7. The Candyman – Candyman
. . . .
Can you do it? Can you say it the fifth time? If so, you’re a braver soul than I am.
As with the previous entries on this list, I’m referring to the movie character Candyman played by the inimitable Tony Todd. But by all means, check out the short story “The Forbidden” by Clive Barker, where the Candyman made his first appearance. I am a huge Clive Barker fan, I always have been, and the Candyman is one of his greatest creations.
Quite a few superficial changes were made when changing the story to the movie (most notably swapping the location from England to Chicago’s infamous Cabrini Green), but the heart of the story remained almost unchanged. A young woman in search of a legend finds more than she bargains for in a mythical figure that commands her belief in him, and claims her as his victim.
Unlike most modern killers, the Candyman, while lethal with his hooked hand, is no maniac. He’s a seducer. He’s a romantic figure, a dreamlike being with the overtones of an incubus, coming to his victim while she’s in dreamlike phases, imploring her to “Be his victim” while opening his arms to her as if to embrace her. It’s coded almost like a bodice-ripper, with rich, languid movements from the characters conveying the slippage between the real world and the dream world of legends where the Candyman lives.
The Candyman is operatic. He’s timeless. He exists as long as we believe in him, and as long as we tell stories about him he can never die. In claiming his new lover as his victim, he is ensuring that the stories told about them will last on and on forever, granting them both an immortality that only a legend can attain. He has exactly the power we give him. It’s a sly commentary on stories and the power we give them over us.
Of course, Tony Todd’s gravitas and that deep, deep voice only adds to the mystique. I can’t imagine any other actor who could give the Candyman such resonance and dignity. He’s not a screaming bogeyman or a silent, masked killer. He’s not a random force of nature. He comes to those who call him, and you have to be prepared to pay the price of belief and of disbelief.
The mythology woven around the character makes him stand alone, and the mystery about the Candyman’s origins makes the story all the more powerful. The greatest sin of the movie sequels (both of diminishing value, in my opinion) is in trying to give the Candyman a relatable backstory. We don’t need to see how the Candyman became the Candyman. Describing his past actually robs him off his power. Legends are such exactly because they transcend such mundane things. Giving him a backstory, tragic though it may be, makes him just another slasher come back from the grave for revenge. It cheapens what was once a powerful, and novel, villain.
The backstory contributes very little toward understanding the character, in my opinion. The Candyman’s pathos and regal bearing, the immeasurable sadness of his yearning, conveys more than a thousand flashbacks to his past ever could. You don’t have to understand the Candyman. He’s not a creation of logic and reason. He’s the story of the monster told by our ancestors while we sat around the campfire at night and listened to the creatures rustling just beyond the reach of the firelight. He’s the things we don’t understand and the stories we make up about them to help us understand the world.
His being is more important than how he came to be.