Clive Barker has a way of dressing up the conventional slasher formula with an elegance and intelligence that belies the conventions of the genre, making them a genre unto themselves. Based on one of his short stories, Producer Barker lets writer/director Bernard Rose introduce us to the Candyman, a nightmarish denizen of urban folklore who is as tragic as he is terrifying.
Helen Lyle (Madsen) is a grad student finishing up her thesis on urban legends. When she hears about a hook-handed menace who preys upon the poor citizens of Chicago's Cabrini Green housing project, Helen investigates, determined to debunk this "Candyman's" existance. Summoned by looking into a mirror and saying his name five times, Helen laughs off the ritual after she performs it, but, soon, the Candyman (Todd) appears to her, and claims her as his own. As Helen slips into madness, Candyman kills those around her, making it appear as though Helen is the culprit, and weakens her resolve so that she may accept her fate. However, Helen has one shot left at redemption, and it's something that may make her a legend in her own right.
One of the best horror films of the nineties, Candyman went on to spawn a pair of wretched sequels, but the original is still a classic. The Candyman is cut from the same cloth as Freddy Krueger, Jason Voorhees, and Michael Myers, but his origin lends some credence to his vengeful ways and makes for a sympathetic character. Tony Todd's basso profundo voice and slick pimptastic wardrobe ooze sex appeal and coolness, making him both a seductive and deadly villain. Virginia Madsen is smart, sexy and strong as the tortured Helen, and her descent into the hell that is the world of Candyman is one we can empathise with, as we become invested in her character. Rose shoots his script with a keen eye for structure and architecture, filming modern day Chicago from angles that make it look like an old world European city, while Philip Glass's minimalist neo-classical score complements the mood. It's truly one of the most beautiful and haunting horror films I've ever seen.
The Special Edition DVD from Columbia/Tristar finally gives the film it's due, with a commentary from Bernard Rose, a pair of featurettes, and more.