Candyman: Farewell To The Flesh Review

Bernard Rose’s Candyman was one of the best horror films of the nineties, rescuing the genre from a glut of pseudo-horrific trash aimed at the teenage market. With a strong heroine, a witty script and some cunning shocks, it remains a genuinely disturbing movie. Given this pedigree, it’s sad to say that the sequel Candyman: Farewell To The Flesh doesn’t even come close to not being as good as the original. It’s a tedious mess with mediocre performances and a plot which might be confusing if it was worth following in the first place.

You will remember that the ‘Candyman’ is a particularly unpleasant spirit who appears whenever some poor schmoe is daft enough to say his name five times in front of a mirror. As explained in the first film, he is exists in the space between the stories of his origins – a nice concept which was also played with in the underrated Wes Craven’s New Nightmare. The sequel makes the mistake of junking all this thoughtful stuff, which actually expands the genre into much more interesting territory, and decides instead to be a straightforward slasher flick with the customary “dark secret” which explains why the killer is attacking the heroine’s family and trying to destroy her life.

Perhaps the greatest innovation of Candyman was the quirky intelligence of the leading character, Helen Lyle, who was independent and resourceful. The sequel offers us a different, heroine, a special needs teacher called Annie (Rowan) who works in New Orleans and comes from an old family of landowners. Some years before, her father was found dead in mysterious circumstances, possibly killed by the mentally unbalanced son Ethan. Ethan, played by an actor who was obviously trained in the Method by someone who once sat next to Lee Strasberg on a bus, is in custody again, accused of killing Professor Purcell (Culkin) in the same manner as his father. Ethan claims that the murders were perpetrated by the Candyman, and he’s right, as we see when Purcell is offed shortly after a lecture on how the Candyman is nothing more than an old myth – “I believe in the myth. But in the flesh and blood ? (pause for dramatic effect) No.”. Annie, eager to prove her brother’s innocence, finds herself being drawn into the Candyman story, discovering its historical basis and its not remotely surprising link with her own family. Meanwhile, the deaths continue and Annie finds herself in the frame as a possible suspect. Linked to this is a tentative and superficial examination of the lingering resentments caused by slavery in the Deep South - there's much discussion about the deserted slave quarters in the family pile - but that's so badly handled that it doesn't really bear discussion.

It’s hard to describe just how tedious this film is. The New Orleans setting, during the carnival, offers some mouthwatering opportunities for local colour and potential suspense, but Bill Condon and his DP manage to make absolutely nothing of it. For all the use made of the locations, it might as well have been filmed in Woking. The lighting is so consistently flat throughout that it looks like a particularly poor made for TV film. Worse still is the attempt to provide local interest by having a sporadic narration by a DJ named ‘Kingfish’. This is presumably intended to be amusing but is about as funny as prostate cancer. Kingfish witters on endlessly – “I’m on the air full time… Man, someone give me a her-cane or find this Kingfish a woman” … or a gag… please… Kingfish’s continuous spouting of waffle is irksome in the extreme but is nothing on the stream of platitudes placed in the mouths of the other characters. Annie’s husband, a chef in a local bar, gets a thankfully early exit, but not soon enough to stop him going on about how much Annie’s pupils here or describing himself as, God help us all, a ‘studmuffin’. Once he goes, we’re left with Annie’s cancer riddled mother, played by the once promising Veronica Cartwright – “We leave this world as we come into it – naked, blonde and covered in shit” – and a local priest (played with more conviction than necessary by Bill Nunn) who offers the observation that “People round here need hope. They’re getting sucked into the pit”. Whatever the screenwriters were doing with their time, it clearly didn’t involve doing much writing. Amusingly, you know when someone is going to die because they begin shouting unwise statements such as “THERE IS NO CANDYMAN. HE DOESN’T EXIST”. This is usually welcome because it’s only the well-achieved gory deaths that make the flick remotely interesting to watch.

The acting is strictly amateur night, with Kelly Rowan coming off best, even though the character of Annie has absolutely nothing to compare with the strongly individual character of Helen in the first film. As a teacher she overflows with enthusiasm – “Right now these kids are the one thing keeping me sane” which suggests that she has never taught in Doncaster – and as a victim she whimpers pathetically without engaging a jot of sympathy. The male actors seem lost, with the redneck cop so badly played by David Gianopolous as to seem little more than a joke. Tony Todd has a memorable presence but is reduced here to either being a stereotyped slave being terrorised by vigorously hamming rednecks or a crap-spouting demon – “I am the writing on the wall, the whisper in the classroom” and that sort of thing.

Bill Condon went on to write and direct the wonderful Gods And Monsters, which goes to prove that even the worst movies can be a stepping stone to better things if you’ve got real talent. On the evidence of this, he was lucky to get a second chance. The whole point of Candyman was that it wasn’t a jaded sequel or another go at a wretched formula, so the whole idea of making a sequel is self-defeating. Even if it were a good idea, it would have to be a lot better than this before I’d look kindly upon it.

The Disc

This is yet another MGM bargain basement effort with the usual pros and cons for the vast majority of their back catalogue output. This time, it’s a Polygram title getting the treatment.

The picture quality is surprisingly good, at least during the first half hour or so. Sharp contrast and rich colours are evident but so, unfortunately, is a lot of print damage. The white speckling gets worse as the film goes on and in the darker interior scenes there are numerous artifacts on display. The film is presented in its original 1.78:1 ratio and is anamorphically enhanced.

The soundtrack is a straight transfer of the original Dolby Stereo recording in Dolby Digital 2.0. It’s not at all bad actually, with plenty of action from the left and right speakers with occasional directional dialogue and frequent ambient effects. Most of the dialogue is placed in the centre channel. This is a good, clear track.

The only extra is the pompous theatrical trailer which reveals too much about the film, not that there is a great deal worth revealing.

If you like this film then you may as well get the DVD, since it’s easy to get hold of at a discount price. Otherwise, steer clear, as there’s nothing here of any interest.

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