Clive Barker’s Candyman is bar none one of the best horror films ever made. Many factors can take credit for that, but the two chief among them are Tony Todd’s performance as Daniel Robitaille, the hook handed, honey voiced spectre that haunts even the frames he doesn’t appear in, and Philip Glass’s beautiful yet terrifying electronic score that rips through the story like a rogue orchestral piece with a life of its own. Production design and locations are also key here, as they filmed in Chicago’s infamous Cabrini Green Project for real, and it makes all the difference. Candyman is one of those urban legends, the angry ghost of an ex slave who was murdered, and now gets resurrected to raise hell whenever someone says his name in a mirror five times. That someone here happens to be college professor Virginia Madsen, who has heard whispered rumours among the locals and decides to research it a little too closely. Before she knows it she’s seeing Robitaille everywhere, dead bodies are starting to pile up and she begins to look an awful lot like the culprit. With the help of her boyfriend (Xander Berkeley) and colleague (Kasi Lemmons, always fantastic) she tries to get to the bottom of the mystery but Candyman is a tough curse to shake, and the killing doesn’t stop. Many of the actors here are genuine residents of the Green, providing both authenticity and a very human quality to the film. Todd is now something of a household name and has achieved cult status for this role, it pretty much set him up for good in the horror genre and it’s no wonder, he’s a hypnotic dark angel as Robitaille, with both seething menace and a crazy calm lurking behind those eyes. There’s moments of real fright that hold up to this day as truly chilling shockers, such as a kid getting ambushed off camera by Candyman in a park restroom and the horrific aftermath of a dog’s murder coupled with a missing baby, brought to life by Vanessa Williams’s vivid, heartbreaking performance as the mother. This is how you create an effective horror film, by balancing gore with story and character, creating an atmosphere in which we feel both lulled by the sights and sounds but always unsafe as to what could be lurking through that bathroom medicine cabinet or dark, graffiti scrawled hallway. A classic. There’s two sequels that aren’t too awful thanks solely to Todd’s presence, but they come nowhere close to this one.
The Caveman’s Valentine has always fascinated me. As someone who has a mental illness, I’ve always tried my best to seek out films that portray such conditions in a respectable, inquisitive and enlightening tone. While this one cushions it’s earnestness with a slightly lurid and generic murder mystery, much of its desire to explore its character’s inner mindset shine through superbly and with much more authenticity than other films that try the same. Unless you suffer through, or have some intimate experience with someone like this protagonist, it’s tough to artistically represent their state. This one manages very well, and Samuel L. Jackson gives one of the most memorable, affecting and curiously overlooked performances of his career so far. Jackson is an actor who almost always gets cast in assured, authoritative roles. Here he portrays exactly the opposite of that as Romulus, a severely schizophrenic man who lives in a cave in Central Park, New York City. Romulus was once a brilliant pianist and a student at Juilliard, before his illness cut his career and personal life painfully short. He spends his days in confusion, raving in delusion about an all powerful man named Stuyvesant who secretly manipulates everyone in the city. When a young man is found murdered near his cave door, he feels an internal compulsion to find out what happened to him. As you might imagine, a man with his affliction might not make the most reliable detective, but Romulus tries his best and in between bouts of paranoia he makes his way towards weirdo avant grade photographer David Leppenraub (always excellent Colm Feore) who may have had something to do with the homicide. He also has a daughter (Aunjanue Ellis) who is a policewoman and somewhat resents him through her ignorance, and a wife (Tamara Tunie) who no doubt left, but still speaks to him in segments of his visions. Because his perceptions can’t be trusted, even by himself, it makes it a touch and go plot-line that’s heavily accented by frequent visual detours into his own consciousness, where humanoid Moth Sarefs hauntingly play unearthly instruments. Director Kasi Lemmons is not only a woman, but an actress herself, both traits which I believe lead to a certain intuitive advantage in filmmaking. I absolutely love how she moulds the narrative to patiently linger with Romulus’s perception of events and never make them sensationalistic or rushed. Even though Romulus walks through a dangerous, real world story of murder and corruption, the film always sticks with his childlike, abstract and very intangible internal view of the world, a choice which most films either don’t possess the courage or aren’t allowed to do. Jackson is subtle, complex dynamite in what is for me the best work of his career, playing completely against type and most definitely the opposite of his usual instincts to give us something truly special, to any viewer who wishes to exhibit the same patience and understanding that the filmmakers have strived for in making this unique piece.