One of the Greatest Horror Films I’ve Ever Seen. Candyman (1992) Review

You know you’ve been affected by a piece of art when you constantly need to revisit it and find new things in every viewing. Sometimes art stays with you because of its mystery, your continuous struggle to determine what the piece means. I have experienced this with quite a few films, Candyman is one of them.

Every time I watch it, I get a new angle on its narrative. I cannot say objectively what the film is about. So in this review, as a conclusion to Halloween 2017, I am going to simply state my current theories and why I think Candyman is an incredible film.

Candyman Pic
This was an emotional watch.

The premise of this 1992 horror concerns a graduate student, Helen Lyle, researching urban legends in Cabrini-Green Chicago for her thesis. The focus of her investigation is a legend known as Candyman, a boogeyman with a hook for a hand who appears when you say his name five times before a mirror. After a series of brutal and unexplained events, Helen begins to question whether the Candyman is just a myth or something far more real.

Philip Glass and the Atmosphere

The horror in Candyman is subtler than in most horror films. While there are some gory scenes, most of the film’s horror manifests in its atmosphere. The affect Candyman has on the community socially is just as disturbing as the Candyman himself.

We see graffiti art depicting the Candyman in a monstrous style. We hear eerie stories about Cabrini residents hearing something “coming through the walls”, calling the police and not being believed. We hear even more gruesome stories about the Candyman mutilating children in public toilets. The film introduces us to the idea of the Candyman and what he does to his victims, which creates a lot of tension because when you first see him, there’s a notorious reputation and backstory in your head.

This grim, eerie atmosphere is expressed beautifully by Philip Glass’ soundtrack. If you’ve read any of my other reviews, you’ll notice that I rarely comment on a film’s technical qualities (cinematography, editing, soundtrack) but in Candyman the score is so incredible I can’t ignore it. With an operatic choir and organ, Glass creates music that conveys the huge, god-like devastation the Candyman myth has caused in the community. The soundtrack will never leave you.

Theme

As I stated before, I can’t say what the film is about with certainty. My thoughts change with each viewing. However, I think I can say with some confidence that Candyman does comment on the American class system. I’m not the only one who thinks this, there’re quite a few reviews and articles online that share a similar opinion.

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Helen (Virginia Madsen) is held captive by the Candyman (Tony Todd) [Credit: TriStar Pictures]
This is one of the main qualities of Candyman that makes it so unique and affective compared to most horror films. Its horror is based heavily in reality. The film depicts an African American community being terrorized by an unknown force and receiving no aid from the authorities. I think the Candyman symbolizes the American criminal, the drug lord, the little tyrant that was able to take over the town because the authorities couldn’t be bothered to intervene.

The more Helen denies his existence, the stronger he becomes because that’s how tyrants thrive. From the ignorance of the higher powers. This stems into a harrowing plot where Helen tries everything to reject and reason with the Candyman.

The story of a monster terrorizing a small community due to the ignorance of authorities I think can be applied to any crime ridden area in the states or anywhere in the world. However, to see the story executed so maturely and atmospherically in a horror film I think is very rare.

I have no doubt the next time I watch the film I’ll have more theories, some of them could be expansions of the ones I just shared or they could be completely different. My point is, Candyman conveys ideas and feelings unlike any other film I’ve seen. It’s been around for over two decades and it still has an impact, so I encourage everyone to give it a watch.

I give Candyman an outstanding 10 out of 10.

 

UPDATE: If you’re a fan of zombies and theatre, then I’ve got the show for you! Some friends of mine are doing a stage version of Night of the Living Dead called No More Room In Hell in Sunderland.

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If you’re in the area please drop by and give the show a watch. You’ll be in for some great performances by some fantastic actors! Check here for info on dates and tickets.

 

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MORE ZOMBIES. The Return of the Living Dead (1985) Review

Anyone who knows me, knows I’m not a fan of comedies. I can’t explain it. I guess my sense of humour is just too immature to enjoy crafted, planned out comedy. However, I do enjoy ‘amusing’ films. They don’t make me laugh out loud but they make me smile and happy.

With its great characters and amazing zombies, I consider The Return of the Living Dead to be an ‘amusing’ film. This 1985 horror comedy revolves around a bunch of employees at a medical supply warehouse, who accidentally release a poisonous gas that brings back the dead.

Return of the Living Dead pic
Another raving review is ahead.

The Characters

They’re fantastic and funny in their own ways. Frank is jolly and very confident but as soon as the zombies appear, he turns into a whimpering coward. Burt is a fearless leader who’s strictly concerned about the company’s reputation and will do anything to get rid of the zombies.

Freddy, a new employee at the warehouse, is the protagonist. He’s essentially an avatar for the audience as he’s not as distinct as Frank and Burt personality wise. Like us, he witnesses and reacts to all the crazy shenanigans.

While the employees try to contain the zombies at the warehouse, we see a subplot focusing on Freddy’s friends waiting for him to finish work. They may not be as likable as Frank or Burt but they’re still funny.

They’re a bunch of reckless, crazy punks, especially Trash. She comes across as very pretentious as she constantly talks about death and ‘society’. However, she’s also very unstable. There’s a really silly scene where she shares her fantasies about dying and then suddenly strips naked and starts dancing. It’s wonderfully barmy.

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Freddy’s friendly gang of punks [Credit: Orion Pictures]
The characters, with their quirks and chemistry, make the film a funny and joyous watch.

The Zombies

Out of all the zombie films I’ve seen, the zombies in The Return of the Living Dead are probably the most unique, even by today’s standards.

One of the major features that make the zombies different to other film zombies is their indestructibility. All of their body parts are independent, so if you chop off a limb it’ll still come after you. Zombies are decapitated, dismembered and even burned, and yet they continue to attack.

They can also talk. Most of their dialogue consists of them screaming ‘BRAINS!’ However, in a few amusing scenes, they lure cops and paramedics to their den over the phone.

Another unique feature is their look. Not one zombie looks the same. They’re not all grey skinned like in Romero’s films or have red eyes like in the 28 Days series. They all each have their own individual design. One zombie is a rotting skeleton smothered in tar while another is pale-skinned with no arms or legs. They look more like zombies you’d see in a comic or a cartoon rather than in a live-action film, which I think is appropriate as it matches the silly tone.

I love The Return of the Living Dead, with its fantastic characters and incredible zombies. I recommend it for everyone this Halloween, even to those who don’t like horror films, I’m sure this one will get a chuckle out of them.

I give The Return of the Living Dead a gleaming 10 out of 10.

An A-Class B-Movie. Wishmaster (1997) Review

Wishmaster is a wonderful little horror film with its great characters and glorious blend of horror and humour.

This 1997 film revolves around a gemologist, Alex, who unknowingly frees the Djinn (an evil genie). His mission is to grant Alex three wishes so that upon the granting of the third wish he can free his race and rule the earth.

Wishmaster Pic
This’ll be a raving review just so you know.

The Djinn, Horror and Cheese

The Djinn is a great horror villain. He has a motivation and numerous methods of killing people. That, with his devilish charm, makes him a lot of fun to watch. While trying to persuade Alex to make her wishes, the Djinn collects souls from other people by granting them a single wish. This is where the film is both scary and cheesy as the wishes backfire at the grantees in absurd and disturbing ways.

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Andrew Divoff as the Djinn [Credit: Live Entertainment]
A good example of the film’s cheese is a scene at a police station, where an officer reveals his desire for a nearby criminal (who’s never been charged) to commit a crime so he can shoot him. The Djinn grants his wish and takes control of the criminal’s body, making him snatch a gun and shoot everyone. It’s ridiculous that the cop just openly states what he wants with little persuasion from the Djinn. On top of that, the way the criminal just stands up yelling and starts shooting people is hilariously silly.

A good example of the film’s horror is a scene where a medical student finds the Djinn pealing the face off a dead body. “Am I to understand that this is something you do not wish to see?” asks the genie. “Uh huh” the student replies and with a slight hand gesture, the Djinn fuses the student’s eyelids shut.

The Characters and Plot

Tammy Lauren as Alex, examining the Djinn's opal [Credit: Live Entertainment)
Tammy Lauren as Alex, examining the Djinn’s opal [Credit: Live Entertainment)

Despite the far-fetched premise, the characters and plot are quite solid. They’re a lot more engaging than those in your average horror film.

Alex is an understandable and decent protagonist. Whenever she’s on screen, you’re not bored and waiting for the Djinn to come back, you’re engaged. She has a flaw (her guilt following her mother’s death) and a reason to pursue the Djinn (he murdered her best friend). You won’t be invested in her as you’d be in Luke Skywalker in the original Star Wars trilogy but you’ll be watching to see if she defeats the Djinn or not.

 

Some of the supporting characters are pretty fun and likable, Alex’s Boss Nick Merritt for example. He’s a greedy, patronizing, sassy man who loves cash and valuable items.

Wendy Derleth, a Uni professor Alex meets for info on the Djinn, is also a fun character. As well as being funny and grumpy, she comes across as very wise and honest.  When she tells Alex about the history and legacy of the Djinn, she makes it sound quite chilling.

While Alex, the Djinn and the supporting characters make Wishmaster an engaging film, the plot produces some real fun and tension. The Djinn tries everything to get a wish out of Alex, such as tormenting her with visions of the souls he’s taken and threatening to kill her sister. She tries to resist but as the Djinn’s methods become more extreme she struggles. The plot escalates to an explosive climax with a rather clever resolution and a surprisingly happy ending.

I’ve known Wishmaster for over seven years now and have been watching it every Halloween since. Its horror, humour, characters and plot are hard for me not to like. It’s a beautifully wacky film to watch with a group of friends this Halloween.

I know how biased this may seem but for what it is I give Wishmaster a wonderful 9 out of 10.

 

Tis the Season to be SCARED. Dawn of the Dead (2004) Review

I was going to start this days ago but since going back to Uni (starting my third and final year) I’ve been very busy.

This Halloween I’m hoping to crank out four reviews, one for each week of October. They’re all going to be of horror films I’ve known for years, so it should be a fun Halloween for me as I’ll finally get to write down why I love these films.

This week I’m going to start by looking at the 2004 remake of Dawn of the Dead.

Dawn of the Dead (2004) pic
Was in the mood for this one.

It’s an epic, thrilling and intense horror film with its unstoppable zombies and escalating plot. The premise is pretty much the same as the original. All over the world the dead have risen and a group of the living are forced to take refuge in a shopping mall.

The Originality

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The Original Dawn of the Dead directed by the late George A. Romero.

It’s impossible to talk about this film without mentioning the influential 1978 film. I see the remake as just another take on the same premise. After all there’s a lot you could do story wise with survivors locking themselves in a mall during a zombie apocalypse.

Unlike the 1978 film, the plot focuses more on the survivors’ struggle to keep the zombies out and escape the mall, rather than on them simply living in the mall. I don’t think this film should be measured by the original’s standards, it should be viewed as its own piece because that’s what it is. A serious, action-packed, large-scale zombie film, something the original is not in my opinion.

The Zombies

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A swarm of zombies pursue the survivors [Credit: Universal]
With a Hollywood budget Dawn of the Dead is able to depict thousands of sprinting flesh eaters that can fill up a room like water. The idea of someone ripping you apart and eating you alive is terrifying enough, so when seeing an army of people in Dawn of the Dead, sprinting at our protagonists and trying to eat them, it’s a physically intense experience. Whenever they appear you feel like panicking and dashing away.

The zombies drive terror and adrenaline into the film, making Dawn of the Dead a heart racing experience.

The Plot

While time is devoted to the characters and their struggles at cooperation, most of the plot focuses on their struggle against the zombies, both those outside the mall and inside the mall that have not yet manifested.

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[Credit: Universal]
The stakes are low at first, concerning only the security of the mall and disposing the infected survivors. However, the stakes are immediately heightened when the survivors want to leave the mall. This leads to an incredible climax full of zombies, gore, running and panic.

With its original take on a familiar premise, terrifying zombies and escalating plot, Dawn of the Dead is an amazing film and I recommend it to everyone for this Halloween.

I give Dawn of the Dead a thrilling 8 out of 10.

I CAN’T SLEEP. It (2017) Review

With terrifying imagery, an unpredictable antagonist and empathetic characters, It is an intense and engaging horror film.

Based on Stephen King’s novel of the same name, the film focuses on a group of kids living in 1980s Maine. They encounter an evil entity that is able manifest as an individual’s greatest fear, its most common form being a horrifying clown called Pennywise. The kids then attempt to destroy the entity, facing their worst fears in the process.

It 2017 pic
The emotion is real.

The Characters

It’s hard for me to review this film without comparing it to the 1990 miniseries. The characters here are just as empathetic and relatable as they are in the 1990 version. They all have weaknesses and degrading backgrounds such as Beverly with her abusive father, Ben with his weight, Eddie with his overprotective mother and Bill with his stutter and crippling grief following his brother’s death. They come together in ‘the Losers Club’, becoming great friends regardless of their flaws.

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‘The Losers Club’ [Credit: Warner Bros.]
However, what makes the characters more compelling here than in the miniseries is the amount of time they get. The film focuses entirely on the Losers Club as children encountering It for the first time. There are no flash forwards to them as adults. Plots that were barely apparent in the miniseries like the love triangle between Bill, Beverly and Ben, are expanded and have a stronger impact. You feel their joy and horror, without any flash forwards interrupting the journey.

The Horror

The scares in It aren’t that different from those in the miniseries or the Goosebumps TV show.

The entity can adopt various forms, all of them uniquely terrifying such as a diseased man, a living painting and of course Pennywise. We’ve seen random, imaginative monsters many times before in Goosebumps and A Nightmare on Elm Street but they’re usually depicted with unconvincing practical effects. Using recent digital technology and updated makeup effects however, It manages to present its monsters with heart-racing realism. Creatures and images that we could only imagine are brought to life.

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Stanley (Wyatt Oleff) stands obliviously before his greatest fear [Credit: Warner Bros.]
While I loved the imagination and detail in the film’s horror, I thought the use of jumpscares was very gratuitous. Every time It appears there’s a loud booming noise. The film cannot show It and let it be disturbing on its own, there has to be a loud noise to make the audience jump. There are many scenes that can be scary without a loud noise.

It’s unfortunate that a film with fantastic nightmarish imagery, exploits the jumpscare as cheaply as Blair Witch and the Paranormal Activity sequels.

Despite the countless loud booming noises however, this adaptation of It is a scarier and more emotional experience than the miniseries. If you want characters you’ll love and monsters that you haven’t seen before, I strongly recommend it.

I give It a solid 8 out of 10.

No More Clowning Around. It (1990) Review

Since the recent adaptation is storming the box office, I thought it’d be appropriate to look at the 1990 TV version of Stephen King’s It.

This two-part miniseries is not the horror masterpiece its reputation would suggest, it’s more of a pulpy horror film similar to tv shows like Tales from the Crypt and Goosebumps, just with more likable characters. Its main weakness however is its pacing.

It 1990 pic
It’s a mixed bag.

If you don’t know the premise, the story concerns a group of childhood friends trying to kill a monstrous entity that takes the form of an individual’s greatest fear, its most common form being a clown known as Pennywise.

The Horror

If you’re expecting heart stopping jump scares like in Paranormal Activity or disgusting body horror like in The Thing, It will disappoint you. If you’re an adult you’re likely to find the horror occasionally disturbing but mostly charming.

With blood filled balloons, living photographs, random monsters and the sadistic Pennywise, the horror is pulpy and childlike. It’s not terrifying but it’s certainly entertaining.

The Characters

In their childhood, we see that most of the friends have a weakness or troubled background. Bill has a stutter, Beverly has an abusive father, Ben is overweight, Eddie has an overprotective mother and Mike is black in a time where people of his race are discriminated against.

Seeing them bond in ‘the Losers Club’, embracing each other’s weaknesses, makes them very relatable and empathetic. When you see them together as adults, you feel their joy and nostalgia because you’ve known them as kids. You feel like you’re reuniting with old friends.

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‘The Losers Club’ in their many encounters with It [Credit: Warner Bros. TV]
With the childlike horror and likable characters, I think It could’ve been a fun horror film like Wishmaster and Killer Klowns from Outer Space. However, I thought the pacing of both episodes was so slow it nearly spoiled the film completely.

The Pace

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‘The Losers Club’ reunited in adulthood [Credit: Warner Bros. TV]
The film has the same issue I had with Harlan Ellison’s 7 Against Chaos. As interesting and empathetic as the characters are, too much time is spent developing them. The first episode is almost nothing but character development and backstory. I thought there were many scenes that could’ve been cut, like Ben’s fight with his cousins, the encounter with the bullies at the cinema, Beverly’s meeting with the Japanese investors and Ben’s suicide attempt.

 

With minimum Pennywise, horror and chemistry It can be a challenging watch. I appreciate that the film tried to get us to really know the characters but there’re seven of them and by the time Richie’s flashback was done, I was feeling bored. If a few scenes were cut out, It could’ve been a single two-hour film.

The horror and characters are great but whether they’re worth enduring hours of filler for or not is up to you. If you like Stephen King and 90s’ horror, then I proudly recommend It.

I give It a decent 6 out of 10.

What A Strange Little Comic. 7 Against Chaos (2013) Review

When I first read 7 Against Chaos I didn’t know how to feel. I enjoyed it as an intergalactic swashbuckler however some features of the plot’s design puzzled me. I’ve read it a couple of times now and I can state with confidence that 7 Against Chaos is a fun book with a jolly, adventurous tone and a thought-out world, however some parts of the plot have a slow pace and a lack of tension.

This graphic novel by acclaimed author Harlan Ellison and artist Paul Chadwick is essentially Seven Samurai in space. As Earth is being torn apart by a mysterious force, seven rejects from all over the solar system are gathered to use their talents to save humanity.

7 Against Chaos pic
The comic is so strange and entertaining, it aroused all four of my chins.

The Tone and Genre

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Six of the team are assembled, only one remains to be collected [Credit: DC Comics]

While the premise clearly suggests that 7 Against Chaos is a sci-fi, the artwork suggests a more pulpy inspiration. The rocket ships, technology and spacesuits are reminiscent of adventure serials like Flash Gordon. A lot of the art reminded me of the 1980 Flash Gordon film and Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow.

The tone matches the genre precisely. There are numerous action scenes with ray guns and giant monsters, just like from a sci-fi serial. The comic clearly wants to amaze and to entertain and, combined with the pulpy genre, I think it succeeds. 7 Against Chaos is a lot of fun.

 

The World

In just a few pages the book gives you a good idea of the setting while at the same time pushing the story forward. I appreciate this quality as most sci-fi, fantasy stories will either focus too much on establishing the world to the point where it gets boring or do the opposite and explain very little about the world, confusing the reader.

While introducing the seven principle characters, 7 Against Chaos presents a world where humanity has colonized the solar system with the labour of both robotic and genetically engineered slaves. The world seems to be inspired by Dune and Blade Runner with its interplanetary mining and artificial slaves. It feels real and at the same time is presented in a way that doesn’t drag the story.

The Plot

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Urr, a renegade and the fifth member of the team, escapes a mining facility [Credit: DC Comics]
For me, the plot is both the book’s great strength and weakness. Its strength is in its ability to surprise. For the most part the plot is similar to that of any adventure serial as it chronicles the team’s journey to defeat the mysterious menace. However, twists occur that’re much darker than your average sci-fi adventure. I won’t spoil any of them but I will state that the twists present a unique and very grim picture of action and adventure.

The plot’s weakness is in its pacing and forces of antagonism. In the beginning of the book we see six episodes of action, each one establishing a member of the team and their backstory. As stated before I think this is a good way of setting up the world and pushing the story along. However, after the third character has been introduced you notice a pattern. Each episode is around three to five pages long and all seven characters get one. I understand that each character needs to be introduced but when reading I just wanted the introductions to be over and done with so I could get to the actual story.

Regarding the forces of antagonism, towards the end of the story the group must travel back in time to prehistoric Earth, as that’s where the mysterious force is operating. They’re attacked by apes, locusts and octopuses. These forces could make for some tense and thrilling action scenes, however the team defeats them in less than two pages. They’re dealt with so quickly they feel pointless and a waste of time.

With its joyous tone, pulpy sci-fi genre, defined world and shocking plot twists, 7 Against Chaos is such an entertaining graphic novel that the boring and repetitious bits are worth enduring.

I give 7 Against Chaos a jolly 7 out of 10.