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Film / Candyman

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Be my victim.

Candyman (1992) is a supernatural horror film directed by Bernard Rose, and starring Virginia Madsen, Xander Berkeley, Kasi Lemmons, Vanessa Williams, DeJuan Guy, and last but certainly not least, Tony Todd, in which is considered by many to be his most famous role (aside from William Bludworth from Final Destination).

Helen Lyle, a graduate student, is conducting research for her thesis on urban legends. While interviewing freshmen about their superstitions she hears about a local legend known as Candyman, the son of a slave who was brutally tortured and murdered because of a love affair with the daughter of a local (white) plantation owner. According to the legend, anyone who looks into a mirror and chants his name five times will summon him, but at the cost of his or her own life, similar to the Bloody Mary urban legend. Helen believes that Candyman cannot exist and jokingly calls his name in the mirror in her house.


Little does she know her innocent joke will set in motion a terrifying series of events that will cause her to question what is real and what is legend...

Candyman is based on the short story "The Forbidden" by Clive Barker, and was followed by two sequels, Candyman: Farewell to the Flesh (1995) and Candyman: Day of the Dead (1999).

No relation to The Candy Man.

A "spiritual sequel" with Jordan Peele producing and writing, Nia DaCosta (Little Woods) directing, and Tony Todd returning to the titular role will be released in 2021. The page for that film is here.


Tropes. Tropes. Tropes. Tropes. Tropes.

  • Adaptational Alternate Ending: Candyman's ultimate plan is to allow himself, Helen, and a kidnapped baby to die in a bonfire so that all three can live on in legend, only for Helen to rescue the baby and abandon him. Candyman wins in Barker's story.
  • Adaptational Early Appearance: In the original story, the Candyman isn't formally introduced and namedropped until after Kerry (Anthony's book counterpart) is killed by him and Helen investigates his stomping grounds again. In the movie, Candyman's voice is heard in the opening, first physically appears in the flashback, and shows up before the kidnapping. Due to also now being a known legend (in contrast to being only heard around the neighborhood he dwells), he's namedropped sooner as well.
  • Adaptational Heroism: Anne-Marie and her neighbors were much more culpable for the murder of her child in the original short story.
  • Adaptational Karma: In the short story, the Candyman wins in the end by successfully trapping Helen in the bonfire, preventing her from taking the child's corpse to the authorities to prove the culpability of Butt's Court's residents in his death, and strengthening his legend through their demises. In the movie, this is changed to Helen managing to escape his grasp, while leaving him to be burned alive in the bonfire. Although Helen still dies, she becomes a legend in her own right instead of being immortalized as one of his victims.
  • Adaptational Nationality: While Trevor and Helen keep their original race from the short story, due to the Setting Update they go from being British to American.
  • Adaptation Expansion: The film adds the plot of Helen being framed for Candyman's murders.
    • It also adds Candyman's backstory and Helen becoming a new urban legend herself.
    • Also applies to Bernadette's character. In the original story, she's only a minor character who is Trevor's assistant and has a small conversation with Helen at the dinner party. In the movie, she's upgraded to Helen's best friend and a supporting character as well as one of Candyman's victims.
    • The nameless estate boy that leads Helen to Anne-Marie's house in the short story is expanded into the character of Jake, who becomes a prominent side character and even rallies the people of Cabrini Green to destroy the Candyman when he mistakes her for being him (but it ironically works due to him pursuing Helen and ending up trapped).
    • Trevor's infidelity was just a throw away line in the short story, but in the movie it becomes a subplot where he's having an affair with one of his students and when Helen is sent to the mental ward he allows her to move in, with the strong implication he was going abandon his wife and start a new life with her.
  • Adaptation Name Change: In "The Forbidden", Helen's last name is Buchanan as opposed to Lyle in the movie. Anne-Marie's last name is changed from Latimer to McCoy in the movie, as well as her baby's name from Kerry to Anthony.
  • Adaptation Relationship Overhaul: In the short story, Bernadette was Trevor's assistant who showed up to the dinner party and had a small conversation with Helen, but no indication she was personally close with her. In the movie, she is made into her best friend and is even made a victim of Candyman.
  • Adaptation Title Change: Candyman is based on the short story "The Forbidden".
  • Adapted Out: Despite the original story being very short, there are some characters were omitted in the movie.
    • Two guests from the dinner party, Archie and Daniel, are cut from the movie.
    • The middle aged, gossipy women from Ruskin Court, Josie and Maureen, don't appear at all and their role of recounting the bathroom castration incident (which involved a disabled man in the original) goes to Jake.
    • The man whose eyes were gorged out in the short story is replaced by Ruthie Jean as the first victim of Helen hears about.
  • Adult Fear: Seeing the blood-soaked crib of Anne-Marie's baby would send the chills down the spine of any adult. Even more so when it turns out he's okay, but is almost burned alive when Candyman puts him inside a bonfire heap.
    • The castration of the mentally challenged boy in the bathroom would terrify any parent that their child (especially if they are disabled) could be attacked by an unknown assailant when they are left alone.
  • A God Am I: Thanks to his nature (requiring belief to continue existing), it is hinted that Candyman has this attitude about his "congregation."
  • Age Lift: While Kerry in "Forbidden" was toddler age, Anthony in the movie is still an infant.
    • The mentally disabled victim of Candyman's castration goes from a twenty year old man in the book to a child in the movie.
  • And Then John Was a Zombie: By the end of the film, Helen's trials and tribulations turn her into a murderous urban legend just like Candyman.
  • Animal Motifs: Bees.
  • Antagonist Title
  • Arc Words:
    • "Sweets for the sweet."
    • "Be my victim."
  • Artistic License – History: The backstory given by the first movie claims that Candyman was lynched in Cabrini Green around 1890. Construction didn't begin on Cabrini Green until 1942. Justified in that Candyman's urban legend doesn't need precise historical accuracy to give him life, as shown by this backstory being retconned in Farewell to the Flesh.
  • Asshole Victim: Trevor. Not only was he cheating on Helen with a student, but it is implied that he was going to let her rot in the asylum while he would set off for a new life with his lover. He is shown grieving for Helen after she dies, but by then it is too late for him.
  • Badass Boast: Candyman has plenty, but this one is the most well known.
    Candyman: I am the writing on the wall. The whisper in the classroom. Without these things I am nothing, so I must shed innocent blood.
  • Badass Longcoat: Candyman's attire, which is used to cover his bee-infested ribcage.
  • Bee Bee Gun: When the Candyman opens his coat he's revealed from the neck down to be little more than a skeleton wreathed in the many thousands of bees that killed him. And yes, he weaponizes them.
  • Beauty Is Never Tarnished: Subverted. Helen rescues a child from beneath a raging bonfire and she is horribly burned, later dying from her injuries. While her face is left intact, her scalp becomes a charred mess with only bits of hair left. When we see Helen in her coffin and then as a Candywoman, it's clear the mortuary wax didn't begin to hide what happened to her.
    • Also averted earlier that. When the gang leader smacks her with a hook, it gives her a huge and nasty-looking black eye.
  • Bittersweet Ending: Helen manages to save the baby from the fire and defeat Candyman only to die from the burns, and become a murderous urban legend herself.
  • Broken Pedestal: After Helen becomes a murder suspect, the attitude of Det. Frank Valento, who initially acted as an ally to Helen to help her investigate the murders and aided her after her assault, turns cold and hostile towards her. Justified given that the cops found Helen carrying a meat cleaver at a bloody crime scene, was seemingly attacking Anne-Marie when she was found, and has seemingly murdered an infant and brutally killed a dog (which really was killed in-universe, just not by her). Everyone eventually sees her as a Rebuilt Pedestal when she ultimately sacrifices herself to destroy Candyman and save the still-alive infant, with the citizens of Cabrini Greene led by Anne-Marie showing up to pay their respects at her funeral.
  • Bugs Herald Evil: Bees are a significant part of the urban legend surrounding Candyman, so when they show up, he's on his way.
  • The Cameo: Ted Raimi as the boyfriend in the opening scene.
  • Can Always Spot a Cop: Played with. The two female leads are graduate students researching urban legends. When they have to visit a high-crime area as part of their investigation, they deliberately dress in a manner that suggests that they are cops in order to not be harassed. It works, as soon as they arrive and get out of their car, several locals hanging out immediately start calling out that they are cops while keeping their distance.
  • The Can Kicked Him: Why summon the Candyman from a bathroom mirror? Because bathrooms are scary.
  • Clap Your Hands If You Believe: The Candyman is powered by people's belief in him. If people do not believe, he cannot continue to exist. This is the true meaning of his Badass Boast above, hence why he starts targeting Helen.
  • Crapsack World: Cabrini Green, a Real Life housing project that in its day was infamous even outside Chicago for its crime problems.
  • Creepy Child: A young boy Helen meets at Cabrini Greene gives off this vibe, though in the long run he's not evil.
  • Dating What Daddy Hates: Played very, very seriously - the original Candyman was killed by a lynch mob, led by a white guy who was furious that Candyman had impregnated his daughter.
  • Daylight Horror: The film has plenty of day scenes that are every bit as frightening as many night scenes in other horror movies. In fact, the Candyman's first full appearance is in broad daylight and it's still very shocking.
  • Death by Adaptation: Trevor and Bernadette.
  • Deity of Human Origin: Candyman styles himself like this. He's an immortal spirit with supernatural powers that cannot be truly killed. He subsists on the faith of those who believe in him, sleeps on a concrete bed resembling an altar, and his lair resembles a rotting, dilapidated old church. The graffiti on the windows and paintings on the walls and ceiling give it the air of a horrifying chapel. But while he can't die he can be beaten. Just as Helen destroys him in the climax.
  • Deceptively Silly Title: Our ghost is called the "Candyman" but he is the most dangerous being in the setting.
  • Dies Differently in Adaptation: In both the story and movie, Helen dies. However, in contrast with how in the former she died in the bonfire as the Candyman held her down, she manages to escape but dies from the flame wounds as she was rescuing Anthony and herself in the latter (then later comes back as a vengeful spirit like Candyman).
  • Disappeared Dad: Unlike the short story, Anthony's father is never brought up.
  • Disgusting Public Toilet: Not only is the men's room in Cabrini Green a great place to get attacked, it's also filthy, smelly, and broken-down.
  • Evil Is Bigger: Casting the 5'5 and very petite Virginia Madsen as a naive graduate student against the 6'5, graveyard-voiced Tony Todd as a malevolent ghost makes for one hell of a visual power differential between the hero and the villain.
  • Evil Sounds Deep: Being played by Tony Todd means Candyman has a very deep voice. This is an aversion from the original short story where even his voice sounds sugary sweet.
  • Expy: Candyman combines elements of two real urban legends: Bloody Mary (a ghost who appears by chanting her name in a mirror) and the Hook (a killer with a hook for a hand who attacks a couple in a parked car).
  • Fan Disservice: Helen is arrested and stripped by the police. The fact that the beautiful Virginia Madsen is naked is quite overshadowed by the fact that she is crying and covered in blood. Ten minutes after this scene, however, there's a scene of her taking a bath that is so blatantly Fanservice that it seems like an apology.
  • Fantastic Noir: The first film plays out partially like Film Noir. It figures considering its director had directed the Film Noir film Chicago Joe and the Showgirl a couple years prior to the release of this film.
  • Final Girl: Subverted in the first film, but played completely straight in the second and third.
  • Foreshadowing: A few bits.
    • Early on after his lecture Trevor and an attractive female student share a Longing Look while Helen's back is turned. Said student is also the last one to leave. He's having an affair with that exact student.
    • Candyman's opening creepy monologue ends with him saying the line "I came for you..." while we get a good shot of Helen's face.
    • Helen and Bernadette, before they unwittingly summon Candyman, make a joke about how someone's lurking behind a bathroom mirror. In the second act of the movie Candyman himself later smashes through the mirror to get at Helen.
  • Gods Need Prayer Badly: The biggest threat to Candyman's existence in the movie is that people will stop believing in him, and the situation's quasi-religious nature is played to the hilt. Interestingly though, what Candyman want is for his legend to spread and not the truth about who he actually was. In fact, he seems to target Helen because she wrote about the latter.
  • Gothic Horror: A typical aspect considering it's the brainchild of Clive Barker after all. Though, while most of Barker's well-known horror films are stylistically modeled after the works of director Ken Russell, this film in contrast is modeled after Stanley Kubrick's take on this trope, The Shining to name a few.
  • Groin Attack: A very disturbing example happens to a mentally disabled kid in a park restroom. And if you look closely at Bernadette's body and how Candyman kills the psychiatrist, it's clear Candyman uses the genital/rectal areas as the hook's points of entry.
    Candyman (narration): With my hook for a hand, I'll split you from your groin to your gullet.
  • Hate Sink: Trevor, Helen's husband, proves himself to be a gigantic asshole when it's revealed that he's been having an affair with his student, Stacy, behind his wife's back. And even worse, he allowed her to move in with him when Helen was locked up in the asylum, which heavily implied he was willing to let her rot in there as he began a new life with his mistress. Even though he begins to show some regret over his unfaithfulness, his death at the hands of his the ghost of his vengeful wife is very much earned.
  • Heel–Face Door-Slam: After Helen dies, Trevor seems to feel pangs of guilt for how he cheated on her. Then he chants her name in front of the mirror...
  • The Hero Dies: Helen herself at the end of the first film. It also partially counts as a Heroic Sacrifice.
  • Heroine With Bad Publicity: Helen Lyle, due to being suspected for the murders.
  • Hood Film: A supernatural horror version thereof. While the short story it was based on was set in Liverpool and was mainly about the British class system, this film moves the setting to Chicago's Cabrini-Green projects and makes the Candyman the ghost of a black man who was lynched for sleeping with a white woman.
  • Hook Hand: Candyman's weapon of choice.
  • Hooks and Crooks: One of the most infamous examples since Captain Hook. Helen uses one in the last few minutes of the movie as well.
  • Improbable Infant Survival: Played straight with the baby Helen rescues in the film who survives being kidnapped by Candyman, held prisoner, and nearly burned alive, but super averted in the short story.
    • Also averted with the boy who had a run-in with Candyman in the restroom in the backstory and the baby mentioned in the interview with the freshman.
  • Insufferable Genius: Philip Purcell, one of Trevor's academic buddies, is a condescending know it all, who is very dismissive of Helen and her credentials. He also prides himself on being expert on the Candyman legend.
  • Karmic Death: While it doesn't stick, Candyman is destroyed by the same bonfire he set up to burn Helen and the baby in.
    • For his infidelity, Trevor is murdered by his vengeful wife's spirit as she claims him as her first victim.
  • Kill It with Fire: The way they deal with Candyman at the end. Unfortunately, Helen dies that way as well... resulting in her vengeful spirit to be Wreathed in Flames with Flaming Hair.
    • Averted in the short story, where Helen dies in the bonfire, trapped by Candyman who can't be destroyed by a simple fire.
  • Killed to Uphold the Masquerade: A more petty version of this is implied to be part of the reason why the Candyman decides to target Helen. At least a part of his anger towards her seems to be motivated by the fact that with her attempt to investigate him and write about his story, she brought him unwanted public exposure and thereby demystified him somewhat. Except the other reason he's targeting her is her resemblance to his long-lost lover, if the painting in his lair is any indication.
  • Maligned Mixed Marriage: Part of how Candyman came into existence. The original "Candyman" was a young, well-to-do black man who fell in love with a white woman (who is implied to have borne a striking resemblance to Helen). Her disapproving father hired some thugs to hack off his right hand and cover him in honey, attracting bees that stung him to death. Legend did the rest. This is only in the movie, as Candyman has no origin in the short story.
  • Magic Mirror: Candyman can be summoned from any mirror.
  • Mirror Monster: Saying Candyman's name five times in front of a mirror will summon the killer who will slay you with his Hook Hand. At the end of the movie, Helen has become a vengeful spirit who can be summoned the same way.
  • Missing White Woman Syndrome: Referenced:
    Helen: Yeah, but y'know what bugs me about the whole thing? Two people get brutally murdered and the cops do nothing, but a white woman goes in there and gets attacked and they lock the place down.
  • Mix-and-Match Critter: Candyman is effectively a mashup of various urban legends such as Bloody Mary, the Hook-Handed Man, the Mutilated Child in a public restroom, and the razorblades in the Halloween candy. This is pointed out in the short story by Trevor.
  • Murder Into Malevolence:
    • Candyman was a freedman raised in "polite society", i.e. white society, who fell in love with a plantation owner's daughter while painting her portrait. When she became pregnant, her father had a mob chase him down and brutally murder him. End result: he became a murderous spirit who now only cares to "empower his myth" by hunting down anyone who chants his name five times into a mirror and gutting them with a hook.
    • Candyman invokes this trope himself in the first film: he torments and ultimately causes the violent death of the female protagonist. The twist ending reveals she too becomes a murderous spirit.
  • Mythology Gag: There is a Guy Fawkes mask on Helen's bathroom wall, which could be an allusion to the fact in the original story it takes place around Guy Fawkes Day.
  • Named by the Adaptation: The nameless boy from Butt's Corner is called Jake in the movie.
  • Non-Indicative Name: The Candyman has nothing to do with candy.
  • Our Ghosts Are Different: Candyman himself is a vengeful spirit that lashes out at anyone that summons him, and the same thing happens to Helen in the end.
  • Our Slashers Are Different: The Candyman is a slasher but erudite, intelligent, and possessed of powers relating to both being a ghost as well as an urban legend.
  • One Phone Call: Played with. After Helen is arrested by the police on murder charges and informed of her Miranda rights, she asks for a phone call to contact her husband, but it's never stated that she has any rights to one or that it's the only one she'll get.
  • Politically Correct History: Gutted with a hook and then kicked to death. The actual Candyman, when he was still alive, was in a relationship with a white woman — which got him violently murdered by a white lynch mob led by the woman's father.
  • Race Lift: The Candyman in Barker's original story had been described as an imposing possibly white man (he is described as having a rather unnatural shade of yellow that of course adds to his candy theme).
    • Bernadette, Anne-Marie, Jake (who was nameless in the short story), and Anthony (Kerry in the original story) were made African-American in the movie as well.
  • Sarcastic Confession: Trevor claims Stacy is in madly love with him, in a joking manner, and Helen laughs it off. Oh, if only she knew...
  • Scary Black Man: Tony Todd as the Candyman. This was his Star-Making Role. Do the math.
  • Scary Stinging Swarm: Candyman was tortured by having his hand hacked off with a saw, then being covered in honey, which attracted bees that stung him to death. His ghost now uses those bees as weapons.
  • The Scottish Trope
  • Shout-Out: To Shakespeare: "Sweets to the sweet" is taken from a line from Hamlet.
  • Setting Update: The original story takes place in a fictional British housing project called Butt's Court in the late 70's, while the movie moves the setting to 90's Chicago and the real life slum of Cabrini Green. The change in setting also makes the bonfire seem out of place, as in the original the bonfire is part of the traditional Guy Fawkes Night celebrations.
  • Shrouded in Myth: Of course.
  • Spared by the Adaptation: Anne-Marie's baby.
  • Speak of the Devil: Saying Candyman's name five times into a mirror will summon him, in a nod to the Bloody Mary legend.
  • Spooky Painting: The giant graffiti of Candyman's screaming face that Helen sees in the semi-abandoned projects.
  • Spooky Photographs: When reviewing her evidence from Cabrini Greene, Helen discovers that Candyman was standing right behind her in the bathroom.
  • Sorting Algorithm of Mortality: As stated above, averted. Among Candyman's many victims are a child, a dog, (attempted) a baby, and (indirectly) the white female protagonist.
  • Sound-Only Death: Candyman's murder of Bernadette.
  • Struggling Single Mother: Ann-Marie is raising her son alone in Cabrini-Green, where poverty and violence are common place. Even worse is the fact that there is a murderous spirit lurking around, which kidnaps him and tries to burn him alive in a plan to make him apart of his legend.
  • Surreal Horror: Given this film odes to Stanley Kubrick, this can be expected.
  • Teacher/Student Romance: Trevor is revealed to be having an affair with his student, Stacy, behind Helen's back.
  • Tempting Fate: Go Ahead: Say the curse and visit previous murder sites. What Could Possibly Go Wrong??
  • Tragic Villain: Candyman himself. In life, he was simply an artist whose only crime was being a black man who fell in love with a white woman in a racist and intolerant society. He only became an evil and murderous spirit after being hunted down by a lynch mob and brutally executed.
    • Can also apply to Helen at the end of the movie. She started out as a graduate student simply studying an urban myth only to become embroiled in a series of supernatural murders of which she was framed for, leading to her being involuntarily committed and learns her husband had planned to let her rot in there while shacking up with his attractive, young student. She is then killed when burned in the pyre, her final act saving a baby from the flames. She then becomes the "new" Candyman, inadvertently summoned by her husband whom she then guts with Candyman's hook.
  • Trigger Phrase: Saying Candyman's name five times in front of a mirror is what summons him.
    • And Helen at the end of the movie.
  • Truth in Television: Even though the method of killing may have been more "creative" than real life, Candyman's story (minus the supernatural elements) tragically happened many times in U.S. history. From the time of slavery until the mid-20th Century, being involved with a white woman would have been a very good way for a black man to fall victim to a lynch mob.
    • Other elements of the film are also have their basis in real-life tragedy. The poverty, crime and violence suffered by the residents of Cabrini-Green was very true, and the movie was at least partly inspired by the 1987 murder of Ruthie Mae McCoy, a resident of Chicago's South Side ABLA homes who was killed when a burglar came through her bathroom mirror. The police were sadly just as useless in real life as they are in the film. Notably, the film has characters named Ruthie Jean and Ann-Marie McCoy.
  • Unnervingly Heartwarming: During the climax of Candyman, Helen agrees to sacrifice herself to save the life of the infant that the eponymous villain has kidnapped. The scene that follows is portrayed almost romantically, with Candyman demonstrating surprising tenderness towards his victim, complete with slow piano music, a Bridal Carry, and a held gaze as he assures her that they will be immortal as living urban legends. However, Candyman has still essentially ruined Helen's life by getting her framed as a murderer, so the romance of the scene has a distinct undercurrent of wrongness about it. And then Candyman reveals that under his coat, he's just a skeleton wreathed in the many hundreds of bees that killed him, and as he leans in for a kiss, we see even more of the damn things pouring out of his mouth...
  • Urban Legends: The legend of the Candyman is an In-Universe combination for the "Bloody Mary" and "Hookman" myths, and a few of the kills that happen on-screen in this and other films in the series occur because of people daring each other. Exploring the application of urban legends as a boogeyman in modern living is the reason Helen becomes involved in the Candyman's horror to begin with, and the "urban" part is highlighted with the fact most of the plot of the first film happens within the (now-demolished) Cabrini-Green projects in Chicago.
    • Another urban legend mentioned that a young boy associates with Candyman is the infamous story that there are booby-trapped public bathrooms designed to mutilate men and boys who use them.
  • Vengeful Ghost: Candyman, and by the end of the movie Helen herself.
  • Villainous Breakdown: For most of the film, Candyman is unstoppable. At the climax of the film Helen stabs Candyman with a stake of burning wood, takes the baby and escapes his grasp. He immediately flies into a rage, uselessly trying to tear apart the burning wood pile to get her back. He goes from the silver-tongued, confident killer to impotently commanding her to come back to him while the bonfire consumes him..
  • Your Mind Makes It Real: The entire point of both the short story and the movie, Candyman is myth and urban legend incarnate, and through the fear and belief of the people of Cabrini Green, he'll always have been real.
  • We Hardly Knew Ye: Dr. Burke is around for only one scene before Candyman cuts him open with his hook.
  • Woobie, Destroyer of Worlds: Candyman became an undead monster after he was murdered by a lynch mob because he was a cultured black man who fell in love with a white woman in the 19th century.
  • Where da White Women At?: Played for Drama, as Candyman (before becoming a ghost) was lynched for the heinous crime of impregnating a white woman.
  • Wretched Hive: Cabrini Green, much as it was in Real Life. Helen's thesis is about how the residents use urban legends like Candyman to deal with the constant horrors of living there. Candyman feeds off of their fear to survive, and is vanquished when they burn him in a bonfire.
  • The Worm That Walks: Candyman's body is a collection of the bees that killed him wreathed around his bloody skeleton, with his human head still attached.
  • Would Hurt a Child: Candyman does not discriminate when choosing victims.
  • You Can't Kill What's Already Dead: Helen tracks down the undead Candyman to his urban lair and attempt to stab him through the neck while he's sleeping. He just pulls it out without issue, and moments later it becomes obvious why: most of his upper body is a rotten patchwork swarming with bees.


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