Candyman: Farewell to the Flesh Blu-ray Review
Written by Robert Gold
Blu-ray released by Scream Factory
Directed by Bill Condon
Written by Rand Ravich and Mark Kruger
1995, Region A, 93 minutes, Rated R
Blu-ray released on January 6th, 2015
Tony Todd as Candyman
Kelly Rowan as Annie Tarrant
Veronica Cartwright as Octavia Tarrant
Bill Nunn as Rev. Ellis
Michael Culkin as Purcell
William O'Leary as Ethan
Timothy Carhart as Paul
Fay Hauser as Pam Carver
Everyone knows about the Candyman, right? The phantom that haunts Chicago's infamous Cabrini Green housing projects? Rumor has it, if you look in a mirror and say his name five times, he will come for vengeance and split you “from your groin to your gullet” with his rusty hook for a hand. I'm not quite sure how this caught on as “a thing” people wanted to attempt, but a lot did and the legend spread. Apparently, he also developed a strong presence in New Orleans, during the Carnival season, a term that loosely translates as “farewell to the flesh”. His image is painted across houses, local radio personalities warn listeners of his wrath and he has even become the subject of at least one novel, by a professor named Phillip Purcell. When said author is murdered on his book tour, blame lands at the hands of Ethan Tarrant, a guy obsessed with the Candyman, and who publicly accosted the writer moments before the crime.
Ethan's sister, Annie, is determined to prove her brother's innocence and with her husband's assistance she embarks on a quest that may also reveal the circumstances behind her father's mysterious death. Their mother, Octavia, is obsessed with her own mortality as she battles cancer, but wants to protect her children from a dark family secret. Annie is a teacher at an inner-city school and her students are also strangely focused on the Candyman legend. One kid even draws historically pertinent scenes of a man on the wrong end of an angry mob incensed by an ill-timed love affair. Something is amiss here - am I wrong for being afraid of the Candyman? Should I find him more sympathetic? I don't know yet, but for what it's worth, I have written his name four times in this synopsis already and am not going to go for number five.
The original 1992 film was based on Clive Barker's short story The Forbidden, and introduced an all-new horror icon haunting a contemporary Chicago ghetto. The plot explored the consequences of questioning a powerful myth and mixed fantasy with reality as local residents were terrorized by an infamous boogeyman. The picture elevated its horror content with elements of a tragic love story and became an instant genre classic. There are countless tales this intriguing figure could share, but that doesn't mean he deserves a sequel. He isn't really a franchise villain. With the arrival of Candyman: Farewell to the Flesh (1995), screenwriters Rand Ravich and Mark Kruger take Barker's material down the wrong path by relocating the folklore to create more of a Southern Gothic origin story. It is difficult not to draw comparisons between the films, as the retconning of the sequel directly contravenes the rules established in the first.
By setting the plot during Mardi Gras and incorporating the Greek Chorus narrator via unseen radio DJ, Farewell to the Flesh effectively tells the story of a different titular villain. As new details come to light, some basic character motivations are undermined in that by making Candygram more of a victim, the preying on innocent Chicago minorities becomes uninspired and hypocritical. The beauty of the first film stemmed from blending inner-city criminal activity with a popular urban legend and manipulating people's fear of the unknown. When the supernatural elements are introduced, they take on an unexpectedly romantic tone and the whole picture builds to an operatic conclusion. This is not to take the stance that the original movie is art and sequels are crap, but Farewell to the Flesh goes out of its way to undermine all previous efforts.
Writers Ravich and Kruger don't appear to have a firm grasp on the mythology of the villain they are exploring. Consequently their screenplay is ponderous and too dependent upon over-the-top narration and clumsy character motivation. Everyone in New Orleans is aware of Handyman except for the police, and when our heroine somehow becomes a primary suspect, help is instantly available through the assistance of schoolchildren. I am not sure why sequels and remakes feel compelled to explain away the mystery of their villain with elaborate backstories, but Farewell to the Flesh does so twice, as it starts with a succinct monologue that elaborates on the phantom's origins, and later includes a detailed re-enactment of the character's tragedy.
Despite the weak script, Bill Condon (Gods and Monsters) makes a strong directorial debut and delivers a stylistic film, rich with atmosphere. That being said, the picture is further hobbled by a ridiculous number of “jump scares” that are frequently little more than loud noises, but at times resort to the depths of tossing an animal into frame to spook somebody. The picture's best asset is returning lead actor Tony Todd (Night of the Living Dead, 1990) as the sinister Candyland. Mr. Todd brings a romantic sensuality to the role and is quite charismatic whether he is seducing victims or eviscerating them. He has an incredible screen presence and deserves better material. The other star of this movie is Phillip Glass' iconic score and it is difficult to express how vital his contributions are to the tone of the picture as he builds on the classic themes he composed for the original film.
The supporting cast is made up of quite a few familiar faces, most notably Veronica Cartwright (Invasion of the Body Snatchers, 1978), who is clearly having fun as the haunted matriarch, Octavia Tarrant. Kelly Rowan (The Gate) is in an awkward position as Annie, the female lead forced to ride in the backseat of her own film because the villain is a far more interesting character. Bill Nunn (Do the Right Thing) serves as the moral compass of the picture as Reverend Ellis, community leader and parent to a boy with an artistic flair for sketching hate crimes. Michael Culkin (Immortal Beloved) reprises his role as the deliciously nasty Phillip Purcell from the first movie and is pretty awesome despite his limited screen time. Everyone else in the cast just kind of fills in the background of the screen without much resonance.
Farewell to the Flesh is not a terrible movie, just a confused one. There are enough interesting elements to keep you watching, but the rewards are greater for anyone that missed the first installment. The iconic figure was finally laid to rest a few years later with the dismal Candyman: Day of the Dead (1999) and despite threats of a series reboot, he has remained dormant for the past 16 years. Lord knows I have danced around his name countless times in this review, but hopefully the reward will be a Blu-ray release of the original feature!
Video and Audio:
Scream Factory pleases once again with a solid transfer presented in the original 1.85:1 aspect ratio that is true to the source material and satisfying despite a few bits of wear and tear. Colors and black levels are respectable and image clarity has never been sharper.
The default DTS-HD MA 5.1 track offers an impressive but not overwhelming use of directional effects, particularly in scenes involving the titular character. Dialogue remains clear and free of distortion, even with all of the silly audio jolts included to scare the audience. A stereo mix in DTS-HD MA 2.0 is also included and is pleasing, but the 5.1 track is the way to go, especially when it comes to Phillip Glass' score.
English subtitles are provided for those in need.
Bill Condon's audio commentary returns from the DVD release and is quite informative, as he bounces between scene-specific information and an overall recollection of his work on the production. It is a bit frustrating when he interrupts one story to comment on something less engaging on screen, but the track is definitely worth checking out.
Tony Todd sits down for his thoughts on The Candyman Legacy (26 minutes) and how the character has shaped his career. He reflects on his time working on both stage and screen and is clearly grateful for the opportunities provided. While the original film brings nothing but good thoughts, the actor shares a few regrets as the sequels declined in quality.
Veronica Cartwright takes a stroll Down Memory Lane (11 minutes) and offers anecdotes from her lengthy time in front of the cameras as a character actress who has worked with everyone from Ridley Scott (Alien) to Alfred Hitchcock (The Birds). Her stories are entertaining and she is instantly likeable as she candidly discusses some of her filmography.
The original theatrical trailer is joined with previews for additional titles available from Scream Factory to round out the special features on this disc.
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