Scream Factory brings "Candyman" to Blu-ray, unfortunately it's the sequel CANDYMAN: FAREWELL TO THE FLESH (via their licensing deal with MGM); but the HD reissue does allow a reassessment of the strengths and weaknesses of the poorly-received follow-up.
Folklorist Phillip Purcell (Michael Culkin, IMMORTAL BELOVED) has hit it big with a bestselling book based on his research on "Candyman" (Tony Todd, VOODOO DAWN) – a black artist brutally murdered for impregnating the daughter of a plantation owner, whose spirit is said to appear to those who say his name five times into a mirror a la "Bloody Mary" – particularly since the fate of his colleague Helen Lyle in the first film seemingly confirmed the phantom killer's status as a powerful urban myth. When he is brutally eviscerated with a hook in a New Orleans pub restroom while on a book tour, the prime suspect is Ethan Tarrant (William O'Leary, BULL DURHAM) who assaulted the victim minutes before. Although there is no physical evidence tying him to the murder, detectives Ray Leveseque (David Gianopoulos, AIR FORCE ONE) and Pam Carver (Fay Hauser, TV's THE YOUNG AND THE RESTLESS) suspect him not only of a connection to four similar murders including his own Candyman-obsessed father.
Ethan's big sister Annie (Kelly Rowan, THE GATE) does not believe that he is guilty even though he has confessed to the crime and carries out her own investigation which leads her and her husband Paul (Timothy Carhart, WORKING GIRL) back to her family's Esplanade plantation and an attic room mural and graffiti shrine to Candyman where her father's body was found. Attempting to dispel the Candyman myth for her frightened students – including the artistically-inclined Matthew (Joshua Gibran Mayweather, CAMP NOWHERE) – Annie says the killer's name into a mirror in their presence. Candyman does not show up until later that night but he wants Annie to join him in the beyond and kills Paul instead. Annie tells the police that Candyman is real, but Carver is more inclined to believe it was an intruder in a mask while Levesque starts to suspect Ethan of covering up for his sister. Realizing that others around her are under threat from Candyman – including her mother (Veronica Cartwright, THE WITCHES OF EASTWICK), Ethan, and her students (including Matthew who has mysteriously disappeared) – Annie delves deeper into her family's past in search of a way to destroy Candyman.
CANDYMAN: FAREWELL TO THE FLESH has been put together with a healthy budget and a degree of conviction, but it suffers from an overall bland sequel-itis. The usually more atmospheric setting New Orleans – also the setting of director Bill Condon's directorial debut SISTER, SISTER – proves less of a novel environment for a character like Candyman (the Cabrini-Green setting of the first film was a suitable transposition of the urban estate of Clive Barker's source story "The Forbidden" from the fifth volume of BOOKS OF BLOOD) right from the get-go with the assorted weirdness of costumed party-goers and the annoying "chorus" in the form of radio personality Kingfisher (Russell Buchanan, RHINESTONE) throughout the film that tries to tie themes of confession and atonement in the story into the cycle of Carnaval. The change in setting while telling a variation on the first film's story is just part of what seems like a series of genre-ic compromises that come with trying to transform a successful film into an audience-pleasing franchise.
Todd always brings grave authority to his appearances, but Candyman in general is less scary here than in the first film (particularly when he is uttering sub-Pinhead dialogue like "Swallow your horror and let it nourish you. Come with me and sing the song of misery"). Rowan turns in an earnest performance, but she can't help but come across as the more generic blond choice after Madsen in the first film. It does not help that audiences are way ahead of the heroine, not only in knowing Candyman's mythical background but also guessing her connection to him (which seems more of an oversight in the plotting and editing), or that O'Leary's supporting bit as the brother seems like the more interesting and tormented character. The murder investigation aspect is perfunctorily-handled with the audience never really feeling like Annie's freedom is at stake as she falls under suspicion for the murders. The climax of the film includes the New Orleans-set film clichés of encounters with ominous religious processions, a chase through drunk and oblivious revelers at the height of Mardi Gras (rain-soaked this time around) – as well as a visit to the cemetery with its rows of above ground tombs hiding secrets and menacing shadows – before a variation on the destruction of the haunted house cliché of gothic horror.
The supporting cast is more interesting with Cartwright reigning herself in from Tennessee Williams-isms as an aging Southern belle reconciled with her own mortality (so long as she can take some secrets with her), and Nunn similarly avoiding Southern genre trappings as a black preacher who may or may not believe in Candyman but understands why the desperate might see him as a false god. Culkin and Matt Clark (THE HORROR SHOW) – as a sleazy stolen art dealer – are a bit broader, but they are used sparingly to good effect. Carhart has little to do as Annie's supportive husband, but he at least makes an impression unlike Hauser's detective (who is upstaged by an over the top Gianopoulos as her skeptical partner). The "farewell to the flesh" subtitle comes from the Latin word carnaval, while the third film's title CANDYMAN 3: DAY OF THE DEAD moves the setting to Los Angeles on the eve of "Dia de los Muertos". The cinematography of Tobias A. Schliessler (LONE SURVIVOR) is technically fine but undistinguished while Philip Glass' score – mostly built up of the composer's suite of music from the original remixed by music supervisor Don Christensen (CHRISTMAS EVIL) along with new Glass cues to supplement the mix – does not quite strike the tone it did in the original.
While Bernard Rose's CANDYMAN is available on Blu-ray in England, France, Italy, Australia, Spain, Denmark, and Sweden through European rights holder Universal Pictures (Sony has the rights stateside), CANDYMAN: FAREWELL TO THE FLESH makes its Blu-ray debut stateside courtesy of Scream Factory's MGM licensing deal. Released theatrically by the short-lived Gramercy Pictures (a joint-venture of PolyGram and Universal Pictures whose catalog was acquired in the late nineties by MGM with a few exceptions like PORTRAIT OF A LADY), CANDYMAN: FAREWELL TO THE FLESH hit laserdisc and VHS by the now-defunct Polygram Video and later anamorphic DVD by MGM in 2001 (followed by a triple-feature package from MGM/Fox with THE FOG and TERROR TRAIN). Scream Factory's 1080p24 MPEG-4 AVC 1.85:1 widescreen Blu-ray of the CANDYMAN: FAREWELL TO THE FLESH features a sharpish, clean-looking presentation (apart from white specs here and there) that exposes some of the ropier prosthetic and miniature model shots. The film was mixed in Dolby Stereo and released in Dolby Digital (with the digital tracks representing the matrixed surround mix rather than the 5.1 configuration that would become the norm just a year or two later). The disc presents the film's original mix as a DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 track and also includes a lossless 5.1 upmix that gives the surround a bit more width. Optional English SDH subtitles are also included.
Extras are sparse but start off with an audio commentary by director Condon (ported over from MGM's DVD) in which he relays his admiration for Rose's original film and Barker's source story. He reveals that the sequel started development with a script from Rose that did not feature the Candyman character at all; rather, it would continue in the vein of the urban legend theme and take its inspiration from Barker's short story "The Midnight Meat Train" but the producers figured that audiences would want a Candyman sequel with the character actually in it (THE MIDNIGHT MEAN TRAIN would be adapted to the screen in 2008 with a pre-fame Bradley Cooper and Vinnie Jones as the menace). Condon discusses the first film's reinvention of gothic trappings within the urban Cabrini Green setting (Ernest Dickerson's BONES attempted something similar with lesser results) and concedes that the sequel's New Orleans setting is more conventional in comparison (especially its literal haunted house). He also takes the blame for the film's jump scares, which he included to prove to producers that he was capable of scaring the audience after the more languid approach to SISTER, SISTER. Of the film's reception, he suggests that critics saw it as a sequel to a slasher film and overlooked the racial aspects addressed in the story.
Star Todd appears in the brand new interview "CANDYMAN Legacy" (25:55) with a heavier emphasis on the first film. He discusses how he really pushed for the lead in Tom Savini's NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD remake and did not think the film would pigeonhole him as a horror star since he was also doing theater and mainstream television roles, and that Bernard Rose contacted him about CANDYMAN on the basis of his work on the Kenya-lensed TV movie IVORY HUNTERS. Candyman's tragic backstory and the gothic romance aspect attracted him to the project, and he bonded with co-star Virginia Madsen and Rose during pre-production. He also discusses the real dangers of the Cabrini Green neighborhood, working with the bees and the bee wrangler, as well as the film's cult and pop culture success which as lead to references in rap music as well as the belief by some that Candyman is a real urban legend. Of FAREWELL TO THE FLESH, he remembers Cartwright and Culkin fondly but feels for Rowan having to carry a mystery story in which the audience that holds little surprise for the audience. He has little to say about the third film but does reveal that CANDYMAN VS. LEPRECHAUN was a serious consideration for a follow-up.
Cartwright appears in a shorter interview "Down Memory Lane" (10:45) in which she talks about her previous horror roles in THE BIRDS, INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS, and ALIEN and her previous work with Condon on the TV movie DEAD IN THE WATER. She discusses the fun of playing a Southern belle-type role, shooting on location in New Orleans (and interiors in Los Angeles), her co-stars, and her death scene. It is not a very substantive interview in relation to the film, but it is nice to hear Cartwright talk about her genre work. Besides the film's theatrical trailer (1:53), the disc also includes trailers for the Robert Englund PHANTOM OF THE OPERA, Stuart Gordon's DOLLS, and SQUIRM. (Eric Cotenas)
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