Twenty Year Retrospective of Candyman with Virginia Madsen

by Christine Caprilozzi
HorrorNewsNetwork’s  Sr. Editor, Christine Caprilozzi, spoke with Virginia Madsen to look back on the 20th Anniversary of horror classic  “Candyman.” 

Horror News Network: You have been in, of course, a lot of movies throughout your career.  However, “Candyman” stands out as a classic for horror fans.  When you look back on the film, what are your thoughts about it now in retrospect?

Virginia Madsen:  More people recognize me from that movie than anything I’ve done. It means a lot to me. It was after years of struggling.  As an actor, you always want a film that’s annual, like “It’s a Wonderful life,” or “A Christmas Story.” I just love that I have a Halloween movie. Now it’s kind of legend this story.  People have watched it since they were kids, and every Halloween it’s on, and they watch it now with their kids.  That means a lot to me. The place I get recognized the most is the airport security for some reason. Every person in airport security has seen “Candyman.” HA! Maybe it makes them a little afraid of me.

The movie really does leave an indelible mark.  The images in this film were created very purposely by the director, Bernard Rose.  For example, the image of “Helen” looking in the mirror like “Alice in Wonderland” in the looking glass, or being in the bathtub alone at night, or the fear of going into a housing project at night are ones that stay with you. They’re lasting like images from other great horror films like “The Shining.”  Clive Barker creates these images that just work so well in horror films.

People love horror.  It’s things that go bump in the night, the evil clown that’s a bit off, or the man that sneaks into your room and chokes you to death at night are really terrifying on a very primitive level.

Horror News Network:  How did the role come about for you?

Virginia Madsen:  I was actually very good friends with Bernard and his wife Alexandra.  She is a wonderful actress, who actually brought Clive Barker’s short story “The Forbidden” to her husband. She thought this would be a great film, and he could direct her.  She was supposed to be Helen.  I was going to play the part of Kasi Lemmon, until they made the character African American.  Then I was out.

Right before shooting, Alexandra found out she was pregnant. It was great for me, but it was so sad for her because this was her role, she found this story and really wanted it.  So, when I was asked to step in I felt like “I can’t take my friend’s role.”  She actually came over one day and said “it would just kill me to see someone else play this role, you HAVE to be the one who plays it.”  So with her blessing I took on the role. I really tried to work my butt of just to honor her.

Horror News Network: The character of “Helen” isn’t the stereotypical female horror victim.  She’s very smart, empowered and in the end, becomes the one to fear.  How did you feel about that aspect?

Virginia Madsen:  No, the typical female horror victim runs upstairs to the attic, where she’s obviously not supposed to.

Since I was a child I’ve always been a fan of the genre, and was never able to find a good role, especially for a female. I loved that she was smart, and a strong independent woman, yet the power of love could weaken her. It’s hard to find a very strong female character in general when you’re young and blonde, not many are three dimensional. This was great, I got to cut off my hair, Bernie made me put on 10-15 pounds to, as he said, “look like a normal woman.”  So I didn’t have to be a vixen, I got to be a real leading lady.

Horror News Network: I know a lot of female horror fans love that aspect of “Candyman” that it’s not the typical topless female being chased around like many films are today.

Virginia Madsen:  No. I feel as if the horror genre has been almost hijacked, and hijacked by women being sadistically tortured raped and murdered. To me that’s not horror, some are borderline snuff films.  I know people are always going to try to push the envelope, but I think it’s a trend that will come to an end. I think we’re starting to see less and less of those films because people are starting to look for more intelligent horror films.

The one horror movie that I really like is “Let Me In.” It’s actually a beautiful movie, really excellent and well done.

Horror News Network:  I have to ask about the iconic “Bee scene.”  What was that like to shoot? 

Virginia Madsen:  Yeah, there was no CGI, those bees were REAL! I happen to be very allergic to bees. When Bernie was first asking me to do the role I said, “well, I can’t I’m allergic to bees.”  He said “No you’re not allergic to bees you’re just afraid.”  So I had to go to UCLA and get tested because he didn’t believe.  I was tested of every kind of venom.  I was far more allergic to wasps. So he said “We’ll just paramedics there, it will be fine!”  You know actors, we’ll do anything for a paycheck HA! So fine, I’ll be covered with bees.

So we a had a be wrangler and he pretty much told us you can’t freak out around the bees, or be nervous or swat at then, it would just aggravate them. They used baby bees on me. They can still sting you, but are less likely. When they out the bees on me it was crazy because they have fur.  They felt like little Q-tips roaming around on me. Then you have fermones on you, so they’re all I n love with you and think you’re a giant queen.  I really just had to go into this zen sort of place and the takes were very short. What took the longest was getting the bees off of us. They had this tiny “bee vacuum” which wouldn’t harm the bees. After the scene where the bees were all over my face and my head, it took both Tony and I 45 minutes just to get the bees off. That’s when it became difficult to sit still. It was cool though, I felt like a total badass doing it.

Tony got stung. He actually got stung a few times. He had baby bees and flying bees. He also had fake blood, which is basically chocolate syrup so it’s sweet, so they would be all over trying to get to the fake blood.  One day he was stung four times just in that one day.

Horror News Network:  What was it like working with Tony Todd, especially in some of the more intense scenes?

Virginia Madsen: Well we shot it in three different locations. When we shot the interior scene of the fire, it was done in a special structure that wouldn’t cave in on us. They were extremely careful.  It was excellent because Tony was just towering above me, he’s a very tall, big, strong man. So there was no doubt that if anything happened, he would carry me out of there without breaking a sweat. He was very protective.

Tony is such a poetic handsome man, and even his voice is beautiful.  He’s such a gentle giant, I just loved playing opposite of him.

Ultimately, it was ultimately a very beautiful love story. They originally wanted us all to do “Candyman 2,” but they didn’t like Bernie’s idea for the sequel.  They made Candyman into a slave, which was terrible because Candyman was educated and raised a free man.

Bernie wanted to make him like an African American Dracula, which I think it was so appealing to the African American community because they had finally their own Dracula.

Candyman was a poet and smart, wasn’t really a monster, sort of that classical figure.

Horror News Network: It’s hard to believe it’s been 20 years since the release of “Candyman.” Why do you think it has such staying power with many horror fans do you think because of the empowerment aspect for women and minorities?

Virginia Madsen:  Well, Bernie thought there would be more discussion of racism that came out of this movie. Like this blonde woman is “the great white hope” who goes in and saves the day and the little black baby. He wanted this to be thought provoking and start discussions.  He also brought into the question the idea of “Are you black enough?”  Like when “Kasi” and I go into the projects, I’m the one who’s cool and unafraid and she’s the one who’s cowering.  She was looked at by “Vanessa” as “white.”  There was a great discussion between those two in real life about it.  We were all waiting for the conversation about racism to come up, which it didn’t.  This was fascinating to Bernie because he is British and very brash, and very intrigues by the history of racism in America.  It was almost like people hide from those discussions.

The sequel that Bernie wanted to make was a prequel where you see Candyman and Helen fall in love, etc. It was turned down because the studio didn’t want to do an interracial love story. I mean seriously!  I guess it was a different time.

Horror News Network:  What are you currently working on?

Virginia Madsen:  Just did about 4 Indie flicks in a row.  One coming out in March called  “Crazy Kind of Love.”  Fingers crossed the other films make it out there.

Horror News Network:  Thanks so much Virginia, we appreciate your time.

Virginia Madsen:  Thank you! I had a great time making the movie and I’ve always been proud of it.  I’m very moved and grateful it’s had such a long life.

Click here for more on the Candyman franchise.

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