Candyman (1992)

2017 #152
Bernard Rose | 95 mins | TV (HD) | 1.85:1 | USA & UK / English | 18 / R

Candyman

Written and directed by a Brit and based on a Clive Barker short story set in Liverpool, horror movie Candyman relocates its story to Chicago, where its race-related themes are arguably more pertinent. How well it handles that angle is another matter…

It stars Virginia Madsen as Helen, a student completing a post-grad thesis on urban legends, which is when she encounters the story of Candyman: supposedly he was a slave who was mutilated, given a hook for a hand, and then murdered, and can now be summoned by saying his name five times in a mirror, at which point he’ll kill the person who summoned him. Why you’d want to do that I don’t know. Anyway, Helen’s investigations lead her to the Cabrini-Green housing projects and a spate of murders that seem to fit Candyman’s MO. Could the legend be real…?

Candyman is over a quarter of a century old now, but it could hardly feel more current with its intellectual female lead and its story based around urban legends of poor black people — it’s ripe for commentary on feminism and racism. How well it handles these is another matter, because I’m not sure how much it has to say about either. Indeed, there’s gotta be room for a remake that tackles the racial tension stuff head-on and engages it more thoroughly. I guess the film just isn’t well enough remembered at this point, because otherwise surely someone would be on it already. It’s such a shame that so many great movies are subjected to inferior remakes when what we really need are more Ocean’s Elevens: middling-to-poor movies with good ideas remade with greater class so as to improve them.

Do you bee-lieve?

That said, I wouldn’t personally describe Candyman as “middling-to-poor”. What it may lack in societal commentary it makes up for as an atmospheric and unpredictable horror movie. I say that because it changes its style entirely halfway through: at first it’s very much an “is it real?” story, with our heroine investigating legends that don’t appear to be true (she says the name five times and nothing happens). The horror is psychological rather than gory. But then (spoilers!) Candyman does turn up (of course he does), at which point Helen becomes suspected of the murders, while Candyman manipulates her and tries to persuade her to become his victim. It’s an interesting development, and both halves present a captivating style of horror movie.

Such a switcheroo also means you don’t know where the story’s going to go or how it’s going to end, which is always an unusual sensation in a genre movie. It contributes to it being an effective piece of horror as well. It’s creepy and atmospheric, as well as containing straight-up jumps and gore. It’s all elevated by a fantastic score from Philip Glass, which helps lend a particular type of mood — kind of religious, almost; mythic.

Candyman spawned sequels, as most horrors seemed to back in the day, but no one seems to really talk about it anymore. That’s actually something of a shame, because it has a different texture to most horror movies, as well as some thematic points that are as socially resonate as ever.

4 out of 5

Sideways (2004)

100 Films’ 100 Favourites #84

In search of wine.
In search of women.
In search of themselves.

Country: USA & Hungary
Language: English
Runtime: 127 minutes
BBFC: 15
MPAA: R

Original Release: 22nd October 2004 (USA)
UK Release: 28th January 2005
First Seen: cinema, 2005

Stars
Paul Giamatti (Big Fat Liar, Shoot ‘Em Up)
Thomas Haden Church (George of the Jungle, Spider-Man 3)
Virginia Madsen (Candyman, The Number 23)
Sandra Oh (Under the Tuscan Sun, Hard Candy)

Director
Alexander Payne (About Schmidt, Nebraska)

Screenwriters
Alexander Payne (Jurassic Park III, The Descendants)
Jim Taylor (Election, I Now Pronounce You Chuck & Larry)

Based on
Sideways, a novel by Rex Pickett.

The Story
Middle-aged wine lover Miles takes his friend, groom-to-be Jack, up to California wine country for a more mature kind of bachelor trip, but Jack’s lascivious ways lead them to become involved with a pair of women — while keeping Jack’s impending nuptials a secret…

Our Hero
Miles Raymond is a divorcee, a teacher, and an unpublished novelist, depressed at the state of his life. His one love is wine appreciation, though when Jack goads him into getting closer to a waitress he casually knows, Maya, things begin to look up.

Our Villain
Jack, a has-been actor and Miles’ college roommate. Not really interested in wine; very interested in women — even though he’s engaged, he hooks up with Maya’s friend Stephanie, not telling her about his imminent marriage. Not strictly a villain, but his antics bring Miles little but misery.

Best Supporting Character
Maya is a waitress at Miles’ favourite restaurant, and they bond over a shared appreciation of wine. Unfortunately, her friendship with Stephanie and the secret of Jack’s engagement poses a threat to her burgeoning relationship with Miles…

Memorable Quote
“If anyone orders Merlot, I’m leaving. I am not drinking any fucking Merlot!” — Miles

Quote Most Likely To Be Used in Everyday Conversation
See above.

Memorable Scene
Jack hooks up with a random waitress but has to flee when her husband comes home, leaving his wallet behind with the wedding rings inside. He gets Miles to take him back to her house, where Jack convinces his friend to sneak in to find the wallet. Inside, the waitress and her hubby are having sex, but they spot Miles grabbing the wallet — so he’s chased back to the car by a very angry naked man. (It’s not exactly the film’s cleverest bit, but it is memorable.)

Making of
Sideways was so popular, it actually had an effect on the wine market. Miles is famously critical of Merlot (see above), which actually caused its sales to drop in the US and UK. However, there was a bigger impact on Pinot Noir, which he expresses a love for. After the film’s release, sales of Pinot Noir wines increased by over 20% compared to the year before. The effect lasted, too: a 2009 study found that sales volume of Merlot had slowed and its price had dropped, while sales and prices of Pinot Noir were still up.

Next time…
Author Rex Pickett has penned two sequel novels, Vertical and Sideways 3 Chile, but Alexander Payne has said he has no interest in adapting them and, though Fox owns the rights to the characters, they have no interest in making sequels without Payne. Of gossipy interest, however, is that Pickett deliberately wrote Sandra Oh’s character out of the sequels, because the actress made script changes he disliked and he didn’t want to work with her if they did make a sequel.

Awards
1 Oscar (Adapted Screenplay)
4 Oscar nominations (Picture, Supporting Actor (Thomas Haden Church), Supporting Actress (Virginia Madsen), Director)
1 BAFTA (Adapted Screenplay)

What the Critics Said
“how different these two characters are: the crass actor and the sensitive writer, linked by being roommates at college, but by little else these days. Viewers will probably identify with one or the other, but the beauty of the script is that these are rounded, believable people with recognisable failings and strengths — one is not superior than the other. So, while Jack is a bit dim, crude, and thinks largely with his crotch, he’s also enthusiastic, loyal and embraces life. And while Miles is funny, clever, and knowledgeable, he is also timid, drink-dependent, and crippled by insecurity” — Nev Pierce, BBC Movies

Score: 96%

What the Public Say
“This performance made [Thomas Haden Church] a star, earning him roles in everything from Spider-Man 3 to Easy A. By turns charming and crass, his laconic man-child is a perfect foil to the tightly-wound Miles, and their chalk-and cheese riffing is minded to fine comedic effect at times, most notably in Miles’ horrified discovery that Jack has been chewing gum throughout his detailed tutorial into wine tasting. It’s Giamatti’s picture though. He makes Miles vulnerable, sarcastic, grouchy and tender – sometimes all at the same time. He’s capable of expressing a depth of emotion with nothing more than a flicker in his eyes or furrowing of his brow. It’s a performance he’s never bettered.” — Rob D, Random Movie Guy

Verdict

Do you ever watch a film, like it well enough, but then find that, without re-watching or consciously re-evaluating, it sneakily grows in your estimation? That was Sideways for me, after I saw it on its original release. I’ve watched it a few more times since which have cemented my opinion. It’s a pretty perfect example of the comedy-drama, being both very funny but with a core story based in characters going through emotional crises, whether they know it or not. It’s a deceptively gentle film, the kind of movie where it can seem like nothing’s happening, but the cumulative effect builds to a nice, complicated aftertaste. Like a fine wine, then.

I see #85 walking around like regular movies.