The Film: 3/5
The Tarrant family is one of the wealthiest in New Orleans, and possibly the most loathed. As the city prepares to celebrate Mardi Gras a string of gruesome murders has the local police baffled. Troubled Tarrant scion Ethan (William O'Leary) soon lands in lockup as the prime suspect when detectives Carver (Fay Hauser) and Levesque (David Gianopoulos) connects him to some of the victims, including his own father. Ethan's schoolteacher sister Annie (Kelly Rowan) is certain of his innocence and sets out to clear his name. Her amateur investigation uncovers some dark secrets from her family's past and brings her face to face with the legend of the Candyman (Tony Todd), a supernatural figure who appears when you say his name five times while looking into a mirror and then kills you with the hook that replaced his severed hand. Eager to disprove the legend Annie unwittingly resurrects Candyman, but instead of taking her life he proceeds to slaughter anyone close to her. Knowing that he will not stop the killing until her entire family is dead Annie digs deeper into the abhorrent history of the Tarrant family and seeks out the assistance of several experts on the occult in order to gain the knowledge she needs to destroy the Candyman once and for all.
The original Candyman, directed by Bernard Rose (Immortal Beloved) and based on a Clive Barker short story that Rose adapted into script form, was a modest commercial hit at a time when mainstream horror was having difficulty finding its legs in the wake of the collapse of practically every popular slasher franchise. It even managed to earn some positive reviews from critics around the world and to this day is routinely defined as one of the more original and provocative fright features of the 1990's. But I didn't come here to review Candyman. Instead I'll be talking about its lesser-known sequel Candyman: Farewell to the Flesh, released by the long-shuttered Gramercy Pictures (an offshoot of Polygram Filmed Entertainment, one of the studios behind the original) about three years after the first film during the last gasp for modern horror before Scream came along and forcibly injected a heroic dose of smug irony into the genre that still has yet to wear off.
It was a tough period of transition for many of the masters of cinematic terror. John Carpenter's In the Mouth of Madness, arguably one of his last truly great films, failed to find an audience. Tobe Hooper fared even worse with his turgid Stephen King adaptation The Mangler, which had its juiciest gore effects snipped from the theatrical release. Not even the witty Wes Craven's New Nightmare, the long-awaited return appearance of the creator of Freddy Krueger to the franchise he helped to birth, could make a dent at the box office. Since Rose had moved on to other projects the producers of Farewell to the Flesh handed the directorial reigns to Bill Condon, the future filmmaker behind the prestigious dramas Gods and Monsters and Kinsey and the crowd-pleasing smashes Dreamgirls and The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn. Prior to signing on Condon had only made one feature film, the harrowing 1987 Southern Gothic thriller Sister, Sister, and several made-for-television efforts, but had also written the cult favorite sci-fi flicks Strange Behavior (a.k.a. Dead Kids) and Strange Invaders - both of which were directed by Michael Laughlin.
Condon's atmospheric direction of Farewell to the Flesh is one of the film's highlights and it shares with his debut feature an affinity for the lush landscapes of Louisiana that translates gorgeously to celluloid. Working with cinematographer Tobias A. Schliessler, a future collaborator of the director's on Dreamgirls and his most recent films The Fifth Estate and the upcoming Mr. Holmes and also Peter Berg's current preferred shooter, Condon captures the intoxicating allure of New Orleans as well as its poorer, desolate areas that would further revealed to the world in the wake of the devastation of Hurricane Katrina and the flooding caused by breached levees that followed. The city hosted the majority of exterior photography while soundstages in Los Angeles were used for interior effects sequences that play into the final act, but the evocative footage of ruined, mossy mansions and broken streets aids in establishing New Orleans as a crucial player in the events of the script Rand Ravich (The Astronaut's Wife) and Mark Kruger wrote using Barker's story and the original Candyman as inspirations.
Condon and the writers clearly wanted Farewell to the Flesh to function as its own film, so the events of the first film are barely acknowledged outside of a brief mention in the opening scene. That's a pretty ballsy move for a sequel desiring to launch a long-running series to make because Candyman was hardly a traditional masked maniac slaughterama. Continuity has never been a slasher franchise's best friends; characters are written to be instantly disposable cannon fodder and every sequel the filmmakers bring in a new batch of willing victims to be dispatched in a diverse manner of gruesome gore set-pieces. But Candyman had the distinction of offering to horror fans a unique villain with his own fascinating back story and a rich mythology that incorporated what is perhaps the ugliest and most disturbing episode of our nation's history in a way that didn't feel like exploitation. It's infinitely more interesting than a deformed kid who drowned in a lake and still grew up to hunt horny summer camp counselors for blood sport. Candyman's horrific origins are even documented in great detail in a chilling sequence that is rather timely in the wake of the unwarranted murders of several African-American men by police officers in recent months though this film was made two decades ago.
Also, like the aforementioned Freddy Krueger you can't just hire some anonymous stuntman to put a Candyman mask for a S.A.G.-decreed pittance. Tony Todd is as identified with this iconic movie monster as Robert Englund is with Krueger and Angus Scrimm is with the Tall Man. You can even go as far back as both Bela Lugosi and Christopher Lee in the role of Count Dracula to find actors whose very names are synonymous with the horror villains that made their careers. Tony Todd doesn't play Candyman; he embodies the character. Todd refuses to turn the character into a one-note psycho. He doesn't crack lame jokes or laugh maniacally when he's gutting his victims with his trusted hook hand. There is a tragic poetry to the Candyman, an aching sadness once you realize that he used to be a good man until his life was taken by an evil almost as great and eternal as his own, racism and the mindless mob violence created when it reaches its boiling point. Todd owns the role now and forever with a performance that radiates pure menace as well as pain. Even though we are never invited to condone his cruelty and malevolence we are at least permitted to understand them. Plus when Candyman attempts to seduce Annie into a life of death and misery Todd is magnetic and compelling.
Todd's acting in the title role, much like the direction of Condon, is one Farewell to the Flesh's precious few virtues, and everything else is at best good enough to service the confused plotting without threatening to rise above it. Kelly Rowan makes for a decent heroine, both smart and sympathetic and never once a damsel in distress or a hopeless buffoon at the mercy of the script. Character actors like Bill Nunn (Do the Right Thing), William O'Leary (Walker), Timothy Carhart (Red Rock West), and Matt Clark (The Driver) add color and depth to the film which the script fails to provide. Veronica Cartwright is given significantly less to do as Rowan's useless, mint julep imbibing flibbertigibbet of a mum whose only worthwhile scene involves a lot of exposition that the audience has pretty much already figured out for themselves. Condon's direction of Farewell to the Flesh would indicate that he was torn between making the thoughtful and elegant classical horror film he envisioned and the graphically violence slasher flick the producers demanded. Thus we are treated to the awkward sight of artfully composed shots and intriguing concepts battling it out with more broken glass than your average Steven Seagal movie and a supply of jump scares that is exhausted before the end of the third reel. Returning from the original Candyman to provide the music is famed minimalist composer Philip Glass. His score is chilly, offbeat, and to listen to it is to experience a redolent and haunting lullaby. It's one of the more unconventional soundtracks I've ever heard accompanying a horror film that isn't worthy of it, an imaginative score John Carpenter would enjoy.
The 1080p high-definition transfer of Farewell to the Flesh is framed in the film's original 1.85:1 widescreen aspect ratio and for the most part looks good if hardly as good as it could have been. The video features balanced colors and can occasionally be speckly, but permanent print damage is hard to spot. I would judge this to be slightly better than DVD quality. The picture is supplemented with two English DTS-HD Master Audio tracks: the 5.1 is the best choice for optimal presentation with a clear and spacious sound mix that never allows the music, dialogue, and sound effects to overwhelm each other and create distortion. If you're watching this Blu-ray on a standard television you might find the 2.0 track to be more agreeable as it features a higher volume level. English subtitles have also been included.
The best extra feature is the only one not exclusive to this release and it's a full-length audio commentary with director Condon carried over from an earlier Region 1 MGM DVD. A veritable fountain of production stories and creative insight, Condon flies solo on this track and does an excellent job of commanding your attention the entire time. It's a far better commentary than Farewell to the Flesh deserves but it might increase your appreciation of the film.
Next up are a pair of new interviews. The first brings in Tony Todd for "The Candyman Legacy" (26 minutes), which functions as a fine career retrospective that examines how the actor got his start in horror cinema with the Night of the Living Dead remake, his early days in film, television, and theater and the veteran actors who served as his mentors, and the contributions he made to help shape Candyman into a modern icon of silver screen terror. Despite running nearly a half-hour I could very easily watch Todd talk for a longer time on a whole range of topics, making this a terrific runner-up to the Condon commentary as the best supplement.
Co-star Veronica Cartwright, herself a veteran of genre cinema, talks briefly about working with Alfred Hitchcock on The Birds and Ridley Scott on the original Alien before spending the majority of her interview featurette "Down Memory Lane" (11 minutes) on her participation in the making of Farewell to the Flesh. Due to her abbreviated screen time in the final cut there isn't much the actress has to offer about the production, but it's fun to listen to Cartwright talk about how she approached playing an old-fashioned Southern bon vivant. Not as substantial a talk as Todd's, but fun nonetheless.
The extras conclude with a standard-definition theatrical trailer (2 minutes) and previews for related titles already in release or soon to be released: Phantom of the Opera, Dolls, and Squirm. The Blu-ray cover is also reversible.
Candyman: Farewell to the Flesh is a flawed but intriguing horror film that succeeds primarily due to Bill Condon's assured direction and a lead performance from the great Tony Todd that stands out from the majority of fright flick maniac acting. It's atmospheric and offers some meaty ideas of its own to compliment the mythology that was set forth in the original, but often it threatens to collapse under the weight of its less-ambitious concessions to the expectations of horror fans and greedy producers. That said, if you want something a little different from your genre entertainment you could much worse, and Scream Factory has done right by this underrated slasher sequel with a decent upgraded transfer and a muscular supplements package.