February’s Monster in the House beat sheet celebrates Black History Month with a chilling supernatural horror film, Candyman, starring Tony Todd (The Crow, Night of the Living Dead, Hell Fest) as the eponymous mythical figure with a hook for a right hand. The film, based on Clive Barker’s novella, The Forbidden, was released on September 11, 1992. It also stars Virginia Madsen and went on to success and cult movie status, as well as garnering two sequels, Candyman: Farewell to the Flesh (1995) and Candyman 3: Day of the Dead (1999).
Candyman is featured prominently in Shudder’s Horror Noire: A History of Black Horror. The classic horror film will have a “spiritual sequel” made from Monkeypaw Productions, a company founded by Jordan Peele, who wrote and directed the Oscar®-winning Get Out (you may find that MITH beat sheet here), with a release date in June 2020.
Candyman has a distinct sin committed by Helen Lyle (Virginia Madsen), which brings the Monster (Candyman) into her House (literally), and that makes it a perfect Monster in the House movie. Now watch out for that hook!
Written and Directed by Bernard Rose
Based on the novella The Forbidden by Clive Barker
Genre: Supra-natural Monster
Cousins: The Witch, Hereditary, The Haunting, The Shining, The Exorcist, Rosemary’s Baby, Candyman: Farewell to the Flesh, Candyman 3: Day of the Dead, Hellraiser, A Nightmare on Elm Street, The Nun, The Evil Dead
How does Candyman hit Blake Snyder’s story beats? Here is the Save the Cat!® beat sheet for the classic film:
Opening Image: A wall of buzzing bees. “They will say that I have shed innocent blood,” the sinister voice of Candyman says. “But what’s blood for if not for shedding? With my hook for a hand, I’ll split you from your groin to your gullet.” Then the bees, like a dark, deadly cloud, swarm the Chicago skyline. “I came for you.”
Set-Up: Helen Lyle (Virginia Madsen) interviews subjects about urban legends. One girl relates the story of Candyman—he’s a vengeful spirit that can be summoned when you look in a mirror (preferably a bathroom mirror with the lights dimmed) and call his name five times. An unscrupulous teen girl of the famous fable does just that and meets her fate at the end of a bloody hook. Helen, a graduate student, is collecting as much research as she can for her thesis. Her husband, college professor Trevor Lyle (Xander Berkley), doesn’t take her too seriously though and messes around with his female students. One he seems to have his eye on is Stacey (Carolyn Lowery).
Catalyst: As Helen transcribes her recordings, a custodian overhears the mention of Candyman and comments. Helen, always the investigator, asks her what she knows. She doesn’t know much, but her friend, another custodian, does. The friend talks with Helen about a woman, Ruthie Jean, who was killed at Cabrini Green, a Chicago project building. She was allegedly sliced with a hook—Candyman’s murderous calling card.
Debate: In the library, Helen does some microfiche research. Yep, there’s Ruthie Jean. And over two dozen other people murdered by a “serial killer” in the Cabrini Green area. What happened? Who’s the killer? This information raises the stakes for Helen as what she’s now reading isn’t some campfire ghost story; this “urban legend” has a body count and a specific location.
Later, Bernadette “Bernie” Walsh (Kasi Lemmons) comes over to Helen’s condo. Helen uncovers some research. Her upscale condo compound was built initially as projects; however, that idea was scrapped, and Cabrini Green was built where the highway and the el train would intentionally cordon it off from the rest of the city (racial discrimination in urban planning). Yet the layout of the buildings is the same. The Cabrini Green killer apparently came through the bathroom mirror as there’s easy access from the adjoining apartment through that mirror. Then Helen and Bernie chant “Candyman” four times in the mirror. Bernie holds her tongue, not uttering it a fifth time. Helen, however, still believing that Candyman is just a myth, utters the forbidden name a fifth time.
Theme Stated: The next day, Helen and Bernie drive to the gang-controlled Cabrini Green to check it out. It’s a dangerous place where people are shot every day. Bernadette is freaked out. Helen says, do you just want to do something boring and regurgitate the usual crap on urban legends or do something fresh?
Helen needs to prove herself to Trevor and her peers, and she’s willing to throw out safety to do it. “An entire community starts attributing the daily horrors of their lives to a mythical figure,” Helen says to rationalize the legend. Ignoring the danger and downplaying the lore of Candyman is her “sin” that’s going to bring the “monster” to her “house.”
Break into Two: Helen and Bernie brave their way through the decaying Cabrini Green, and some gang members who hassle them, up to Ruthie Jean’s apartment. It’s now a derelict space. Helen climbs through the hole behind the bathroom mirror and snaps some pictures. She finds graffiti that says “Sweets to the Sweets” and an effigy of Candyman, as well as bloody razor blades in chocolate treats strewn out all over the floor.
A resident who knew Ruthie Jean, Anne Marie (Vanessa A. Williams), says that everyone’s scared of Candyman, and she wants to protect her baby, Anthony, from the dangers surrounding her.
B Story: At a dinner with Trevor, Helen and Bernie have to endure advances and condescending comments from her husband’s snooty, academic, faculty friends. Trevor is the B Story character for Helen. She doesn’t get much romance or help from him as most B Story characters do—he’s more like a false mentor who spurs her into action. Helen ironically loathes the academic set that she’s trying to impress with her research and graduate thesis. Trevor has his sin that ties into the theme and will bring the monster in the end.
Fun and Games: One of Trevor’s academic friends at the table, Philip Purcell (Michael Culkin), discovers that the grad-student duo of Helen and Bernadette are working on Candyman, his favorite subject. He relays the story of Candyman, who was the son of a slave in the 1890s. His father had invented a device that helped mass produce shoes after the Civil War, which made him wealthy. Candyman attended all the best schools. He was a gifted painter, and it was in this capacity that he was hired by an affluent landowner to capture his daughter’s virginal beauty in a portrait.
Candyman and his subject fell madly in love. Enraged that his lily-white daughter loved a black man, the vengeful father hired some ruffians to teach Candyman a lesson. They cut off his right hand and then, employing the bees from a nearby apiary, covered Candyman’s naked, prone body with the buzzing insects. Candyman was stung to death, and his corpse was burned alive in a funeral pyre. Witnesses watched, but no one stepped in to help the young black man. His ashes were spread in what is now Cabrini Green.
Helen returns to Cabrini Green to snap some more photos of what appears to be Candyman’s lair next to Ruthie Jean’s old apartment. She stops by to visit Anne Marie to ask more questions. Anne Marie’s monstrous Rottweiler barks at her from the other side of the door. The young Jake (DeJuan Guy) tells Helen that Annie Marie isn’t home. Helen pries Jake with questions about Candyman, and he reluctantly shows her a closed and grimy public bathroom where Candyman had allegedly castrated a young boy while his mother was shopping across the street.
Helen checks out the bathroom and finds SWEETS TO THE SWEET written in feces in the bathroom. And a stall, where the castration had taken place, swarms with bees in the toilet. A man in a long black coat, “Candyman” (Terrence Riggins), and his tough-looking entourage show up and menace Helen. The man in the long jacket produces an iron hook, says he’s Candyman and strikes Helen.
Later, at the police station, she identifies her assailant. The police detective, Frank Valento (Gilbert Lewis), says that they’ve wanted to catch “Candyman” for years, but nobody would testify. The gang member had adopted the moniker to lend street cred to his peers and enemies. Now Ruthie Jean’s killer has been found, right? Wrong.
In a parking garage, Helen runs into Candyman. The actual Candyman. He’s displeased. She had doubted him (her sin). The menacing, long-coated specter with a bloody hook for a right hand says his legend is “the writing on the wall, the whisper in the classroom.” And because she has caused doubt of his existence, he must spill innocent blood.
Helen wakes up covered in blood. She’s in Anne Marie’s apartment. There is a meat cleaver next to her. Annie Marie is screaming. Helen discovers the Rottweiler decapitated (the source of the blood) and baby Anthony missing from his crib. The distraught mother attacks Helen. Fighting back, Helen strikes Annie Marie in the shoulder with the cleaver just as Chicago’s Finest burst through the door. It doesn’t look good for Helen…
Midpoint: … who’s arrested. She’s strip-searched and interrogated by Detective Valento. With baby Anthony missing—the stakes are raised and the clock is ticking to find the infant alive. It’s a false defeat with the scoreboard reading: Candyman 1, Helen 0. Helen makes her one phone call to Trevor at 3 AM, tying A and B stories together. He’s not home. Later, the absent husband shows up, and a mob press and photographers are there waiting, a gone public moment, also raising stakes.
Bad Guys Close In: Trevor leaves Helen alone to get some paperwork (a likely story). She goes through her Cabrini Green photographs on the slide projector. In one eerie revelation, she snapped a photo of the bathroom mirror in Ruthie Jean’s apartment. Behind her: the form of Candyman. When she visits her bathroom, Candyman’s bloody, hooked hand plunges through the open medicine cabinet. Escaping her apartment, he is there, waiting in the hall. She runs back inside, and he’s already there. He tells her: “Your disbelief destroyed the faith of my congregation. Without them, I am nothing. So I was obliged to come. And now I must kill you. Your death will be a tale to frighten children. To make lovers cling closer in their rapture. Come with me and be immortal.”
Bernadette shows up at the wrong time. Candyman lets her in and slams the door behind her. And then the terrible sound of slashing. Trevor discovers Helen on the floor, covered in blood, a butcher’s knife in her hand.
All Is Lost: When Helen awakens, she’s handcuffed. Police are combing the condo. Helen makes a run for it, looking for Trevor. She discovers the slain Bernadette, ripped from groin to gullet in typical Candyman fashion. A whiff of death moment. It also parallels the Catalyst beat where the death of Ruthie Jean at Cabrini Green began this dark journey—and now it’s Bernadette right in Helen’s condo.
Dark Night of the Soul: Helen’s taken to a psychiatric ward. In her mind’s eye, Helen sees the baby, alive, being held by Candyman, but for how long? “Why do you want to live?” Candyman asks her. “If you would learn just a little from me, you would not beg to live. I am a rumor. It is a blessed condition, believe me, to be whispered about at street corners, to live in other people’s dreams, but not to have to be. Do you understand?”
She meets with Dr. Burke (Stanley DeSantis) and learns she’s been slapped with some heavy Thorazine and been in the psychiatric ward for a month. She’s being charged with first-degree murder for Bernadette. Helen denies that she’s capable of killing and says she can prove it. And in a moment mirroring her actions in the Debate, she calls Candyman once again, saying his name five times.
Candyman doesn’t disappoint—he shows up, dispatching poor Dr. Burke with his bloody hook, spattering the office in a new coat of paint: red. “You’re mine now,” Candyman says. “Tonight, our congregation shall witness a new miracle.” Then Candyman crashes through the window, flying off like a gigantic bat. Helen follows him out, climbing along the ledge, and entering another room. After she knocks out a nurse and steals her uniform, she escapes the hospital and has a return to the ordinary, the condo she shares with Trevor.
There, she finds Stacey, the shy student from Act One, painting the condo pink. Helen surprises her and Trevor. They’re terrified. Trevor was all she had left, and now she has nothing. They want to call the hospital to report her but are too afraid.
On a bridge, contemplating suicide, Helen hears the voice of Candyman. “They will all abandon you,” the sinister voice says. “All you have left is my desire for you.”
Break into Three: Helen returns to Cabrini Green. This action mirrors the Break into Two, but things have changed. She’s fully, uh, committed, to rescuing baby Anthony from Candyman’s evil clutches. Like Alice going through the looking glass, Helen climbs through the medicine cabinet mirror in Ruthie Jean’s abandoned apartment once again.
1. Gathering the Team: Helen discovers an iron hook and crawls through the decayed labyrinthine structure. There, she encounters a mural that depicts Candyman’s torture and death.
2. Executing the Plan: And then she discovers Candyman, apparently asleep on a slab. She sidles up to him and plants her iron hook in his neck. He arises, happy that she finally came to him, exchanging her life for that of the baby. Helen is afraid of the pain that will go to her and death. “Our names will be written on a thousand walls,” Candyman assures her. “Our crimes told and retold by our faithful believers. We shall die together right before their very eyes and give them something to be haunted by. Come with me and be immortal.”
3. High Tower Surprise: Candyman reneges on the deal and takes Anthony, placing the baby on a pyre to be burned by the Cabrini Green residents. When Helen awakens, she finds her image among the history of Candyman. Was she formerly Candyman’s love and then reincarnated 100 years later? It says: IT WAS ALWAYS YOU, HELEN.
4. Dig Deep Down: Helen rushes to the funeral pyre to save baby Anthony. Hearing his cries, she climbs through the mess, hook in hand, searching for the baby. Jake awakens and peers out, only seeing a familiar hook in the pile of garbage. He calls the other residents of Cabrini Green, telling them that Candyman is here—in the debris. They douse the trash heap with gasoline and torch it. It erupts in an inferno that reaches into the Chicago night sky. Inside the structure of garbage, Helen attempts to get the baby to safety. Candyman shows up and tries to stop her, wanting them all to burn together.
5. Executing the New Plan: Angry that Candyman lied to her about their agreement, Helen strikes the mythical creeper with a burning log and then takes baby Anthony from the pyre. She’s cooked, taking the infant away from the searing heat. Candyman immolates in the bright flames. In her final efforts, Helen delivers the child back to Anne Marie. Then dies.
In the cemetery, Helen is put to rest with Trevor, Stacey, and his academic friends in attendance. Then a crowd of Cabrini Green residents, led by Anne Marie and Jake, arrive. Jake drops Candyman’s hook onto Helen’s lowering coffin, returning her lover and nemesis’ calling card to her.
Final Image: Trevor has locked himself in the bathroom. Stacey, who’s annoyed, wants him to come out. Trevor makes excuses, wanting to be alone with his thoughts. Helen haunts him. Then, in the bathroom mirror, saying her name, he realizes that he’s said it a few, why not five times? He turns out the lights and does so. Burned and macabre, Helen answers the call—Candyman’s bride!
With her lover’s hook, Helen slashes Trevor from groin to gullet. Stacey finds him gutted and screams.
Back at Cabrini Green, we see a new mural of Helen, looking angelic, rising from the flames, her hair on fire. Her transformation, from a skeptic of legends to a legend herself, is now complete.