‘Candyman’: A Perfect Score

by Rob Caprilozzi

When it comes to film, perhaps no other genre is more impacted by score than horror. In 1992, Candyman was released with a score so powerful that it could even match the booming voice of Candyman himself, Tony Todd.

In 1990, Candyman director Bernard Rose approached composer Philip Glass to handle the score for his upcoming horror title. According to Glass’ website, he “felt manipulated” as he stated that what started out as an “independent project with creative integrity turned into a low budget Hollywood slasher flick.”

Regardless of how Glass felt about the outcome of the film, one thing that cannot be denied is the sonic Gothic masterpiece that he created to go along with the extremely impressive and innovative horror film. The score truly helped push the film to the next level while setting the mood and increasing the viewers anxiety.

Considered one of the most influential composers of the late 20th century, Glass has been nominated for a slew of awards including three Academy Awards, a BAFTA Award, and three Golden Globe Awards – winning one of those for The Truman Show. His soundtrack for Candyman can be described in one word: haunting.

An aerial shot which focuses on the highways of Chicago kicks off the film as an eerie ballad invades the viewers ears. The music ends with the creepy voice of Candyman saying, “they will say that I have shed innocent blood…what’s blood for, if not for shedding? With my hook for a hand, I’ll split you from your groin to your gullet. I came for you.”

As the movie pushes forward, Helen Lyle, played by Virginia Madsen, and her friend Bernadette, played by Kasi Lemmons, drive into Cabrini Green when they learn that a local woman was killed there by the Candyman. Once they arrive at the housing complex, an ominous track begins to set the tone for the danger that they will encounter when entering the tenement.

As Helen and Bernadette explore Cabrini Green, they come across the apartment that Ruthie Jean was murdered in.  Tension mounts as Helen decides that she wants to open the bathroom mirror and step through to photograph the derelict apartment on the other side. What comes next is one of the most memorable scenes of the film as she steps through a hole in the wall to get to the other side and then turns to see a painting of Candyman on the wall – and that the hole that she stepped through was Candyman’s mouth. Once again, the gothic score from Philip Glass comes into play and helps to keep the viewer on the edge of their seat.

The musical arrangement adds a huge element in other scenes from the film including when resident Anne-Marie McCoy retells the sad story of hearing Ruthie Jean’s screams and calling 911 but getting no help. While being attacked by a gang member and Candyman impersonator, we hear more ominous music as Helen finds her life in danger.

Approximately 45 minutes into the film Helen finally meets the real Candyman face to face. In a standard slasher flick a chase would ensue, instead, Candyman walks calmly towards Helen, who is in a trance-like state, and asks her to “be my victim.” “I am the writing on the wall”, he continues, “the whisper in the classroom. Without these things, I am nothing. So now, I must shed innocent blood. Come with me.”

From that point on, the scares and the tension are brought to a boiling point. The music is a match made in horror heaven as the audience learns that Candyman is an all-together different type of slasher than has been seen in the past. The highlight of the score’s marriage to the film comes toward the end as Candyman embraces Helen and shows her his chest full of bees, then kisses her; a nightmarish melody plays as Helen’s fate is now sealed.

Although it was released almost thirty years ago, Candyman’s grip on fans remains as strong as ever and its incredible score by Philip Glass only serves to heighten the terrifying sense of dread and suspense that director Bernard Rose was trying to achieve.

Click here for more on the Candyman franchise.

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