Once, Twice, Five Times, a Victim: Candyman

October 27, 2016 — I followed Lindsey into the bathroom, where she took a position facing the mirror. I stood off to the side, behind her. She looked at my reflection. I nodded my head, and her eyes shifted to look straight and deep into the mirror. She was about to call Candyman.

My wife and I had just finished watching the 1992 Bernard Rose-directed horror film Candyman starring Tony Todd and Virginia Madsen. Me for at least the second time in my life, her for the very first. We do this kind of thing every season. I introduce her to a classic modern horror movie that she’s never seen, and then interrogate her afterward to try to see these movies myself in a different light. Sometimes it works spectacularly. Sometimes it’s a debacle.

I almost chose Phantasm this year, because of its recent remastering and the release of Phantasm: Ravager, but instead I shifted to Candyman. It just felt like our time to be his victim.

So obligatory summary, Candyman is the story of a graduate student in Chicago who is researching an urban legend about a fiend named Candyman who, when you say his name five times in a mirror, appears and eviscerates you with his hook “from groin to gullet.” The student quickly finds herself in the South Side projects, where the urban legend seems to be a bit more real. And he’s coming for her.

That’s an extremely simplistic summary for what’s a relatively complex movie thematically that involves racial divides and the power and terror of myth. It also has a severed Rottweiler’s head and shit graffiti.

One night, we lit our Autumn candles and Halloween decorations, and sat down with some sweets for the sweet (popcorn balls, in this case). I jumpstarted a free trial of Starz Play that I will definitely cancel in less than seven days, and we settled into the couch cushions as a massive swarm of bees enveloped the skyscrapers of Chicago to an organ-y Philip Glass score.

One hour and 39 minutes later, we got to the braless co-ed screaming over her eviscerated partner in the bathtub, and then those annoying movie suggestions that streaming services throw up over the end credits popped up, ruining our come-down from the story.

“So, did you like it?” Actually, we saved the following conversation for the next day to give us something to discuss during a long Fall road trip in southern Vermont. I’m placing it here in the chronology because I want to save what actually happened next for the end of this piece. Right, the bathroom mirror.

“Yes, I did.”

JWO: “Why?”

“It was different than what I expected. Very urban, not at all like a slasher movie.”

JWO: “Yeah, Candyman gets placed among those guys because of the timing of this movie. All the slasher series were still going strong in the early 90s, although they’d turned into comfortable laughingstocks by that time. But Candyman just stepped on that scene and instantly earned a horror icon status with this single movie. What did you know about Candyman before you watched it?”

LO: “I think I thought he was a clown.”

JWO: “What?”

LO: “I think I’ve always confused this movie with IT.”

JWO: “Which you also have never seen, right?” She nodded. “I guess I could see that. A clown. Candy…wait. You thought this was going to be a killer clown movie, and yet you still were going to watch it?” Lindsey hates spooky clown movies. And not like because being scared of clowns is trendy now. Like I showed her Killer Klowns from Outer Space years ago and it almost ended our marriage. And that movie is fun.

LO: “I just don’t fight you anymore.”

JWO: “I’ve got dark bruises that would beg to differ. So this movie obviously wasn’t about a clown. What did you think about Candyman himself?”

LO: “I liked him. He was elegant.”


LO: “Sort of. I mean, the rotted out apartment building was way scarier than he was.”

JWO: “Oh, that’s interesting. A lot of the exteriors were actually filmed on location in Cabrini-Green, which was an infamous Chicago project. They had to hire gang members to protect them on set. But, you’re right, that place was extremely intimidating, and when the two grad students visited, they felt way vulnerable there. What about dated. Did it feel dated at all?”

LO: “I think so. I’m not sure why, but it did.”

“I wonder if it was the gang members. They seemed kind of cartoony and not very intimidating. Like even the most uncomfortable scene them, the bathroom scene, they still kind of looked less like a gang and more like Fat Albert’s friends.”

LO: “Yeah, that might be it.”

“But I do like how these days that really sets up Tony Todd. We go from the poser Candyman with his billowy leather, gold chain, and conservative haircut, to the real Candyman, who just blows him out of the water just standing in a parking garage. I didn’t see you react a lot on this movie.” Usually she jumps or cringes or something, and it’s my favorite part of watching the movie with her.

“Nothing really bothered me about it. Actually, that’s not true. The worst part about it for me was the whole innocent person blamed for some horrible crime who cannot prove her innocence. That’s like my biggest fear, and in the movie they never let up about that. Right from the bloody apartment scene on, there was never a hope for her that she would be proven innocent, even though she was.”

“What about the gore?”

LO: “The gore seemed appropriate. What really was more disturbing than the blood was just the griminess and dirtiness of the locations, that bathroom and the apartment building. Definitely need a shower after that.”

JWO: “That’s interesting because I poked around online to get a consensus of the movie, and most critics thought that the gore was detracting from an otherwise impressive movie. IMDB gave it a 6/10 and Rotten Tomatoes a 60%, and most thought it veered too far into slasher territory. But it’s a Clive Barker movie, so there needs to be some body horror. What was the worse scene for you?”

LO: “When Virginia Madsen is exploring the apartment on the other side of the mirror. I kept waiting for something bad to happen while her friend waited in the other apartment. That scene was kind of tense for me.”

“What about the making out with bees in their mouths scene?”

LO: “No, that wasn’t bad to me. Seemed more artistic than threatening. The whole movie seemed like that, actually. Like it was trying to be something other than gross or scary. Or something more than gross or scary. You’re not really getting a good conversation out of me again, although for the opposite reasons as last year.” I shuddered at the memory of the Halloween III night. “It was just a good movie.”

Here is where we jump back in time from the road trip to the night before, the streaming movie selections still blaring obnoxiously at us from the television screen.

JWO: “You know what we have to do now, right?”

LO: “No.”

JWO: “I need you to go look in the bathroom mirror and say Candyman five times.”

LO: “I am not going to do that.”

JWO: “You mean you can’t do it? Like you’re scared Tony Todd will come out of the mirror?”

LO: “No. It’s just ridiculous.”

JWO: “So you could do it, you’re just refusing to.”

LO: “Fine. Fine. I’ll do it.” I guess she was right about not fighting me anymore.

We went into the bathroom. It was probably 11 pm by this time. To get there we had to walk through our kitchen, which has large windows on three out of four walls, so the darkness leaking through them felt solid, like it was our audience.

The bathroom is small, and she stood in front of the mirror, while I stood half a step back against a wall.

“Bloody Mary,” she started as if that’s something she says in the mirror every day.

“No…Candyman,” I said. If Bloody Mary shows up, she’ll ruin this bit.”

Lindsey laughed and ducked her head down, her reflection disappearing at the bottom edge of the mirror. She gathered herself together, lifted her head, looking into her own eyes and said “Candyman.” She waited a beat, and then repeated it. After the third Candyman, she looked at my reflection in the mirror and said, “Why’s your hand behind your back. You don’t have a plastic hook back there, do you?”

I pulled my hand from behind my back and held them both up in the air, palms out, “No. Nothing like that. Are stalling? You still have to say it two more times.”

She turned backed to the mirror. “Candyman,” she said. I returned my right hand behind my back


I immediately hit the light switch that was poking the small of the back, plunging us into complete darkness as I simultaneously wrapped my arms around her.

She screamed. She never lets me down when it comes to that.

After all, it's Halloween. Everyone's entitled to one good scare.