Candy­mans plain­ing

Stars Vir­ginia Mad­sen and Tony Todd talk about the sub­ver­sive hor­ror clas­sic, 25 years on

Empire (UK) - - REVIEW -

CANDYMAN IS RARELY men­tioned in the same breath as the great screen mon­sters of the ’80s and ’90s: the Fred­dys, the Ja­sons and the Pin­heads. He should be. Bernard Rose’s adap­ta­tion of Clive Barker’s short story, about a woman (Vir­ginia Mad­sen) who be­comes a tar­get for a spec­tral ur­ban leg­end (Tony Todd) who can be sum­moned by say­ing his name five times into a mir­ror, is haunt­ing, lyri­cal, and more rel­e­vant than ever. We spoke to Mad­sen and Todd about their Candyman ex­pe­ri­ences.


Mad­sen wasn’t Rose’s first choice to play He­len Lyle, the Univer­sity Of Chicago grad stu­dent who falls foul of Tony Todd’s hook-handed killer in the 1993 hor­ror clas­sic. Rose had writ­ten the role for his then-wife, Alexan­dra Pigg, and had cast Mad­sen as her best friend, Ber­nadette. But when Pigg be­came preg­nant, he turned to Mad­sen. At the time, Pigg and Mad­sen were good mates and Mad­sen ad­mits she was “ex­tremely con­flicted” about step­ping in, un­til Pigg per­suaded her. “She said if any­one was go­ing to play the role, it would have to be me.”

Todd had al­ready dipped his toe in hor­ror waters with a star­ring role in Tom Savini’s re­make of Night Of The Liv­ing Dead a cou­ple of years ear­lier. But he ac­tu­ally caught Rose’s eye in an en­tirely dif­fer­ent film, and genre, play­ing a Kenyan Air pi­lot in The Last Ele­phant. “He knew that face and per­sona is what he wanted,” ex­plains Todd, who was ini­tially scep­ti­cal about play­ing a char­ac­ter called Candyman. “I thought they were re­fer­ring to Sammy Davis Jr,” he laughs. (Davis Jr fa­mously per­formed a song called ‘The Candy Man’.) But when he re­alised the role, and the film, was se­ri­ous, he un­der­took a se­ries of “per­son­al­ity tests” and meet­ings with Pro­pa­ganda Films, who were fi­nanc­ing the project, be­fore a “lovely lunch” with co-star Vir­ginia Mad­sen and di­rec­tor Bernard Rose sealed the deal.


The dy­namic be­tween Lyle and the Candyman is not the sort of thing you find in a typ­i­cal hor­ror movie. Tor­mented, tem­pes­tu­ous and tragic, it’s even tinged with a heavy hint of twisted ro­mance. When it came to her scenes op­po­site the sonorous-voiced Todd, Mad­sen felt He­len should be in a hyp­notic state. “Candyman was a very ro­man­tic, beau­ti­ful mon­ster, the way Drac­ula was,” she says. “Drac­ula puts his lovers in a trance, then drinks their blood — very kinky.” In fact, she was ac­tu­ally hyp­no­tised for cer­tain scenes in the movie. “It was all very young ac­tor-y bull­shit, but it did work. It gave my face

and eyes a cer­tain look. I would never do it again. I would use act­ing next time.” For his part, Todd didn’t see the char­ac­ter as a tra­di­tional movie vil­lain. Nei­ther did Rose, reimag­in­ing him as a ter­ri­fy­ing but no­ble fig­ure with a shock­ing back­story. A for­mer slave-turned-artist, the Candyman (we learn his name, Daniel Ro­bitaille, in the se­quel) falls in love with a white woman, and is tor­tured to death by an an­gry mob, who re­placed his paint­ing hand with a hook, ad­min­is­tered bee stings, and then im­mo­lated him for good mea­sure. “Candyman is not a slasher,” says Todd. “He’s a wounded ro­man­tic, more like a Phan­tom Of The Opera. His great­est crime was he fell in love with a woman who wasn’t his par­tic­u­lar race. All those things struck the tragic chord for me.”


‘The For­bid­den’, the short story from Clive Barker’s Books Of Blood upon which Candyman is based, is a fairly dif­fer­ent beast. It’s set in Liver­pool, not Chicago, for one thing. Yet Rose, a fel­low English­man, didn’t trans­plant the ac­tion to Amer­ica on a whim. In reimag­in­ing Candyman as an African-amer­i­can man, a for­mer slave, no less, and in set­ting key scenes in Chicago’s Cabrini-green hous­ing project, he gives the film a cut­ting po­lit­i­cal and so­cial edge that sets it apart from its kin. Yet the de­ci­sion ruf­fled cer­tain feath­ers even be­fore shoot­ing be­gan, with pro­duc­ers con­cerned about ac­cu­sa­tions of ra­cial stereo­typ­ing. “Bernard had some chal­lenges with the NAACP [Na­tional As­so­ci­a­tion for the Ad­vance­ment of Coloured Peo­ple] who wanted to have a script read,” Todd re­calls. “That comes from knee­jerk lib­er­al­ism, be­ing afraid of not know­ing the con­text of some­thing. You can’t cen­sor some­thing be­fore some­thing is made.”

When the film was re­leased, less than a year after the Rod­ney King trial, Mad­sen says cast and crew were pre­pared for a po­lit­i­cal dis­cus­sion about race that failed to ma­te­ri­alise. “It’s like with Side­ways — no­body asked us about drink driv­ing,” she sighs. “[But] if Jor­dan Peele re­makes Candyman, he might make an even stronger state­ment”.


It’s true. Jor­dan Peele is at­tached to a Candyman re­make, and word is he may even di­rect. Should it come to pass, Mad­sen feels there’s only one man who can play him. “It would be a shame if they didn’t let Tony. He cre­ated that role. I couldn’t play He­len, be­cause He­len would still have to be young and naive. But I would have to be in there some­where, wouldn’t I?”

As for Todd, Candyman — fran­chise and char­ac­ter — has been good to him. De­spite ini­tial con­cerns that the role would see him type­cast as a bad­die, he went on to star in two se­quels and re­mains in­tensely proud and pro­tec­tive of the char­ac­ter. “When­ever I do a con­ven­tion, he re­mains my num­ber one seller, which I still find mys­ti­fy­ing. But I’m al­ways hon­oured.” He would ab­so­lutely be on board for the re­make, and you wouldn’t even have to say his name five times. “I think it’s won­der­ful,” he says. “And I’m sure I’ll be in­volved one way or an­other.” In fact, he and Rose are hop­ing to meet Peele to pitch their take. “Bernard and I have been talk­ing about a re­make for years. We wanted to do a Bride Of Franken­stein and get Vir­ginia and I back to­gether. In my heart, I know the char­ac­ter in­side and out, like no­body else.” You could even say he’s hooked. MARK SAL­IS­BURY CANDYMAN IS OUT NOW ON BLU-RAY

Above: Tony Todd, post “per­son­al­ity tests”, as Candyman.

Clock­wise from top: He­len Lyle (Vir­ginia Mad­sen) with baby Anthony; Candyman cre­ates a buzz; That elec­tric blan­ket was just a bit too toasty; Candyman and Lyle play with fire.

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