AVAILABLE ON BLU-RAY: NOW, from 88 Films here
RUNNING TIME: 95 mins
REVIEWED BY: Dr Lenera, Official HCF Critic
Coleman Tarrant is murdered while investigating the deaths of three men in a manner similar to the Candyman legend. One year later – and three years after the Candyman murders in Chicago – Professor Philip Purcell writes a book about the latter case but is himself killed and Coleman’s son Ethan is accused of his murder because of previous confrontations between the two. His daughter Annie tries to discredit the legend by invoking his name, but instead summons Candyman to New Orleans on the eve of Mardi Gras.…
As I wrote my review of Arrow’s Blu-ray of Candyman [which can be read here] a few months ago, I realised that it had been a great many years since I’d seen the two sequels, and couldn’t even remember much about them, though I recalled them as being okay. So, having convinced myself even more of Candyman’s stature as one of the best – indeed possibly the best – American horror film of the ‘90s [okay it wasn’t a particularly good decade for horror], I held a debate with myself whether to re-watch and review the follow-ups, neither of which were as popular as the first film and which failed to create a hit franchise, even though the title character remains iconic. There wasn’t even much background information about them circulating unless I wanted to import the Region ‘A’ Blu-rays, which I opted not to do so I could watch the films and get the reviews in quickly while I was on a Candyman kick. However, 88 Films have just released the first sequel on Blu-ray, with the second to follow, so of course I took the opportunity to view them again in top grade quality, add a few extra observations, and comment about these new discs.
Only a short while into Candyman: Farewell To The Flesh I had a hunch as to why this brief series failed. In the first film, it’s ambiguous as to whether Candyman actually exists, or at least until near the end – while it’s also ambiguous as to whether he’s the ghost of Daniel Robitaille the poor plantation slave punished in the most horrific way for getting the daughter of his master pregnant, or some kind of evil spirit conjured up by the deprived black community of Cabrini Green. The sequels dispense with the idea of wanting viewers to interpret things for themselves, and drastically simplify things, therefore cheapening the premise considerably and reducing Candyman [okay, I haven’t re-watched the third film yet, but I’ll be surprised if it does anything different], a character full of metaphorical significance, to little more than a conventional bogeyman who occasionally pops up to eviscerate anyone who says his name five times [and a few who don’t] and pester the heroine to join him in death. And yet Farewell To The Flesh really isn’t bad, and is at times actually quite good, but it just can’t help but look very poor compared to its masterful predecessor. The basic story, though working at a far lower level than before and partly rehashing the first one, is still in its own way quite strong, even though the script thinks that the revelation of something near the end concerning its heroine is a big deal even though I reckon virtually anybody would have worked it out way before then. There are a few effective sequences, New Orleans makes for as appropriate a setting as Chicago was before, and the film is brave enough to kill off people you may not expect to be killed. The biggest problem if taken just as a horror movie is that it isn’t particularly scary, something that can be probably largely be put down to perennial journeyman director Bill Condon [two Twilight films, Beauty And The Beast] who knows what he’s doing and who sometimes seems to be having fun playing with mirror imagery here, but can’t help but bring a certain blandness and lack of personality to his work.
Saying all that, the very first shot, the camera panning out from inside Candyman’s mouth on a painting is a very ominous one – in fact paintings are used effectively throughout. The background story of Robitaille is retold, with just a little bit more detail, in the opening by Phillip Purcell whom you may remember as the rather snarky professor from the first film. The film rather overuses this tale, with quick shots of a flashback utilised throughout and then the whole flashback shown in detail near the end. It’s quite a powerful and nasty scene as we see the hand-lopping and the bee-stinging, and I like the touch of the little boy who tries some of the honey and says “it tastes like candy”, causing the others to call him Candyman which if you think about it is otherwise quite a daft name for this particular character. However, it would have had even more impact without those earlier shots, and why does the swarm of bees look far less convincing than the one we saw previously? Anyway, the lengthy build-up to the death of Purcell – who believes that Helen took on the persona of Candyman and killed those people three years ago – is well done, with a really rather good false scare when he pretends he’s being attacked by Candyman during his lecture to show people how silly all this Candyman stuff supposedly is, though two more false scares is possibly overdoing it, and there are far too many of these throughout the film. And right from the beginning Philip Glass’s incredible score from the original is also overused. Despite the impact it made, it was used sparingly in Candyman, but here it’s plastered all over the place and because of the minimalist nature of much of the music gets a bit monotonous. And why get Glass [who didn’t even like the films] to write a new theme for Annie and then not use the melody portion of it until the end credits?
Initially it’s Annie’s brother Ethan who’s blamed for the murder as well as that of his dad, and he’s clearly traumatised by something he’s seen. But when Annie, a teacher, calls Candyman’s name five times in her classroom to show her pupils how daft the Candyman legend is, folk start dying around her including members of her own family, one of which is quite a shock considering how early it happens. As before, the evidence points to the heroine having committed these killings, though of course this time around we know for sure that she didn’t do it. One bit that annoyed me was when the sight of somebody being murdered by some invisible being turns up on a monitor, because it symbolises this film’s dumbing down and making matters explicit or obvious, though taken on its own it’s admittedly a rather good scene. At least the kills are suitably brutal, Candyman sometimes choosing to throw his victims through glass or out of a window as well as hooking them, and the bees are used in one this time around though I personally feel that they could have been employed more in both films. And when the film comes up with a way to kill Candyman, it seems a bit more logical and interesting than a bleeding stake through the heart and the image of him cracking apart like a mirror is a strong one with even the CG not bad, though why on earth does Candyman pretty much tell Annie how to kill him a minute or so before she actually does? The cobwebbed old house that starts to collapse in the Mardi Gras rain does make for a dramatic setting for the climax, though generally Condon unsurprisingly doesn’t make the most of his locales. Annie fleeing Candyman through streets filled with party-goers should have been a nightmarish sequence, but it just falls flat. And the final scene feels as if they thought up a final shock and then cut the actual shock out, rendering it pointless.
A radio DJ’s supposedly funny commentary quickly get annoying, though I did like the amusingly dislikable detective Heyward Sullivan played by Randy Oglesby who you just hope will get polished off. I can see many critics today complaining how the film sometimes uses African-Americans as figures of fear and even saying that the film is therefore racist, though considering that Annie is being terrorised by Candyman [who is black] and therefore may very well feel uneasy around other black people, these moments seemed quite logical to me. You probably wouldn’t get such bits in today’s pathetically touchy climate though. There’s very little of the social commentary that you had before, just a continued sense of Candyman’s rage and an almost throwaway line “one less potential drug dealer, one less potential murderer” referring to how the white police don’t care about a black kid disappearing in a plot line that ends up being virtually thrown away. As for Candyman himself, Todd still plays the part with considerable dignity, and is still able to give a vivid sense that he lives on his pain and people’s fear of him, but he’s not given the poetic lines that he was before. He seems to have got himself a new coat too.
Kelly Rowan fares okay as Annie for some of the time but doesn’t convey enough sadness and desperation in the second half, while Veronica Cartwright gives herself a none-too-convincing Louisiana accent, hardly necessary because no other major characters talk like that in the film despite its setting. Condon and cinematographer Tobias A. Schliessler opted to shoot almost everything in a muted palette which hardly evokes all of the locales, though there are a few strong images, like an altar of candles and skulls enshrined to Candyman with a painted portrait on the wall above of him crying out in anger with his hook and other arm reaching out. In the end Farewell To The Flesh could never have been anywhere near as good as Candyman what with the direction they decided to take it in, so I guess you can’t really criticise it for not even seeming to try. Taken on its own terms it’s a reasonable supernatural slasher with some good kills and a half decent story, even if it’s really a sequel that had no reason to exist – and shouldn’t it really have been about the undead Helen anyway?….
It’s taken a while for Candyman: Farewell To The Flesh to make its way onto Blu-ray in the UK seeing as Shout! Factory brought it out on Region ‘A’ back in 2014. 88 Film’s transfer actually looks rather different from the one on DVD, and not just because it’s unsurprisingly sharper and more detailed. It’s also considerably brighter in some [though not all] scenes and in the process evokes the settings a bit more, with some very vivid night-time cinematography – hence my addition of half a star to my original rating. I don’t recall how it looked in cinemas but the Blu-ray presentation for me is far more visually pleasing in every way to the DVD.
88 Films have ported over the Region ‘A’ special features, one of which had been on the DVD of that region. This is Bill Condon’s audio commentary, which consequently is out of date when he mentions how Philip Glass was about to release the music on CD. However, it is a very fine track. I’m no fan of this director’s work, but he knows how to give a good commentary, even his stuttering here and there somehow being rather pleasing to hear. Condon goes into great detail about the production, is happy to point out the flaws that he thinks the film has, and expresses his love for Rose’s classic, but also defends his sequel well. I loved hearing how Clive Barker consoled him when he was upset at the negative response his movie got. Barker has always seemed like a great guy from what I’ve heard and read. Best of all is that this commentary may make you appreciate the film a little bit more.
The interview with Todd is also a joy. I’m no celebrity worshiper, but he also seems like a really cool person I’d love to have a beer or two with. He talks with eloquence about how he got his parts in the Night Of The Living Dead remake and Candyman, the first two Candyman films, and the legacy of the character. Some stories you will have heard before, but you also learn how the bees had their own trailer, and how his coat from the first film was stolen. Apparently it was he who insisted on the flashbacks in the first sequel, and he also mentions how Bernard Rose planned to do a whole series of remakes of classic horror tales. A shame that he only seemed to get as far as Frankenstein, because they would have been far more interesting than this Dark Universe rubbish they keep trying to get off the ground. And finally we hear from Veronica Cartwright who, like me, was terrified by Invaders From Mars as a child! She touches on movie scariness before discussing her role and filming her death scene. She’s fun to listen to, though loses a brownie point for not having seen the first Candyman.
Candyman: Farewell To The Flesh is a very flawed work but I still can’t help but have some fondness for it. There are dozens of worse horror sequels and the Candyman mythos, even if drastically reduced, still has some allegorical power. It gets its best possible presentation on this new Blu-ray. Recommended with Reservations.
*Limited Edition O-Card slipcase [First Print Run Only]
*Limited Edition Collectors’ Booklet by Film Journalists Dave Wain and Matty Budrewicz [First Print Run Only]
*High Definition Blu-ray (1080p) presentation
*DTS-HD MA 5.1 Soundtrack
*DTS-HD MA Stereo Audio
*Optional English SDH Subtitles
*Audio Commentary by Director Bill Condon
*The Candyman Legacy – Interview with Actor Tony Todd [25 mins]
*Down Memory Lane – Interview with Actress Veronica Cartwright [10 mins]
*Original Theatrical Trailer