Monday, December 27, 2010

Movies: "You are not content with the stories, so I was obliged to come."

Rewatched Candyman this afternoon. I can't imagine anybody needs a review of this film, so I'll jump straight to my random thought: No flick less justly categorized as a "slasher" than Candyman.

The Clive Barker sourced fright flick, lensed by Bernard Rose, was partially a victim of timing. Film critics, especially the collective pro-am that dominates the dialogue regarding horror films, trade heavily on taxonomic and genealogical observation (both of which speak to core competency: a bent towards the trivial and citizenship status in a large, clannish interpretive community), a strategy that leaves them constantly reaching for existing interpretive models and repeatedly cramming new works into the intellectual boilerplate of previous films. When Candyman appeared in 1992, surrounded by the rotting odds and sods of the long since creatively bankrupt "slasher" moment in American horror cinema, the slasher subgenre was the Procrustean bed the fright fancy chose to stretch the film across. To this day, Candyman is widely considered a slasher: the horror-centric Bloody Disgusting site and the post-Whedon "geek culture" list-and-link-dump UGO site both list the titular baddie in their "Top N Slashers" lists.

To be fair, they're not alone. When composer Philip Glass, who gave the film its revisionists gothic organ and chorus score, saw the finished product, he was so repulsed that he withheld the release of the soundtrack recording for nearly a decade. He had scored the film thinking he was contributing to an artsy indie flick. He felt betrayed by the director. The derogatory Glass used to describe Candyman was "slasher flick."

Either as a slam or critical observation, the label of slasher doesn't fit Candyman. Instead, what Rose delivered was curiously retro gothic tale that owes more to classic Universal monster flicks than it does cynical slaughters of the 1980s.

Candyman himself belongs the odd tradition of monstrous nobility that descends straight from Lugosi's Dracula. Displaying some typically Barkerish traits, Todd's Candyman is a cursed decadent, an envoy from some place beyond our understanding of good and evil, a Romantic and aristocratic character who, it is revealed, is something of a vampiric psychic tyrant, kept somehow in unlife by the fearful worship of the downtrodden residents of Cabini-Green, Candyman's urban Transylvania populated by updated peasants.

The plot has a love-beyond-death seduction angle utterly foreign to the golden age slasher. In fact, the plot somewhat mirrors the plot of Coppola's Dracula relaunch - which emphasized the "weird love story" that was mostly marketing BS in the original film - that appeared the same year.

The film's first coda, with Candyman dropping what's essentially a "we belong dead" line as he and his bride are trapped in a giant bonfire, evokes the two Whale-directed Frankenstein films. We even get angry "villagers" with torches!

Candyman's charms have been buried too long under the misconception that it was just the weirdo entry in the slasher flood. The misappropriation of the flick by subgenre partisans has obscured what it really was: a genuinely interesting effort at updating classic gothic tropes for a modern, urban context. I would argue that the flick wasn't completely successful, but I believe the fusion of an intellectual, urban sensibility with deeply felt traditional gothic themes prefigured quite a bit of the "New Weird" aesthetic of urban fantasy. As source of future inspiration, it languishes in a genre ghetto it doesn't belong in.

I wonder too if we shouldn't credit the film with being an early innovator in the lavish squalor aesthetic that became the signature style of some many modern horror flicks after Fincher perfected it in Se7en. John Doe's nameless city could easily contain this imagined version of Cabrini-Green and you feel like you wouldn't be surprised if Virginia Madsen's Helen came across Jigsaw's bathroom-of-death in some less used section of the project.

Time is ripe for a re-evaluation.


Andrew said...

Excellent analysis of one of my favorite horror flicks....

Anonymous said...

Happy New Year!
Sorry I've been MIA of late-- reading this post makes me want to watch Candyman again, tho'.
Talk to you later!

PaulBibeau said...

Nicely done, sir.

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said...

Hey, I know I'm a little late to the party here, but great post! I included it in the third issue of Spatter Analysis. Good job, sir!

Spatter Analysis #3


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