Candyman: Farewell to the Flesh. 1995. Directed by Bill Condon. Screenplay by Mark Kruger & Rand Ravich.
Starring Tony Todd, Kelly Rowan, William O’Leary, Bill Nunn, Matt Clark, David Gianopoulos, Fay Hauser, Joshua Gibran Mayweather, Timothy Carhart, Veronica Cartwright, Caroline Barclay, Michael Bergeron, Brianna Blanchard, & Clotiel Bordeltier.
PolyGram Filmed Entertainment/Propaganda Films
Rated R. 93 minutes.
In my review of the original Candyman, I discussed how the film mixes urban horror with the concept of white guilt, where we see the archetypal white saviour head into the supposed ghetto to find more than she bargained for, resulting in the emergence of urban legend into corporeality.
Candyman: Farewell to the Flesh is in the same vein, but going further, becoming more personal. From Cabrini-Green to the streets of New Orleans, Candyman returns to take back his history from the grips of myth, allowing his true history to live on in infamy, in bloody vengeance.
What makes this sequel nearly as good as the first – let’s face it, Bernard Rose’s Candyman is a masterpiece of modern horror – is how the story of Candyman himself retains power, gaining power, in fact. The utterance of his name is made stronger here in parallel to the idea of speaking about America’s racial history. In that, if you speak it aloud, the horror becomes real. If you don’t say his name, then his power’s taken away. But when you’ve spoken the name, repeated it, the horror comes alive. And we must either confront its terrifying face, or pay for having forgotten and ignored it.
“I am the writing on the wall“
Candyman, a.k.a Daniel Robitaille (Tony Todd), speaks these words as those of a murderous slasher archetype. But he is more than that, as are his words. He speaks of fate, the inescapable reach of America’s dark racist past, very much alive in the present, persistent in its perpetual nature.
This sequel is still urban Gothic, yet it deepens the connection to the Gothic tradition. We trudge through family secrets, bloodlines and secrets within them, history swept away somewhere unreachable – as it so often is in myth – and packaged as supposedly shameful. There’s a Southern Gothic feel here, as well. Like a horror story by William Faulkner, where a white families bloody ties to African American lineage, in particular slave lineage, brings about the destruction of their family generations later.
Moreover, this is the distinction between Rose’s first film and the sequel, its major themes. Rose illustrated how the white saviour pays a fatal price for trying to play the hero in an African American narrative, appropriating legend as fodder for academic study. Bill Condon’s sequel portrays white people in modern day not coming to grips with the history of their own people, re: enslavement and brutalisation of black bodies, how they’re destined to suffer for this inability to cope with ugly, violent white history.
An image of bees will always accompany Candyman and this is given more weight in Candyman: Farewell to the Flesh. Because with this imagery comes meaning, after the backstory of our killer, the slave Daniel Robitaille, is illustrated in all its hideousness. The bees are the hive. As in, the hive mind. This relates to the concept of racism, white nationalist thinking; the hive mind, the blind allegiance to one goal, a cult-like thought process. Therefore, the bees are symbolic of racism; the kind that ultimately kills. It drowns people of colour, it stings them, slowly, to death. This is why Candyman opens his mouth, pouring bees: they fill him up, they choke him, and all he can do is unleash their terror back on his victims in order to settle the score.
Brutal horror doesn’t cease in this sequel, either. The first killing is fantastically nasty. But it’s the origin scene of our Candyman which takes the cake. It’s a horrific moment. Further than that, it gets at the heart of America’s lust for blood, its racism, in one agonising sequence. This is where the bee imagery takes off. Yet watching in 2017 is a whole other thing. I saw this when it originally came out; I was 11, at a sleepover, and we watched the first movie, plus this one. Watching today feels relevant, in a sad way. Seeing the trajectory of racist America from slavery to Jim Crow to now, all through a horror movie slasher.
It’s the mythology of the mirror which is the shining headstone of Farewell to the Flesh‘s Gothic beauty. A bridge between past and present, a symbol of confrontation, of facing ourselves and all this means both personally and culturally. In the end, our heroine Annie Tarrant (Kelly Rowan) must find a way to deal with the past, and also cauterise the wound, somehow. Represented in a great mirror visual.
“You cannot resist what is in your blood“
Once again, the Phillip Glass score aids in augmenting the Gothic horror of the Candyman’s terrible reign. Farewell to the Flesh isn’t as good as the first, it’s also not as bad as the initial 1990s reviews suggest. An underrated sequel in the midst of an era where horror wasn’t thriving; it wasn’t dying, either, just going through a motion inundated with ‘teen slashers’ and copies of Craven’s Scream.
Condon does a fine job crafting another unique slice of horror. As a white man, I’m not the authority on black history. Watching this film does conjure up a lot of ideas about America, its inability as a country to wholly deal with their racism, their violence. Something we’re seeing erupt in the era of a racial demagogue sitting as President of the United States. Tragic, but Candyman’s story has more relevance today than it did when it was released 22 years ago as of this writing.
Remind yourself how good this film is, and how needed these narratives are in horror and other genres, for Halloween this year. Pop it in by yourself for a fright, or with some friends in the dark if Candyman’s hook leaves you too scared to be alone. Either way, this is perfect for a fall night as the 31st is perched, waiting for us at the end of the month.