"Devil's Advocates: Candyman" Book Review

Written by Rebecca McCallum

Published by Auteur Press


Written by Jon Towlson
2018, 134 pages, Reference
Released on 19th April 2018


2020 sees the release of the highly anticipated reboot of Candyman and with that in mind there is perhaps no better time to make a critical revisit to the original to remind ourselves of how, in what was a fairly stagnant period for the genre, the minds of Clive Barker and Bernard Rose merged to bring us a slasher that blends social commentary with horror.

Sweets to the Sweet: From The Forbidden to Candyman explores the source material of Barker’s novella, citing his working class background as the foundation for its gritty setting. A discussion on the interplay of realism and the fantastical highlights how the author grounds his narratives in order to give them plausibility before then expanding the worlds out into more unfamiliar, dream-like landscapes. The setting of the tower block and how it represents the social decay through its association with crime, violence and insecurity is examined. However, while The Forbidden clearly seeks to open up debate about social inequality, there is also room given to counter-discussions about the meaning and intention behind this.

The layers of myths and legends present within Candyman are considered in Urban Legends, Urban Myths, Adapting Candyman. The structures of the retellings are broken down to reveal that while they enable us to explore the abhorrent crimes that take place in society, they uniformly rationalize why such crimes take place and as such dispel the threat of ‘the other’. The development of the Candyman character into a symbol of black oppression and whether representations of black people in cinema have been empowering or contentious opens up some of the book’s most interesting discourse. What follows is a dissection of critical responses relating to the portrayal of black people and the morality of using visual stereotypes to evoke fear.

Candyman: Production and Reception begins by looking at the impact that playing Candyman had on actor Tony Todd as well as his methods and significant contribution to the follow up Candyman: Farewell to the Flesh. Virginia Madsen’s breakthrough role as Helen Lyle marked a milestone in her career and the lengths to which she went to transform herself and convince a sceptical Bernard Rose about her suitability to provide rare insight into an overlooked leading female role in the genre. Towlson explores how the director achieves close identification with the character of Helen, what drives her towards her ultimate fate and how playing the part tipped over into Madsen’s personal life. There is also a fascinating analysis of Phillip Glass’s evocative score and the composer’s fraught relationship with the film.

Extensive time is spent looking at the idea of the monster in Candyman and the Return of the Repressed. An assessment of the opening titles is undertaken to demonstrate how Rose creates a sense of dislocation with the landscape itself operating as a malevolent and threatening force. While we might assume that the oppressed refers indiscriminately to Candyman, Towlson is careful to point out that the film is also about Helen’s journey in coming to identify herself as the Other. The link between Candyman and Helen and the use of mirrors and apartments (and the notion of exploring these spaces) as reflecting one another offers some new and refreshing insights that have been previously underdiscussed. Alongside this, there is discussion of the marginalisation of Candyman and Helen by white men and the intertwining of their two stories which eventually merge as one.

For a pocket-sized book, Candyman manages to cover considerable academic ground with references to theory relating in the fields of psychology (Jacques Lacan) and feminist readings (Barbara Creed). Towlson may present the reader with a fair amount of rather weighty material but the key arguments and observations he lays out concerning The Return of the Oppressed and urban myths are well constructed and methodically thought out.


Overall: fourstars Cover
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