With the reboot/sequel/whatever it is coming up, there’s been much interest of late in Clive Barker’s hook handed creation. Writer/director Bernard Rose of the 1992 original Candyman [in my view one of the top ten horror films of the ’90s] has mentioned before about his proposed sequel which the studio didn’t like, but ‘Bloody Disgusting’ were able to snag an interview with the man, who revealed more about the project, and indeed another one, than he ever has before.
Candyman‘s success led to Rose trying to sell his passion project – the big budget Beethoven biopic Immortal Beloved [which is also a wonderful film] – and after much rejection Mel Gibson’s Icon Productions .gave it the go-ahead. However, Rose was still obligated to deliver a second Candyman film first. His brainstorming led to an idea that he describes as:
“Quite radical. It was not directly following on from the story of the first filmat all. But following on from the idea of the mythical ‘bogeyman’, and what its origins were. What it is about these sort of figures in history and in society that’s so universal and terrifying. You want to have this hurt, wounded, but terrifying brutal killer. And we’re still fascinated with this. Every show on Netflix is about a serial killer, right? All of them. If you took out the police procedurals, serial killers, and the medical dramas, there’d be nothing on that place. I started to think about – who was really the first bogeyman? By ‘bogeyman’, I mean ‘shadowy figure who will come out of the dark and just kill you mercilessly and mutilate you’. And who was the first one in history who really fit that bill? And of course the answer is Jack the Ripper. And so, I got very fascinated by this idea. I wanted to make something that basically would be about, as it were, the ghost of Jack the Ripper in modern London. The idea that he was this sort of mythical figure that kind of haunted … the East End. We’re talking about the London of the early 90s [which] still had these really soot-stained, really derelict areas where prostitutes would hang out on the street corners. No different from the 1880s. It still had that almost kind of Hogarthian feel about it, that was kind of disturbing.”
Rumors have existed for years that the initial plan for Rose’s sequel would have found Candyman substituting for the butcher Mahogany in a loose adaptation of Barker’s short story The Midnight Meat Train. Were these rumors true?
“Basically, my story – titled Candyman II: The Midnight Meat Train – the idea was that the Jack the Ripper murders start to happen again. And whereas the first Candyman was about race, the idea was to make the second Candyman about gender. It was to be about the idea of this faceless, brutal killer who only attacked women, in a horrific sexual manner. And whose primary objective was to stop ‘whores’ – his weird, moralistic take to it. That’s also very perverse, at the same time. The protagonist was actually a British policewoman who starts to investigate the murders. And of course, as in all Ripper stories, the moment she starts to uncover all of these theories, these Masonic influences in the British police force coalesce to stop her. So far, so much like every other Ripper thing you’ve read, right? But you start to realise as she’s getting more and more isolated from her policeman husband, and – in the same way as Candyman’s Helen – she was being more gaslit by all of the people around her. And the closer she got to the heart of the mystery, the more layers of strangeness floated around her – it became a weird procedural. At the same time, there was this threat that was coming closer and closer. And it all seemed to revolve around terrible things people had seen in tube trains rattling along the tunnels.
“It had a very, very extreme but rather wonderful denouement which was somewhat based on The Midnight Meat Train. I took the central gag of a train, which is basically a meat wagon with all the dead people hanging from the straps, bleeding on the floor. That was the climactic scene of the film. In the original short story, the train pulls into a secret station where there’s an alien feasting on them. In my film there was a secret railway station under Buckingham Palace, which led to a banquet hall where some members of the Saxe-Coburg family were feasting on naked women. Cannibals. I kid you not, that was how the film ended! With…I won’t name them even, because they’re dangerous, those people. You know who I mean, the Saxe-Coburg-Gothas. Google them, you’ll find out they’re still in power. All these stories about the Ripper were all just bullshit. All the conspiracy theories, it was all a fantasy to hide the real objective – which was that the rich, the ruling classes, were going to dine upon the poor. And that they needed a special class of person called a “Ripper” to supply them with meat for the feast. And the climax, the denouement, the gag was – she gets right to the bottom of it. And one of the things the Masons do, they did to all the people who knew something, was they cut the tongues out of anybody who could tell the story. She’d gotten there, she found out the truth, so they cut out her tongue.
The end of the story was that she became the Ripper. She got the job. She became the first female Ripper. The idea was this progressive thing – the whole idea of it being a gender war, was only ended when she became the agent of it. It was a bit more complicated than that … it was kind of abstract, but it was hair-raising stuff, and really quite in-your-face”.
To be honest, this all sounds bloody brilliant to me, but one thing is missing, the one thing that the studio wanted more than anything else:
“Yeah. That’s right. No Candyman. He was mentioned in the story, because I had Purcell, the professor from the first film popping up as a character. And he basically said ‘The Ripper is ‘like’ a Candyman’. So there we are. I had him in the script, and mentioned the word ‘Candyman’ once. ‘This is kind of like a Candyman. I’ll give you three guesses what happened when I handed this in. They were upset that the star of their burgeoning franchise didn’t actually make an appearance in the sequel. To which I gave them what I thought was a very logical answer: ‘But didn’t he die at the end of the first one?’ He fuckin’ dies, man. And no one has ever acknowledged that. Except for me, when I wrote the sequel. By this point, Steve was ready to throw the fucking table at me. Not entirely unjustifiably, I suppose.”
Rose proposed to producer Steven Golin that they make the film as a standalone horror movie:
“He didn’t want to do it. He basically said ‘You’re fucking crazy, man. You’re gonna make a film slaggin’ off the Queen. They’re gonna fucking lynch you, man.’ By the way, he was right.”
Despite all this, Rose was willing to work with the producers to craft a more acceptable sequel, but their time frame proved too rigid:
“Steve had gotten this bee in his bonnet. He never liked the movie, but he damned well wanted another one by the same time next year. And so he did. When somebody who’s a good producer wants something, they usually get what they want. And he did, he got the movie Bill Condon made. And Bill did a really good job, within the brief. I think the only thing that’s left over from what I wrote is the fact that Purcell comes back in Part II. That’s it. Nothing else.”
Of course in the end Candyman: Farewell to the Flesh wound up taking three years after the original to get to cinemas. Some years later, Rose came around to the idea of making a more direct sequel to his initial installment:
“What was wrong with the first sequel, and what was certainly wrong with my idea for the sequel – which was just another film altogether that might be worth making one day, who knows? – but what really should have happened is that the sequel should have just started the next day. And should have just carried on. It should’ve just been a real sequel, and Virginia should have come back as a ghost.” The Bride of Candyman, essentially? “I have no idea why nobody ever wants to bring her back. The whole point of the original movie was not to make Virginia a Final Girl, but to make her a monster. The was the point of the unmade sequel, too – to make the protagonist into the monster at the end. Because I wanted to have a female bogeyman. And I sort of achieved it with the end of Candyman. But the fundamental point of the sequel was to make a female bogeyman. So if a sequel had been made at that time, it should have had Virginia, and Tony could have come back, too. Some combination with those two would have worked. But it could have been a little campy, because…’Are they having a romance?’ Ghosts having love affairs. It just suddenly starts to sound like a Tim Burton film, doesn’t it?
“But I had various plans and ideas. I spoke to Tony about it a few times, I spoke to Clive about it a few times. And we could never get any straight answers from any of the rights holders. People would always say ‘Yeah, maybe I’m sorta kind of somewhat interested.’ They didn’t want to know. It was a weird thing. It was like…I’ve always felt a little bit [like] they took it away back in 1992. No one ever cared at all what I thought about any of it since then. With the most recent iteration – I had an idea to do it. I called up Clive, and he got interested. ‘Yeah, all right.’ It had become clear that the rights holders had become MGM. So we went and approached them, and this was … before Get Out came out. And they said ‘Oh, no. We’re developing this with Jordan Peele.’ And that’s where it went.”
“Although I didn’t know who Jordan was at that point, because I hadn’t seen Get Out, nevertheless it sounded to me like a really, really good idea. And when I heard the basis of the idea was to take the story of the baby from the first film – it’s a good idea. And I was especially pleased to see Vanessa Williams in the trailer, who has not aged a day!
“So I think it’s actually a really good perspective. And it’s really good, in a way. The original film was much more controversial in terms of its racial politics when it came out. There were a lot of people who were quite against the movie, saying that it was promoting the old trope of “the black man and the blonde”. I’m sure the people who said that hadn’t seen it, because he’s lynched for that in the first place. That’s the wrong that needs to be righted. I always thought the people who thought that actually hadn’t seen the film. But on the other hand, that’s not my perspective. And if people had that perspective, and that bothers them, then that’s possibly something I couldn’t see at the time. Now that Jordan’s redone it with Nia DaCosta, I think it kind of removes that issue in a weird way. Or it changes the narrative of what it was. So to approach the story from a different perspective – to take it from Anne-Marie’s perspective, and her child’s perspective, I think is a really cool idea. I haven’t read the script, so I can’t tell you how it plays out. But I do know that much about it. And I do love that the new Candyman is about gentrification, because it’s the blight of the modern world.
“I think it’s a much, much better idea than the previous sequels. And it’s very, very, very definitely a sequel. It’s a direct follow-on. I’m very pro-the new film. I think the take on it is clever. I think that Nia is going to do something really different and interesting with it. And I’m really glad that there’s a feminine perspective in there, too. That was also one of the things I was trying very hard to do with the original film. The original is very much from a feminine perspective. Tony was in the movie for five minutes, and the rest of the time it’s Virginia.”
Should the new film resuscitate the franchise and allow for more installments, would Rose be interested in revisiting his Bride of Candyman sequel idea down the road should the opportunity arise?
“I don’t see why, if this new film is a hit – it’s definitely a really fun, legitimate, interesting way to do a sequel – the next one couldn’t be the one that I’ve always thought really should’ve been made, which picked up the next day afterwards in 1993. Because you could just make that film. Let me tell you – we didn’t shoot in the real Cabrini-Green for more than two days. Most of it’s a set. The fact that it no longer exists is kind of neither here nor there.”
And, had he been able to make the film that he’d initially planned to, would he have been interested in continuing on with making the Candyman franchise more of an anthology series that adapted various Clive Barker tales?
“That was my idea! I wanted to expand the idea of what could be considered a sequel. Here’s the problem with the horror sequel – once you know who the fuckin’ bogeyman is, he comes on and starts killing more people, or starts telling jokes. Because that’s what happened to Freddy. And that’s it. There’s no other way to go. That’s just how it goes. So where do you go from there? Do you just have a bigger and bigger body count? And we all know what that does. It stops being effective at all. A horror movie has to operate on dread. And dread has to be about the fear of something real. And to me, the thing that was at the heart of Candyman that was real was something that was, certainly in the early 90s, a fear – the idea that cities had places that you just couldn’t go. Because they were ‘too dangerous’, and there was something there that was almost supernaturally dangerous and freaky about them. And that idea was fundamentally racist. That was at the heart of Candyman. And I think that hit a nerve. I think that was true. And I wanted to do the same thing with the sequel. I wanted to basically do a woman’s fear of the city, which is different from a man’s. I didn’t want to do it in the sort of Dario Argento, ‘How cute, here’s a girl in a bikini facing a knife’ sort of way, but the real terror of the fact that there’s this sort of gender war in the world.”
“I would dearly have loved to have made that film at the time. I think it’s kind of a shame that I didn’t. There was an element of…they all decided that it was all down to them. You know how it is in Hollywood. ‘There’s no good deed goes unpunished.’ Once it was a hit, everybody was all over it like a bad case of the fleas. And they all thought they knew what was right for this now. It would’ve been better if I’d made it. I think if I’d made a trilogy of them, it would’ve been great. I think there are two really solid films there. One could have been the weird, digressive one about Jack the Ripper, and the other could have been The Bride of Candyman. But…there’s another part of me that’s glad that I never made any of them. I mean, if you asked me to swap that for Immortal Beloved, I’d go ‘NO’.”
I’d still like to see Candyman II: The Midnight Meat Train – but making it could be a problem. Not only does Rose not have a copy of that script, he thinks that it may no longer exist anywhere!