“Your death will be a tale to frighten children, to make lovers cling closer in their rapture. Come with me, and be immortal”
- The Candyman
A Brief Eulogy for My Youth Part 1
I first saw Candyman in the same theater I saw the 1989 Batman in. It was the now vanished Quo Vadis Theater in Westland Michigan. I know I usually reflect on just the movies in these essays but if you will forgive me for a moment I want to talk about this theater, the theater I always think when the word is used.
The Quo Vadis Theater (Wikipedia)
The Quo Vadis Entertainment Center (also known as the Quo Vadis or the Penthouse Theater) was a movie theater in Westland, Michigan. Opened in 1966, it closed in 2002 and then remained vacant until it was demolished in 2011.
The Quo Vadis Entertainment Center was the fruit of Martin and Charlie Shafer's hard work and determination to build a movie palace. The structure was designed by Minoru Yamasaki, most well known for designing the World Trade Center. The Quo Vadis Entertainment Center opened in 1966. Its outside features a very Modernistic appearance while its interior once featured a very Romanistic design. The Quo Vadis was often regarded as a Movie Palace for its plush environment and cocktail lounge. It was one of the first cinemas to offer cocktail drinks to its patrons and was well known for its "Over 21 Club" cocktail lounge on the second floor. The Quo Vadis also offered patrons of the "Over 21 Club" headphones to watch movies at the (formerly adjacent) Algiers Drive-In through a "picture window wall". The Algiers Drive-In was demolished in 1985 to make way for a shopping center.
National Amusements purchased the property in 1986 and was still the owner as of October 2010. Demolition began in March, 2011 and was completed by June 2011.
In late 2007, a group called "The Quo Vadis Preservation Foundation" was created to try to save the theater and preserve/reopen the building with a practical application.
By the standards of today with the mega theaters and uber cinemas the Quo might seem dated. Hell I know it’s dated but you have to remember back in the day theaters were boring affairs. Hell the worst of the suburban dollar theaters today are probably better than the standard first run cinema when I was a kid. That is to say they were relatively clean, there was ample popcorn with artificial butter, and you forgot about them as soon as the movie was finished.
The Quo Vadis was a place of magic.
Yes the place was already past its glory years. Yes it smelled kinda funny and there were rumors you could get blowjobs in the second floor theaters for $20 on Fridays at the midnight show. Yes some of the seats were uncomfortable and the bathrooms were too small. Yes… alright tine there was a lot wrong with the place and I get why people stopped going there when the multiplexes started opening but damnit I loved that place. There was a bit of old Hollywood charm in the place despite the decrepit state, seeing a movie there was an event to remember.
The Quo Vadis was my theater and I miss it to this day.
Also… I’ve never found a better venue for a horror movie.
I didn’t know what to make of the commercials for Candyman when they started playing on the television. It seemed the marketers were going for the hack and slash audience. It appeared every one of the television spots were fine tuned for the fans of Freddy, Jason, Michael Meyers, and Leather Face.
I could tell immediately that was not this movies audience.
I saw the movie after the end of my shift at McDonalds just before Halloween in 1992. I went with some friends from work. My normal groups of friends were never the horror movie fans I was. The group I set out with wanted to go to one of the newer and cleaner theaters but when I said I’d pay for the sodas they agreed to my choice of the Quo.
*Note: This was well before the insane hiking of concession prices to levels that would make the Koch brothers blush in shame.
I was blown away by Candyman.
The acting was top notch and it was the second time I remember being exposed to the genius of Tony Todd. The first was the brilliant remake of Night of the Living Dead but as much as I love that movie Candyman made Mr. Todd a fucking rock star. The rest of the cast was stellar and they took what could have been some seriously hokey and cliché dialogue and made it flow seamlessly. If it was just well acted I’d say Candyman was a good horror movie but that’s far from the case.
I’m going to make a very controversial statement.
The original Candyman is the best horror movie story of the 1990’s.
Now before you start screaming at me about the 90’s horror movies you think are better please hear me out. Candyman has depth, serious depth that made sense and didn’t feel tacked on. The director took the elements from the original Clive Barker story, wove them with new ideas and direction, and the result was fucking magic!
Candyman was the first movie that made me feel for the killer. I root for Freddy and Jason, yes I’m one of those assholes, and Jigsaw makes me laugh my generous posterior off. But the Candyman was not the bad guy, he was the victim of the story and in the end all he wanted was love. He was a lonely angry spirit bound to the Earthly plane by loss and pain. None of the people who died really deserved it, but he didn’t deserve what happened to him.
As always if you’ve never seen the movie or haven’t seen it in a long time I am providing the Wikipedia entry as well as a hyperlink. But please, I beg you, if you haven’t seen the original Candyman go to Netflix or Amazon and watch it.
You will not be disappointed.
Candyman is a 1992 American horror film written and directed by Bernard Rose, based on the short story "The Forbidden" by Clive Barker, though the film's scenario is switched from England to the Cabrini–Green public housing development on Chicago's Near North Side. It stars Virginia Madsen, Tony Todd, and Xander Berkeley. The plot follows a graduate student (Madsen) completing a thesis on urban legends who encounters the legend of "Candyman" (Todd), an artist and son of a slave who was murdered and his hand replaced with a hook.
Candyman spawned two sequels, Candyman: Farewell to the Flesh and Candyman 3: Day of the Dead.
Helen Lyle is a graduate student conducting research for her thesis on urban legends. While interviewing freshmen about their superstitions, she hears about a local legend known as Candyman. The legend contains many elements similar to the most well-known urban legends, including endangered babysitters, spirits who appear in mirrors when fatally summoned, and maniac killers with unnatural deformities. The legend claims that Candyman can be summoned by saying his name five times while facing a mirror (similar to the Bloody Mary folkloric tale), whereupon he will murder the summoner with his hook-hand. Later that evening, Helen and her friend Bernadette jokingly call Candyman's name into the mirror in Helen's bathroom but nothing happens.
Helen discovers that Candyman was the son of a slave, whose father became prosperous after developing a system for mass-producing shoes during the Civil War. Candyman grew up in polite society and became a well-known artist, sought after for his talent in producing portraits. After falling in love with a white woman whom he impregnated, he was set upon by a lynch mob hired by his lover's father; they cut off his painting hand and replaced it with a hook. He was smeared with honey stolen from an apiary, prompting the locals to chant 'Candyman' as the bees stung him to death.
With her colleague Bernadette, Helen enters the notorious gang-ridden Cabrini–Green housing project, the site of a recent unsolved murder, linked to Candyman. There, she meets Anne-Marie McCoy, one of the residents, and a young boy named Jake, who tells her the disturbing story of a child who was castrated in a public restroom, supposedly by Candyman. While Helen explores the run-down restroom, a gang member attacks her: he carries a hook, and has taken the Candyman moniker as his own to enhance his "street cred". Helen survives the assault and is able to identify her attacker to the police.
Helen later faces the apparent real Candyman, who explains that since Helen has been telling people he is just a legend, he must prove he exists. Helen blacks out and wakes up in Anne-Marie's apartment, covered in blood. Anne-Marie, whose Rottweiler has been decapitated, and whose baby is also missing, attacks Helen and she is forced to defend herself, using a meat cleaver. The police then arrest Helen. Trevor, Helen's husband, bails her out of jail, but Candyman appears to Helen again and cuts her neck, causing her to bleed unconscious. Bernadette then arrives at the apartment and Candyman murders her. The police are called and Helen is sedated and is placed in a psychiatric hospital pending trial.
After a month's stay at the hospital, Helen is interviewed by a psychologist in preparation for her upcoming trial. While restrained, Helen attempts to convince the psychologist that the urban legend is indeed true by calling Candyman. Candyman appears, murdering the psychologist, and Helen is able to escape. She briefly confronts Trevor but he is now living with one of his female students. Helen then flees to Cabrini–Green to confront Candyman and to locate Anne-Marie's still-missing infant. In an apartment's attic, she encounters the words "It was always you, Helen."
Candyman predicts that Helen will help carry on his tradition of inciting fear into a community, and promises to release the baby if Helen agrees to sacrifice herself. However, Candyman, intending to sacrifice them to feed his own legend, takes both the baby and Helen into the middle of a massive junk pile, which the residents have been planning to turn into a bonfire. The residents believe Candyman is hiding inside the pile and set it aflame. Helen rescues the baby, but dies from burns in the process. Candyman also burns in the fire, leaving only his hook-hand behind.
After Helen's funeral, in which the residents of Cabrini–Green pay their respects, Trevor stands before a mirror in the bathroom of their former apartment. He chants Helen's name in grief, summoning her vengeful spirit. Helen kills Trevor with Candyman's hook, leaving Trevor's new lover Stacey with his bloodied corpse as Helen becomes the embodiment of the urban legend.
The film ends as the credits roll over a painting of Helen with her hair ablaze on a wall in Cabrini-Green, showing that she has now entered folklore.
My Closing Thoughts
Candyman had several sequels staring Tony Todd. They aren’t bad, well they have some bad moments, but they are worth watching just for the phenomenal performance of Mr. Todd. I think it’s safe to say I’ve harbored a little crush on Tony Todd for a long time.
The movie holds up really well. Yes there are some very dated wardrobe choices and set designs but they don’t take away from the awesome. For me the imagery in Cabrini-Green steals the movie in terms of lighting, construction, and atmosphere. Those scenes made the movie for me.
Candyman is timeless horror with a good story and incredible acting.