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Literature / The Forbidden

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"The Forbidden" is a short story written by Clive Barker in 1985 as a part of the 5th volume of his anthology The Books of Blood, and the original inspiration behind the Candyman film series.

Helen Buchanan is working on her thesis on graffiti in a rundown set of council estates when she accidentally discovers there is something more than normal about the stories told in this place. The locals tell stories about gruesome murders committed by someone with a hook. Helen gets caught up in a true tale of horror when the Candyman reveals himself to her.

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Not to be confused with a 1978 short film of the same title directed by Barker, elements of which were later incorporated into his novella The Hellbound Heart and the subsequent Hellraiser film franchise.

Tropes in this short story:

  • Adult Fear: Living in fear of an urban legend ghost is plenty bad enough but as Candyman shows he's clearly not above killing a young baby to serve his purpose.
  • A God Am I: Thanks to his nature (requiring belief to continue existing), it is hinted that Candyman has this attitude about his "congregation."
  • Animal Motifs: Bees.
  • Arc Words: "Sweets for the sweet." is written several places around the neighborhood where the Candyman resides.
  • The Bad Guy Wins: In the short story, Anne-Marie's baby is murdered with the implicit approval of the residents of the housing estate as a kind of quasi-sacrifice, Helen is burned alive in the bonfire while trying to retrieve the baby's body to prove that the residents were involved, and Candyman's legend remains absolute and unshakable.
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  • Bee Afraid: Given he is called the Candyman and his sweet aroma, bees appear attracted to the villain.
  • Bee Bee Gun: Likewise as he confronts Helen she can at first hear and then feel the bees flying out of his body and onto her own skin.
  • Clap Your Hands If You Believe: The Candyman was created by people's belief in him.
  • Crapsack World: Bob's Corner, the setting of the original story, though it's not based on any particular real life British housing estate as much as urban blight in general.
  • Downer Ending: The residents of the council estate manage to conceal Candyman's murder of Kerry by burning his body in a large pyre. When Helen goes to take the body from the pyre before being set ablaze, she's restrained by Candyman inside as the residents set fire to it. Helen can do nothing but watch hopelessly as her husband searches for her in vain while she burns to death with Candyman holding her. Helen dies, the evidence is destroyed, and Candyman will continue to exist as a murderous legend.
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  • Evil Sounds Deep: Averted in the short story where he's described as having a rather light voice that even resonates like honey.
  • Eye Scream: Anne-Marie tells Helen about a man who was killed in a flat nearby her own, telling her that his eyes had been removed along with being slashed to death with a hook.
  • Fashion-Victim Villain: In the short story, Candyman is described as wearing a brightly colorful patchwork outfit which Helen thinks would almost make him look gaudy and ridiculous if he wasn't splattered with blood. He's also described as wearing rouge as one would put on a corpse during embalming.
  • Faux Affably Evil: The Candyman himself; at one point, he asks Helen to be his victim but when she refuses, he tells her he won't force it upon her (Helen even thinks to herself how he's a "gentleman"). Of course, later, he ends up trapping her inside the bonfire anyway so she'll burn to death, merely giving the illusion she had a choice in the matter.
  • Foreshadowing: When Helen first meets Anne-Marie in the short story, the baby's stroller is full of candy wrappers and he's munching on a lollipop.
  • Gods Need Prayer Badly: The biggest threat to Candyman's existence is if people start to doubt he's real.
  • Groin Attack: One of the residents at the estates relays a story to Helen about a mentally handicapped man who was castrated in a public restroom, likely by the Candyman.
  • The Hero Dies: Helen is our protagonist but the Candyman is the true winner of the tale.
  • Hook Hand: Candyman's weapon of choice.
  • I Have You Now, My Pretty: Occurs when Helen first encounters Candyman. When she turns down his offer to be his victim, he asks for a kiss instead. Obviously horrified at the thought of kissing a man with a rotting torso that holds a beehive, Helen attempts to fight him off but Candyman corners her, holding his hook to her neck. Candyman then embraces Helen and kisses her, causing her to lose consciousness. Luckily, the kiss was all he wanted from her.
  • Infant Immortality: Averted very harshly.
  • Kill It with Fire: Averted in the short story, where Helen dies in the bonfire, trapped by Candyman who isn't at all bothered about being inside of giant bonfire.
  • Killed to Uphold the Masquerade: Candyman traps Helen inside the bonfire to ensure she can't go to the police with Kerry's body and hold the residents of the council estate responsible for their compliance in his death. Helen is also killed in order to become a new legend to strengthen Candyman's congregation's belief in him.
  • Mix-and-Match Critter: The Candyman is a mixed up kind of creation who's origin is left completly up in the air in the short story. He has a clear candy theme and a mix of some urban legend usual suspects. Exactly how these all came together is anybodys guess.
  • No Accounting for Taste: Helen and Trevor are married but barely seem to be able to get along in any of their scenes together.
  • She Knows Too Much: Helen learns about the murders occurring in the council estates and begins asking questions and casting doubts which ultimately leads to Candyman being summoned and traps her inside the bonfire so she'll die, being unable to reveal the culpability the residents had in Kerry's death.
  • Shout-Out: To Shakespeare: "Sweets to the sweet" is taken from a line from Hamlet.
  • Shrouded in Myth: Of course.
  • Speak of the Devil: Candyman is one who always wants people to be speaking of him. As long as it is in belief of him. Should you doubt him, he's obliged to come make an example out of you. Although he'll also come for some innocent blood just for good measure.
  • Town with a Dark Secret: In this case it is more accurately a neighborhood of a few housing estates. They are all aware Candyman is real and whenever someone starts poking around doubting there will be sacrifices. Once everybody knows Anne Marie's son is gone everyone gives Helen the cold shoulder knowing Candyman is going to be obliged to show himself to her.
  • Unintentional Period Piece: The original short story paints an accurate picture of the urban decay of a now passed era.
  • Urban Legends: Candyman himself is one that actually came alive. In his fictional assembly he has elements common to many other real urban legends.
  • Vengeful Ghost: Candyman is possibly this even though his origin isn't explained beyond he was created by belief. He claims he exists in rumor. Film adaptations went and ran with this more directly though.
  • Word Salad Title: The Forbidden in this case is an oddity, as the thing that is forbidden in this narrative is the doubt of our villain. He needs people to believe in him to survive anyone who hears his stories and can possibly spread doubt of his reality is something that he must eliminate and thus make forbidden.
  • Your Mind Makes It Real: The entire point of both the short story, Candyman is myth and urban legend incarnate, and through the fear and belief of the his people will always allow him to exist.
  • Would Hurt a Child: Candyman will totally kill a baby if it helps people to believe in him.
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