I am a big fan of Clive Barker and though not all his stories have been adapted to film very well this one stands out as a great success. It has a great script from director Bernard Rose, some excellent performances from Virginia Masden and Tony Todd and a wonderful score from Phillip Glass.The Cabrini Green location feels just like pits I lived in, high density housing estates abandoned to decay by a city that would rather forget that they exist
Helen Lyle (Virginia Madsen) is a graduate student working on her social science thesis with research into urban legends with her friend and research partner Bernadette Walsh (Kasi Lemmons).They interview some freshmen and get the typical grisly “friend of a friend,“ tales. This includes a typical Candyman story where a babysitter invites a bad boy Billy (Ted Raimi, a very bad boy indeed) round for sex. She tells him about Candyman and dares him to say his name five times into a mirror. Bad boy Billy gets to four and stops but later when she’s on her own the babysitter says Candyman’s name for the fifth time and Candyman appears. He rips her open from navel to gullet with the hook he has jammed into the bloody stump where his right hand used to be. Bad Boy Billy goes upstairs and finds her body and his hair instantly turns white from shock like in all the best urban legends.
Helen goes to see her husband Trevor (Xander Berkeley) who is giving a lecture. Helen is not happy to discover that the subject of his lecture is urban legends which means his entire class is now contaminated as far her research is concerned. Trevor apologises but says that their education is more important. Helen accepts his apology and goes back the classroom she used for interviews to work on transcribing the interviews onto her computer. A cleaner comes in to clean the room and she hears the student on the tape mention Candyman. She’s heard of Candyman but her friend knows more. The other cleaner believes he lives in a housing project called Cabrini Green where he murdered a woman called Ruthie Jean. Ruthie Jean called the police to report the sound of someone breaking through walls but no police came and she was later found dead
Helen investigates the murder and looks into the Cabrini Green housing project. She has discovered that her middle class high rent apartment block used to be part of the same housing project as Cabrini Green but they got re-modelled as apartments instead. The apartments still have the same cheap design and Helen shows Bernadette that when she removes her bathroom cabinet all that’s there behind it is the rear of the bathroom cabinet in the apartment next door. The killer got into Ruthie Jean’s apartment by climbing in through the walls.
Next day Helen and Bernadette head for Cabrini Green to look at the place for themselves. Bernadette is not very happy about it because the place is a notorious crime-ridden dump run by drug gangs. The bleak concrete buildings are covered in brightly coloured graffiti that only makes them look even bleaker. The two conservatively dressed women really do look out-of-place and the local gangs get very restless and try to intimidate them into showing weakness but Helen just brushes past them. The gang suspects they are police and a warning call goes out around the block. Helen thinks that‘s probably better for them since they’re not likely to be followed upstairs by the charming young men hanging about at the entrance.
Helen takes picture of the graffiti around on the floor where Ruthie Jean was murdered. In Ruthie Jean’s apartment Helen goes to the bathroom cabinet and just as she suspected someone has knocked a hole through from next door. Helen climbs through but there’s no way Bernadette is going so she waits. The apartment is a tip with rubbish lying around all over the place and holes knocked through the walls. Helen climbs though another hole and finds that the hole is the mouth of a giant face painted on the wall adthe words “Sweets to the sweet.” Helen wants to take more pictures but she’s run out of film so to Bernadette’s relief they have to leave. One of the tenants Anne-Marie McCoy (Vanessa Williams) wants to know what they are doing snooping around. She’s suspicious of middle class white folk coming round with their judgemental attitudes to the people living in Cabrini Green but Helen assures her that’s not why they are there. Anne-Marie tells them about the night Ruthie Jean was killed, she heard the screams through the walls and called the police but no-one came.
That night Helen and Bernadette are at dinner in a restaurant with Trevor and his research associate Archie Walsh (Bernard Rose) (Is he married to Bernadette? It never makes that clear). Helen is being very arrogant about what they’ve discovered but when Archie finds out that they’re researching Candyman without knowing his full story he’s very dismissive and he them gives them a potted history. Daniel Robitaille was the son of a former slave who had got rich. Daniel was educated and became a competent popular artist. One client hired him to paint his daughter and they fell in love. The woman got pregnant and her father got angry and hired a bunch of thugs to take care of Daniel. The sawed off his right hand and stuck a hook into the stump. Then they broke open nearby beehives and covered Daniel in honey so the bees attacked him and stung him to death. They then burnt his body and scattered his ashes across Cabrini Green.
Next day Helen returns to Cabrini Green alone with fresh film to take more photographs of the apartment next to Ruthie Jean’s. She knocks on Anne-Marie’s door but a young boy tells her that Anne Marie is out. Helen decides to ask the boy Jake some questions about Ruthie Jean and Candyman but though the boy puts on a front of not being scared he is afraid of Candyman. He leads Helen outside to a public toilet where he says that young boy was castrated by Candyman. Helen asks him to wait for her and she goes inside. The graffiti in here look like it’s written in excrement and again its the words “Sweets to the sweet.” The place is so filthy you could almost taste its rank odour in the back of the throat. The end toilet turns out to be full of bees. Several young men enter, led by a man in three-quarter length leather coat and carrying a nasty looking hook .He says something like “I hear you looking for the Candyman bitch,” and clobbers her over the head with the hook. They beat her up and she is found afterwards by Jake.
The police may do very little when a poor black woman gets killed but when a wealthy white woman gets beat up they lock the place down and flush out everyone in their hunt for the culprit and they have him in a line up waiting for Helen to identify him which she does. The police are sure he also killed Ruthie Jean and the boy Jake spoke about. The poloice knew all about him but Helen is the first witness they have had that is willling to testify and get him put away. Helen gets the detective to promise they won’t need Jake to testify then she tells Jake that Candyman is just a story that was used by a bad man to frighten people.
Sometime later Helen goes to the university and Bernadette tells her that they saved the film from her camera which got damaged in the attack. Because Helen made the news there is a lot of interest in their thesis. Helen goes to car park to get her car and there she encounters the real Candyman with long coat and a hook stuck in the bloody stump of his right arm. Helen has damaged his legend he says in a seductive voice right inside her head. She has made his believers doubt him. Candyman lives on in the legends and now because of Helen he will have to take an innocent life to make them believe in him again. Candyman is casting some kind of a spell over Helen and he asks her to be his victim so they will live on together in legend. Helen refuses but Candyman promises she will come to him and then Helen passes out.
When Helen comes round she’s in a room covered in blood and a woman is screaming and wailing in the next room. Helen is in Anne-Marie’s apartment and in the room with her is Anne-Marie’s Rottweiler with its head cut off. Helen is covered in the dog’s blood. Helen goes into the next room where Anne-Marie is crying over the blood covered crib where her baby son was. She attacks Helen demanding that she tells her where her son is. Helen picks up something to hit Anne Marie to defend herself not realising it’s a meat cleaver. The police break through the door and pull off the hysterical Anne Marie then they arrest Helen. At the station Helen’s treatment as a suspect is very different from her treatment as a victim. She has to strip out of her bloody clothes which are now evidence. The same detective who was sympathetic when she got attacked is now taking no crap from her. He reads Helen her rights with heavy emphasis on her right to remain silent. She asks for a phone call and calls Trevor but no-one answers so she leaves a message.
Trevor eventually shows up in the morning with a lawyer. They leave through a media mob but fortunately when they report it on TV they don’t mention Helen by name. After the lawyer leaves Helen takes a bath while Trevor goes back to the university to get papers he needs for work. Helen finishes her bath and is doing something in the cabinet when Candyman’s hook bursts through. Helen runs out into the hall and Candyman is there and again he asks Helen to be his victim and his presence Helen feel dazed and weak. She hears Bernadette at the door of the apartment and tries to warn her not to come in but it’s no use. When Barnadette comes in Candyman is right there waiting for her. With his hook for a hand he rips her open from her navel to her gullet. Trevor comes in to find Helen passed out on the floor and Bernadette dead.
When Helen comes round this time she’s in handcuffs. She gets taken to psychiatric hospital and gets strapped to the table in an observation room. Candyman appears and floats above her while she calls him murderer, struggling against the straps and calling for help. Candyman float downs under the bed just as two of the nursing staff come in and sedate her. Some time later Helen wakes and she gets taken to see Dr Burke, a psychiatrist working for her lawyer who has to assess her fitness to stand trial. She’s been in the hospital for a month under sedation. The video footage of her ranting and raving at someone who wasn’t there is pretty good evidence that she’s not really sane. Helen wants to prove to Burke that she’s not delusional so she calls Candyman five times. At first it looks nothing is going to happen and Helen is insane but then Burke starts spitting blood because Candyman has just shoved his hook right through him. Candyman says she belongs to him now and says that he will give his believers a miracle that will ensure they will live on in legend. He frees her from her straps and vanishes.
Helen escapes by stealing a nurse’s uniform from the nurse who was wearing it. She goes back to her apartment to find Stacey, one of Trevor’s students in the middle of redecorating. Stacey freaks when she sees Helen. Trevor comes in and Helen is really pissed at how quickly Trevor has abandoned her to that psychiatric hospital. Feeling rejected and alone Helen goes to Cabrini Green to the one person still who wants her. Candyman has let her know that he‘s keeping Anne Marie’s baby alive but if Helen does not gives herself to Candyman he will kill the child. Helen agrees and Candyman open his coat revealing that his body is made almost entirely of bees and bones. With his mouth full of bees he kisses her and she passes out.
When she comes round Candyman is gone. She hears the baby crying and realises the sound is coming from the middle of the bonfire that has been getting built by the locals. She climbs in to find the baby using a hook she had picked up earlier in Candyman’s lair. As she goes inside the heap of rubbish all young Jake sees is the hook she is using and right away assumes it’s Candyman. He runs of to alert everyone.
Helen reaches the baby but Candyman is there too talking about how great it is to live on in stories without having to exist. The locals light the fire and everyone gathers to watch it burn. Helen struggles with Candyman who wants her stay and die with him but she stabs his with some burning wood and escapes through the fire with the baby. She emerges with her head on fire but miraculously the baby is unharmed. Helen dies from her injuries and Jake sees Candyman burning in the flames.
At Helen’s funeral there are only a few mourners until a long procession of people from Cabrini Green arrive, led by Anne-Marie and Jake, to pay tribute to Helen. That night back in his apartment Trevor is locked away in the bathroom thinking about Helen. He says her name over and over and suddenly she appears behind him with Candyman’s hook and she rips him open.
The film finishes with a mural done on a wall in Cabrini Green that shows Helen as a saintly figure with hair made of flames