Candyman

Candyman is a film that puts the “urban” into urban legend, with a suave eponymous antagonist sporting of all things, a hook for a hand laying waste to occupants of the Cabrini-Green housing project in Chicago.

Horror above all else, prioritizes setting over character investment – or at least, can get away with having done so. But Candyman invests heavily in both. Luckily for us.

An urban legend folklorist, Helen Lyle, similar to Jan Harold Brunvand (who authored a very entertaining series of books on the subject), is researching apocryphal tales as part of her University of Illinois PhD thesis. And a particular name keeps coming up, a slave descendent “Candyman” who like former heavyweight boxing champ “The Galveston Giant” Jack Johnson, paid the price for cavorting with a white woman.

And he’s a figure who’s haunting housing projects and is the stuff of…well…legend.

Based on Clive Barker’s short story “The Forgiven,” Candyman adroitly plays with themes of poverty, race, gentrification, inside/outside group dynamics.

But it’s more than that. It’s a film that’s also set against a backdrop of cutthroat publish-or-perish academe, in which do-gooding sociology studies build immense social capital (if not affordable housing) for those concerned. And different principals weigh in on urban blight as self-described experts, from the cozy confines of ivory towers.

The Windy City has provided colour to horror films including site favorites, Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer and Child’s Play. And it’s a character unto itself.

Candyman has atmosphere to spare, as gritty and dirty a flick as Street Trash and then some. And of course, Tony Todd cuts such a terrific and memorable figure as the titular villain.

Candyman is also one of the very top supernatural horrors of all time, and despite critical lauding, remains somewhat under the radar especially when compared to other 90s efforts like Scream.

****1/2 (out of 5)

Crime Scene: The Vanishing at the Cecil Hotel

This is the second time that Elisa Lam’s name has come up on this site. The first was when we reviewed Hunter, a hilariously inept 2015 action movie with conspicuously overdubbed sax playing and a protagonist with a protruding gut, but which referenced Lam’s horrifying death at the Cecil Hotel.

Now, Crime Scene: The Vanishing at the Cecil Hotel is a project that’s just as flabby, four episodes of true crime click-bait that could’ve been halved.

Why bring up a budget conscious pant-load of a film like Hunter in the context of a Netflix Lam doc? Well, surprisingly, the third-tier actioner actually wasn’t cited by any “web sleuth” in the doc, a collection of people for whom Occam’s razor is an afterthought, who are given a loose leash to spin all kinds of inane conjectures about the UBC student’s tragic demise. Had the web speculators done a little digging, they could’ve found our Hunter review. After all, the film is called HUNTER. Coincidence, tinfoil hat wearers???

If you think this line of thinking isn’t thinking, you’d be right. In Crime Scene: The Vanishing at the Cecil Hotel, however, a bunch of self-styled online detectives make a “suspect’s” life a living hell, all for the sin of being a death metal musician and staying a few nights at the Cecil around the time of Lam’s death and writing dark music.

They even speculate about the mysterious origins of a nearly four decades-old bio diagnostic assay, because, after all, it’s called ELISA too. Good lord, people.

The folks also make all sorts of other audacious guesses about possible perps, absent any evidence, with reference to, yes, a horror film that shares a similar plotline. They even accuse LAPD of tampering with surveillance footage from the elevator. Why? How’d they come by this bit of insider info, short of pulling it out of their posteriors? Damned if we know.

Crime Scene is dominated by such folks. And a documentary film, by the very nature of its structure, lends heightened credence to opinions of those with disproportionate screen time.

A tighter, better production could’ve included: the Cecil’s manager, an investigating officer, and a psychologist to talk about Lam’s mental state.

That’s enough.

Certainly not a litany of runtime-extending Lam-obsessed creepers, one of whom even has the temerity to get footage of her Vancouver-area gravesite  for an extra dramatic boost.

Pretty tacky stuff. And a shame, given the lengths with which the filmmakers went to track down some of the case’s most important figures.

** (out of 5)