Candyman (1992 film)

Candyman is a 1992 American supernatural horror film written and directed by Bernard Rose, and starring Virginia Madsen, Tony Todd, Xander Berkeley, Kasi Lemmons, and Vanessa Williams. Based on the short story "The Forbidden" by Clive Barker, the film follows a graduate student in Chicago completing a thesis on urban legends, which leads her to the legend of "Candyman", the ghost of an artist and son of a slave who was murdered in the late 19th century.

Theatrical release poster
Directed byBernard Rose
Produced by
Screenplay byBernard Rose
Based on"The Forbidden"
by Clive Barker
Music byPhilip Glass
CinematographyAnthony B. Richmond
Edited byDan Rae
Distributed byTriStar Pictures[1]
Release date
  • September 11, 1992 (1992-09-11) (TIFF)
  • October 16, 1992 (1992-10-16) (United States)
Running time
101 minutes[1]
CountryUnited States[1]
Budget$8–9 million[1]
Box office$25.7 million (US)[2]

The film came to fruition after a chance meeting between director Rose and Clive Barker, who had recently completed his own film adaptation of Nightbreed (1990). Rose expressed interest in Barker's story "The Forbidden", and Barker agreed to license the rights. Where Barker's story revolved around themes of the British class system in contemporary Liverpool, Rose chose to refit the story to Cabrini-Green public housing development in Chicago and instead focus on themes of race and social class in inner-city United States.

Candyman was released theatrically by TriStar Pictures and PolyGram Filmed Entertainment on October 16, 1992, and grossed over $25 million domestically. It was followed by two sequels, Candyman: Farewell to the Flesh (1995) and Candyman: Day of the Dead (1999). Candyman is regarded in some critical circles as a contemporary classic of horror cinema.[3]


Helen Lyle, a Chicago sociology graduate student who is researching urban legends, hears of a local story about the Candyman. The legend claims that Candyman can be summoned by saying his name five times while facing a mirror, whereupon he will kill the summoner with a hook jammed on the bloody stump of his right arm. She encounters two cleaning ladies who tell her about Ruthie Jean, a resident in the notorious Cabrini-Green housing project who they claim was killed by Candyman. Helen's research turns up 25 other murders in the area similar to Ruthie Jean's. Later that evening, Helen and her friend Bernadette Walsh, skeptical of Candyman's existence, call Candyman's name into the mirror in Helen's bathroom; nothing happens.

Helen learns from Professor Philip Purcell that Candyman was the son of a slave who became prosperous after developing a system for mass-producing shoes during the Civil War. He grew up in polite society and became a well-known artist, sought after for his talent in producing portraits. After falling in love with and fathering a child with a white woman he was hired to paint in 1890, Candyman was set upon by a lynch mob hired by his lover's father; they began by cutting off his right hand. He was smeared with honey stolen from an apiary, attracting hungry bees which stung him to death. His corpse was burned in a pyre and his ashes were scattered across the area where Cabrini-Green now stands.

Helen decides to write a thesis on how the residents of Cabrini-Green use the Candyman legend to cope with the hardships of living there. She and Bernadette enter the housing project to visit the scene of Ruthie Jean's murder. There, they meet Anne-Marie McCoy, one of the residents, and a young boy named Jake, who tells Helen the disturbing story of a child who was castrated in a public restroom by Candyman. While Helen explores the run-down restroom, she is attacked by a gang leader who carries a hook and has assumed Candyman's moniker in order to enhance his "street cred". Helen survives the assault and is able to identify her attacker to the police, who believe him to be responsible for the killings attributed to Candyman.

In a parking garage, Helen is confronted by the real Candyman, who explains that since Helen has discredited his legend, he must "shed innocent blood" to perpetuate belief in himself and continue his existence. Helen blacks out and wakes up in Anne-Marie's apartment, covered in blood. Anne-Marie, whose dog has been decapitated and whose baby Anthony is missing, attacks Helen; in the midst of defending herself, Helen is arrested by the police. Trevor, Helen's husband and a professor, bails her out of jail, but Candyman appears to Helen again and cuts her neck, causing her to bleed to the point of unconsciousness. Bernadette appears at the apartment and is murdered by Candyman, who frames Helen for the murder. Helen is sedated and placed in a psychiatric hospital.

After a month's stay at the hospital, Helen is interviewed by a psychiatrist in preparation for her upcoming trial. She attempts to prove her innocence by summoning Candyman, who kills the psychiatrist and allows Helen to escape. She returns home and briefly confronts Trevor, who is now living with Stacey, one of his female undergraduate students. Helen then flees to Cabrini-Green to confront Candyman and locate Anthony, finding murals depicting Candyman's lynching. Helen tracks down Candyman, who tells her to surrender to him to ensure the baby's safety. Offering Helen immortality, Candyman opens his coat to reveal a ribcage wreathed in bees. Bees start to pour out of his mouth and kisses her sending bees down her throat. After Candyman vanishes with Anthony, Helen finds a mural of Candyman alongside his lover, Caroline Sullivan, who bears a striking resemblance to Helen. This and a message left by Candyman implies that Helen is a reincarnation of Sullivan.

Candyman promises to release Anthony if Helen helps him incite fear among Cabrini-Green's residents. However, in order to feed his own legend, Candyman reemerges and attempts to immolate them all in a bonfire when it is lit by the residents. Helen manages to save Anthony while Candyman is destroyed in the fire, but Helen ultimately succumbs to severe burns, and dies. The residents, including Anne-Marie and Jake, pay their respects at her funeral, with Jake tossing Candyman's hook into her grave. Afterwards, Trevor (in grief and guilt over Helen's death) faces his bathroom mirror and says Helen's name five times. As a result, Helen's vengeful spirit is summoned and kills Trevor with Candyman's hook, leaving his body to be found by Stacey that is carrying a knife. As the credits begin to roll, in Candyman's former lair, a new mural of Helen with her hair ablaze is seen, showing she has now entered folklore.



Barker's short story, set in his native Liverpool, was about segregation and the culture of poor urban areas.[4] For Candyman, Rose was so shocked by Chicago's "dynamic" architecture[5] and large amount of prejudice[4] that he decided to change the Liverpool location to Chicago.[5] Assisted by members of the Illinois Film Commission, Rose scouted locations in Chicago and found Cabrini Green,[6] an incredibly dangerous housing project notorious for its poor construction, violence, and high robbery rates.[7] The project was also located in between high-class neighborhoods, meaning the character of Helen could feel Cabrini's chaos from a safe apartment not too far away.[7] This Americanization of the story turned Candyman into an interracial love story where the ghetto residents are now victims of the titular killer.[7] With this change, Rose wanted to showcase those living in poor neighborhoods as regular human beings trying to get by, which is why he avoided tropes common in most American ghetto stories such as gang and drugs.[8] According to journalist Steve Bogira, one source of inspiration may have been a pair of articles he wrote for the Chicago Reader in 1987 and 1990 about the murder of Ruthie Mae McCoy, a resident of Chicago's Abbot Homes housing project.[9] In 1987, McCoy had been killed by an intruder who entered her apartment through an opening behind the bathroom's medicine cabinet.[10][11]

Rose's screenplay garnered a huge amount of attention in casting agencies, and Virginia Madsen and Tony Todd instantly tried to get parts to have a chance to work with the filmmaker.[7] Eddie Murphy was the original choice for the role of Candyman, but the filmmakers could not afford him.[12] Todd, fit for playing the killer as he was six-foot-five and physically fit,[7] recalled that were was skepticism from his colleagues about him playing the Candyman, due to the amount of bee sting injuries he'd have to deal with; however, he persisted as he wanted to work with the director and "I've always wanted to find my own personal Phantom of the Opera."[13] While the Candyman's background is unknown in the original story, Todd came up with the backstory for the character in the film.[4] Virginia Madsen was friends with Rose and his then-wife, Alexandra Pigg, and Madsen was originally to play the role of Helen's friend Bernie while Pigg was to play Helen.[14] The choice was then made to make the character of Bernie African American so Madsen lost the part.[14] As shooting was about to commence, Pigg discovered that she was pregnant so the role of Helen was offered to Madsen.[14] Had Madsen been unable to step into the role, producer Alan Poul was partial to Sandra Bullock as Helen.[15] Madsen signed on for the film for Rose's "feminist" approaches in adapting Baker's story, such as its non-traditional, three-dimensional female lead and the removal of an "exploitative" sex scene.[16]

Three days of Candyman's filming was spent on Cabrini Green, while other days were spent in scenes on Hollywood sound stages.[4] With plainclothes law enforcement on their side, Todd and Madsen went into the buildings of Cabrini as part of researching their roles, a useful yet distressing experience for both actors.[8] For playing the Candyman, Todd tried to act as a "primeval boogeyman" without overacting the part, which was tricky to do.[17] He worked with Bob Keen on the Candyman's look.[4] Keen first had Todd wear a machine-controlled fake right arm, but found the movements of the arm too strict.[4] Then, Keen came up with the idea of having Todd wear a hook to indicate the Candyman's supernatural being; he spent three hours making the hook.[4] Todd then suggested the character to wear an eyepatch, but Keen rejected the idea.[4] To keep Candyman at a low budget, Rose instructed special effects manager Martin Bresson to use traditional effects instead of optical effects.[17] The same team who worked on Backdraft also designed the set for the bonfire scene of Candyman, which involved using 1,500 gallons of propane and its largest section having a 70-feet width and 30-feet height.[17]


The honeybees in Candyman were controlled by Norman Gary, who previously handled bees on films such as The Deadly Bees (1966), My Girl (1991), and Fried Green Tomatoes (1991).[8] The film used more than 200,000 real honeybees throughout, and most of the crew wore bodysuits to be protected from stings, although all of them faced at least one sting.[8] Todd negotiated a bonus of $1,000 for every bee sting he suffered during filming, and he was stung 23 times.[18] In shooting the film's climax where the Candyman sends 500 bees into Helen's face, he first had the bees placed in his mouth using a protective mouthpiece to avoid as many stings as possible.[17] Gary had to use freshly hatched, non-stinging and non-flying bees for the scene, as Madsen was very allergic to stings.[8] It took a half an hour for all of the bees to get into Todd's mouth, and he recalled being "tranced out" when he let all of the bees out of his mouth.[17]


The director, Bernard Rose, also utilized hypnosis in his movie to work around what he saw as the cliche of excessive screaming in horror films.[19] Bernard Rose came up with the idea to have Virginia Madsen hypnotized in the scenes where she confronted the Candyman.[19] This process, according to actor Tony Todd, would occur prior to filming scenes where he and Madsen interacted, and would take roughly ten minutes to prepare.[18] This was accomplished through the use of a professional hypnotist who established a key word that Rose would use to put Madsen under a trance like state.[19]


The film's score was composed by Philip Glass. According to Glass, "It has become a classic, so I still make money from that score, get checks every year."[20] Tony Todd confirmed in an interview with IGN that a limited edition featuring 7500 copies of the film's soundtrack was released in February 2015.[13]


There was some controversy that the film was depicting racism and racial stereotypes. According to Rose, "I had to go and have a whole set of meetings with the NAACP, because the producers were so worried, and what they said to me when they'd read the script was 'Why are we even having this meeting? You know, this is just good fun.' Their argument was 'Why shouldn't a black actor be a ghost? Why shouldn't a black actor play Freddy Krueger or Hannibal Lecter? If you're saying that they can't be, it's really perverse. This is a horror movie. . .'"[21] At the time of the film's release, Madsen said, "I was and am now worried about how people will respond. I don't think Spike Lee will like this film."[22]

Candyman had its world premiere at the 1992 Toronto International Film Festival, playing as part of its Midnight Madness line-up.[23] It was released on October 16, 1992, in the United States, where it made $25.7 million.[2]

Critical response

On the review aggregator website Rotten Tomatoes, Candyman holds a 74% approval rating based on 54 critic reviews and an average rating of 61% across 134,029 user reviews.[24] The consensus reads: "Though it ultimately sacrifices some mystery in the name of gory thrills, Candyman is a nuanced, effectively chilling tale that benefits from an interesting premise and some fine performances.”[25]

Allmovie praised the film, calling it "haunting, intelligent and poetic" and "the finest Barker adaptation ever committed to film".[26] Roger Ebert of the Chicago Sun-Times wrote, "Elements of the plot may not hold up in the clear light of day, but that didn't bother me much. What I liked was a horror movie that was scaring me with ideas and gore, instead of simply with gore."[27] Janet Maslin of The New York Times compared it to "an elaborate campfire story" with an "unusually high interest in social issues".[28] Kevin Thomas of the Los Angeles Times called the film Clive Barker's "worst to date"—an ambitious but pretentious film that "quickly becomes as repellent as it is preposterous."[29] Variety called it "an upper-register horror item that delivers the requisite shocks and gore but doesn't cheat or cop out."[30]

Audiences polled by CinemaScore gave the film an average grade of "C+" on an A+ to F scale.[31]

Home media

It was released on home video in February 1993 by Columbia Tri-Star Home Video.[32] A special edition DVD was released in August 2004.[33]

Candyman was first released on Blu-ray format in Australia on September 1, 2011 via Universal Pictures Home Entertainment.[34] The same Blu-ray version was made available in the United Kingdom on October 10, 2011.[35] The set contains DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 for its original English track, as well as standard DTS 2.0 surround for its additional French, Italian, Japanese and Spanish tracks, with multiple subtitle options including English SDH and no special features. The film was again released again in Australia from Shock Records via their Cinema Cult subsidiary with the only addition being a slipcover.[36] In Germany, a "Limited Edition" Digibook was made available on May 27, 2016 and was, at the time, the most definitive Blu-ray edition to date. It contains both German and English DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0, German and English subtitles, and, special features including audio commentary, featurettes, storyboards and original trailer.[37] A standard edition set was released in Germany on July 29, 2016.[38] Several standard Blu-ray editions eventually became available in France, Italy, Spain, Japan, Denmark, Finland and Sweden throughout 2011 and 2012.

On July 20, 2018, it was announced that Candyman would be released on Blu-ray in a "Collector's Edition" on November 20, 2018 in the United States via Scream Factory, a subsidiary of Shout! Factory. The set contains a newly remastered 2K restoration from a new 4K scan, as well as a number of new special features including an unrated cut, commentaries and featurettes.[39] The following week, on July 27, 2018, Arrow Films announced a "Limited Edition" Blu-ray set in the United Kingdom, which includes the same scan and special features as the Scream Factory edition; it was confirmed for this edition that, for the first time, the film would contain a new DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track. The set includes a collector's booklet, 6 lobby cards, a reversible poster, and reversible cover artwork; it was released on October 29, 2018.[40]


The film came in at number 75 on Bravo's 100 Scariest Movie Moments.[41]

The character Candyman came in at number 8 on Bloody Disgusting's "The Top 13 Slashers in Horror Movie History"[42] and ranked the same on Ugo's "Top Eleven Slashers".[43] The actor who played Candyman, Tony Todd, made #53 on Retrocrush's "The 100 Greatest Horror Movie Performances" for his role.[44]

The film appears in two sections of's "Greatest Scariest Movie Moments and Scenes"[45] and "Greatest Movie Twists, Spoilers and Surprise Endings".[46]

In 2001, the American Film Institute nominated this film for AFI's 100 Years...100 Thrills.[47]

2020 film

In September 2018, it was announced Jordan Peele was in talks to produce a sequel of the 1992 film using his company, Monkeypaw Productions.[48] Todd stated in a 2018 interview with Nightmare on Film Street, "I'd rather have [Peele] do it, someone with intelligence, who's going to be thoughtful and dig into the whole racial makeup of who Candyman is and why he existed in the first place."[49] In November 2018, it was confirmed that Peele would produce the film with Universal and MGM and will partner with Win Rosenfeld to co-produce the film, while Nia DaCosta signed on as director.[50] The film will serve as a "spiritual sequel", taking place back in the new gentrified Cabrini Green, where the old housing projects development once stood in Chicago. Filming was due to commence in spring 2019.[51]

In January 2019, it was reported that Lakeith Stanfield (known for FX's Atlanta and Sorry to Bother You), would possibly star in the film but not as the main titular character, rather as an older version of Anthony McCoy, now a visual artist who takes on an interest seeking the legend of the Candyman, similar to Helen Lyle's character played by Virginia Madsen. There is still no word as to who will be starring in the film and if Todd or any past cast will reprise their role.[52][53] However, in an interview with Entertainment Weekly, Todd spoke of Peele, stating: "I know he's a fan... I'm hoping I will appear in the film in some form of fashion. Wouldn't that make sense? But it's Hollywood, so I won't take it personally if for some reason it doesn't work out." He added, "If this new one is successful, it will shed light back on the original. I think the subject matter is more important than any individuals. And I mean that."[54] In February 2019, Yahya Abdul-Mateen II was in talks to play the titular character.[55] In response to the news, Todd said: "Cheers to Candyman, a wonderful character I've lived with for 25 years. He's brought grace and glory and a beautiful boatload of friends & family, I'm honored that the spirit of Daniel Robitaille & Cabrini Green rises again. Truth to power! Blessings to the cast & crew".[56] However, it was ultimately announced that Todd would reprise his role.

If Beale Street Could Talk actress Teyonah Parris was cast opposite in playing Stanfield's character Anthony's girlfriend.[57] Other added cast are Fear The Walking Dead star Colman Domingo, and Misfits star Nathan Stewart-Jarret.[58]

Production for the film began in August 2019 and wrapped in September 2019 in Chicago, Illinois. The working title of the film was revealed on some of the cast and crew social media pages as "SAY MY NAME", which was discreetly used in the revised scripts and production sets to keep things 'flying under the radar'. There is no official word if the title used will be CANDYMAN: Say My Name or simply Candyman.[59]


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  • Badley, Linda (1996). Writing Horror and the Body: The Fiction of Stephen King, Clive Barker, and Anne Rice. Westport, Connecticut: Greenwood Publishing Group. ISBN 978-0-313-29716-8.
  • Schweiger, Daniel (October 1992). "Candyman: A Nightmare Sweet". Fangoria. No. 117. pp. 24–28, 62.
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