer with a grappling hook for a hand who appears if someone looks into a mirror and repeats his name five times. While working late on campus, a cleaning lady overhears Helen going through her thesis, and brings in her coworker to tell Helen about how they believe Candyman killed a woman named Ruthie Jean, a neighbor of one of the women in the Cabrini-Green housing project. While researching Ruthie Jean's murder, Helen discovers dozens of other murders attributed to Candyman. Believing this to be an "urban legend" spread by Cabrini-Green residents as a coping mechanism to cope with the high crime and poverty, Helen decides to go to Cabrini-Green with her colleague Bernadette to learn more about Candyman and the circumstances surrounding Ruthie Jean's death. Helen explores Ruthie's former and still empty apartment, and enters into a passageway through the bathroom mirror that seems to be the lair of Candyman. Helen meets Anne-Marie, Ruthie Jean's neighbor, and a young boy named Jake, who takes Helen to a public rest room where a horrific incident involving Candyman took place. In this rest room, Helen is brutally attacked by a man with a grappling hook and his henchmen. When she later identifies him in a police lineup, Helen believes that the true Candyman has been found, until the real Candyman appears to her. Angered that Helen was skeptical of his existence, Candyman goes on a killing spree while making it look like Helen was the actual murderer. While in and out of jail and psychiatric observation, Helen must now find a way to prove that not only is Candyman real, but that she's innocent of the brutal murders of which she is accused.
Is it any good?
While it grows increasingly ludicrous as it goes on, this movie has enough of a solid foundation to sustain a horror film that is as surprisingly thoughtful as it is blood-splattered. Race, class, prejudice, and poverty are almost on as equal footing as the titular character's fondness for slicing people "from groin to gullet." All too often, the "urban legend" theme in horror movies is little more than a pretense to set up gruesome and graphic killing, but Candyman is going for something deeper than the usual gory thrills. The lead character Helen, an ambitious graduate student, is motivated to learn about Candyman for her thesis as a way to stick it to pompous male colleagues and her philandering professor husband. Candyman's origin story is borne out of a racially-motivated hate crime. Both of these driving forces end up giving a weight to the story, at least much more so than the usual "teens stumbling upon an old lake house deep in the woods" premises.
That said, the movie definitely has the proverbial "Act Three Problems." B-stories start to seem more than a little forced. The direct action comes across as a little too desperate to fit the strained logic of the story. Fortunately -- in terms of this being a horror movie, after all -- the gory moments have already started by the time we get to the third act, and these moments and the anticipation of future moments overwhelm everything else. All things considered, Candyman has held up remarkably well, decades after its initial release, a movie that strikes an effective balance between the surreal and all-too-real.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about slasher films. Why do you think there's an appeal to movies in which there are many gory and bloody scenes? How are these kinds of movies different from other types of horror movies?
Candyman is primarily set in what was the Cabrini-Green housing project in Chicago, one of the most notorious housing projects in the country before it was demolished in 2011. How does the movie present life in Cabrini-Green? Does it seem to present a full picture, or does it seem overly reliant on stereotyping?
How does the movie explore the idea of "urban legends" to create a horror story?
- In theaters: October 16, 1992
- On DVD or streaming: August 17, 2004
- Cast: Virginia Madsen, Tony Todd, Xander Berkeley
- Director: Bernard Rose
- Studio: Sony Pictures Home Entertainment
- Genre: Horror
- Topics: Monsters, Ghosts, and Vampires
- Run time: 99 minutes
- MPAA rating: R
- MPAA explanation: Violence and gore.
- Last updated: September 3, 2020
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