Dare you say his name five times whilst looking in a mirror…? Candyman, the hook-handed living urban legend portrayed by the gravel-throated Tony Todd, was the last great creation of the original slasher era. The 1992 film which introduced him remains as nightmarish, and as relevant today. Let’s revisit this killer classic with some fearful facts you may not have known about the film.
20. It’s from the creator of Hellraiser
As it’s set in the USA with a largely American cast, it may come as a surprise that Candyman’s origins are British. The film is based on The Forbidden, a short story by Clive Barker, the British author and filmmaker behind Hellraiser and Nightbreed, and was directed by fellow Brit Bernard Rose.
Barker is an executive producer on Candyman, while Rose wrote the screenplay adaptation. Barker’s original short story was set in his hometown of Liverpool, but at Rose’s suggestion the action was moved to the American city of Chicago.
19. The filmmakers originally wanted Eddie Murphy to play Candyman
Once you’ve seen Tony Todd play Candyman, it’s very hard to picture any other actor in the role. However, early on in the film’s development, the filmmakers had someone very different in mind. As hard as it might be to imagine, motormouthed comedian-turned-actor Eddie Murphy was originally courted for the title role.
However, Murphy was one of the biggest movie stars in the world at the time, so the Candyman team couldn’t afford him. Instead, they cast the largely unknown Todd, who had not long since appeared in the 1990 remake of Night of the Living Dead, and whose deep voice and statuesque build made him a far better fit for the part.
18. Sandra Bullock was almost cast in the female lead
While Tony Todd’s Candyman is the title character, the real lead in the film is Virginia Madsen’s Helen. The casting of the ambitious research student who unwittingly stumbles headfirst into the living legend of Candyman was also the subject of some revision, as at first Alexandra Pigg (Bernard Rose’s wife at the time) was in line for the role.
When Pigg became pregnant she had to drop out. Virginia Madsen then went to the top of the wish list – but next in line for the role was Sandra Bullock, who, like Tony Todd, was still fairly unknown back in 1992. Bullock would break through with 1993’s Demolition Man and went on to become one of the most popular actresses in the world.
17. Candyman wasn’t black in Clive Barker’s original story
Bernard Rose took some considerable liberties in adapting Clive Barker’s story The Forbidden to the screen. As well as moving the action to the other side of the Atlantic, it was Rose’s decision to make the most notable change of all: the ethnicity of the supernatural antagonist.
In The Forbidden, Candyman is described as a pale-skinned man with long blonde hair and brightly-coloured patchwork clothes. Director Rose felt making the character a black man descended from slaves would add to the underlying social commentary. Clive Barker approved of all these changes, happily declaring the film to be “Bernard Rose’s baby.”
16. Virginia Madsen was originally cast as supporting character Bernadette
When Alexandra Pigg was poised to play Helen, Virginia Madsen – a friend of Pigg and Rose – was initially lined up to play Helen’s best friend, Bernadette. However, when Rose decided that Bernadette should be African-American, Kasi Lemmons was hired instead.
Kasi Lemmons had previously appeared in Vampire’s Kiss but remains best known for appearing alongside Jodie Foster in The Silence of the Lambs. Today, Lemmons is an acclaimed director, most recently responsible for 2019 fact-based drama Harriet.
15. The production couldn’t visit the Chicago housing project without a police escort
When Bernard Rose chose to move the action from Liverpool to Chicago, he and the crew quickly began scouting potential locations. They settled on real housing project Cabrini-Green as the home of Candyman, simply because they were told that Cabrini-Green was the absolute worst place to live in the city.
Much the same as it is portrayed in the film, Cabrini-Green was run down, impoverished and rife with gang-related crime. When the cast and crew first visited the location, they were only allowed to do so under police protection, with an escort of plainclothes officers. Once it came to shooting there, local residents were hired as extras to help placate the gangs.
14. One terrifying detail was based on a real-life Chicago murder
Helen and Bernadette research into Cabrini-Green uncovers that a murder happened when the killer crept into the victim’s apartment through the bathroom cabinet, as there was a gap behind the cabinet linking two adjoining apartments. This is a chilling thought indeed – and all the more so because it actually happened in real life.
In researching real murders in the Chicago housing projects, Rose discovered this design flaw was very real in some areas and was exploited by the murderer of Ruthie Mae McCoy in 1987. Rose even used a very similar name for the murder victim in the movie, naming her Ruthie Jean.
13. A blacksmith refused to let the production use one of his hooks because of his religious convictions
Just as Freddy needs his glove and Leatherface needs his chainsaw, Candyman just wouldn’t be Candyman without his hideous hook hand. However, the special effects team ran into some unexpected difficulty acquiring this particular prop. A local blacksmith was commissioned to build a real metal hook to be used by Candyman in the film.
Unfortunately, once the blacksmith learned the film was a Clive Barker adaptation, he refused to let them have the prop. The blacksmith was a devout Christian and felt that Barker’s hellish visions ran contrary to his firmly held beliefs.
12. Madsen and Todd studied ballroom dancing and fencing to enhance their romantic connection
Not unlike that other 1992 horror hit Bram Stoker’s Dracula, Candyman is a love story of sorts. Todd’s undead bogeyman seeks to make Madsen’s Helen the same as him, so they can be joined for eternity. With this in mind, director Bernard Rose was keen to build an on-screen romantic connection between the two actors.
In hopes of promoting this bond, Todd and Madsen took ballroom dancing and fencing lessons together. Rose and Todd have both stated that they consider Candyman a romantic figure: the director has described the character as “very seductive.”
11. The opening title sequence used groundbreaking new technology
The opening credits of Candyman run against a remarkably smooth aerial tracking shot looking down on the streets of Chicago. This remains a striking sequence to this day – and at the time, it was genuinely groundbreaking. The shot was achieved using a relatively new photographic device known as the Skycam.
The Skycam had been utilised in TV sports broadcasts since the mid-80s but hadn’t been used much in film. The Skycam was the creation of Garret Brown, also the inventor of the Steadicam, which had been utilised to similarly eerie effect on Halloween and The Shining.
10. One grisly murder scene had to be trimmed to get the film an R-rating
Candyman isn’t as relentlessly violent and gory as a lot of other horror movies made at the time. Even so, the brief moments of violence got a bit too close to the bone for US ratings board the MPAA. For Candyman’s US release, a key murder scene toward the end of the film – the death of Helen’s doctor – had to be re-edited.
In the 18-rated UK cut, this scene was left in as originally shot, but it was deemed too extreme for the R-rating in the US. In the censored version, shots of the doctor’s bloody demise were replaced with cutaways to Helen’s horrified reaction. US audiences can now see the scene in its entirety in the unrated DVD and Blu-ray releases.
9. The bees were real, and bred specifically for the film
A key part of Candyman’s iconography is that he’s covered in bees, like those that stung his original human form to death. The filmmakers achieved this effect the old-fashioned way: they used real, live bees – reportedly over 200,000 of them by the end of the shoot.
The bees were bred especially for the film, so they could shoot with bees that were only 12 hours old, to minimise the risk of stinging. Yes, this means that even the bees which spill out of Tony Todd’s mouth and onto Virginia Madsen’s face were real. Fortunately for Todd, the actor was fitted with a protective mouthpiece for the scene with the mouthful of bees.
8. Tony Todd negotiated a bonus fee for every time he got stung by a bee
Special measures were taken to avoid the cast being stung by bees, including coating the actors in the scent of a queen bee, which reduces the risk of stinging, and giving the crew protective bodysuits. Despite all this, they couldn’t avoid the occasional sting, and reportedly everyone present got stung at least once.
Of course, no one was at greater risk of this than Tony Todd – and as such, the producers agreed to give the actor an extra $1,000 for every bee sting he suffered. Todd wound up getting stung 23 times throughout the course of filming. For anyone counting, this netted Todd a bonus of $23,000.
7. Virginia Madsen was hypnotised for real in some scenes
It’s no accident that Virginia Madsen’s Helen appears to literally be in a trance at certain points in the film. Director Bernard Rose actually learned to hypnotise the actress for real during the shoot. Madsen was of course fully aware that this was being done to her and gave her full consent.
This approach was used every time Helen interacts with Candyman, to give these scenes a genuinely hypnotic quality. Barker says this was also done for the scene when Madsen’s face is covered in bees, to help with the actress’s nerves (and who can blame her there).
6. The filmmakers consulted civil rights activists to ensure the script avoided racist stereotypes
Candyman is one of the few black horror icons, and there were fears from the beginning that writer-director Bernard Rose, being white and English, would perpetuate negative racial stereotypes. To this end, Rose met with the NAACP (National Association for the Advancement of Colored People) to discuss the Candyman script before production began.
Ultimately, Rose says, the script was met with approval, NAACP representatives considering the project, “just good fun.” Rose says, “Their argument was ‘Why shouldn’t a black actor be a ghost? Why shouldn’t a black actor play Freddy Krueger or Hannibal Lecter?'”
5. The film was still met with objections from some African-American filmmakers
Despite efforts made to avoid racist overtones, some still found Candyman problematic, notably some prominent African-American filmmakers. Director Carl Franklin (Devil in a Blue Dress) accused the film of “(playing) on white middle-class fears of black people,” whilst Reginald Hudlin (director of Friday) described Candyman as “worrisome.”
Todd, for his part, has stated that he “wasn’t worried about (Bernard Rose) being a white English guy… I trusted his intellectualism and my own instincts. I knew I wasn’t going to create a caricature and that I wanted to root the character deep in the history of slavery in America.”
4. Composer Philip Glass felt he was ‘tricked’ into scoring a slasher movie
Candyman boasts an unusually classy score for a horror film of the time, courtesy of Philip Glass. A highly respected contemporary classical composer and musician, Glass’s body of work includes numerous operas, symphonies and concertos, as well as some film scores.
However, Glass was reportedly outraged when he saw the final film. Having anticipated something considerably more artful and less lurid, the composer felt that he had been misled into scoring a gory slasher movie. Even so, Glass has conceded in recent years that Candyman “has become a classic.”
3. There were once talks about a Candyman/Leprechaun crossover movie
File this one under ‘strange but true.’ In the wake of 2003 hit Freddy vs Jason, studios got excited about the idea of horror crossover movies. As a result of this, there were at one time discussions about movie pitting Candyman against Leprechaun, the evil Irish imp played by Warwick Davis in a long-running series of goofy 90s horror comedies.
Bernard Rose has stated that he took a meeting with the studio to discuss the idea, but Tony Todd flat-out refused – which is probably for the best. Nor was Candyman the only Clive Barker property considered for a crossover at the time, as there were also talks about a movie pitting Hellraiser’s Pinhead against Michael Myers of Halloween.
2. There was a reboot in 2021
Candyman spawned two sequels in 1995’s Candyman: Farewell to the Flesh and 1999’s Candyman: Day of the Dead. The series then lay dormant for over two decades, until 2021 saw the release of a further sequel, again entitled Candyman. The film was co-written and produced by Jordan Peele (Get Out, Us, Nope).
Yahya Abdul-Mateen II took the lead in the film as a Chicago artist who delves into the folklore of Candyman, unwittingly bringing the nightmare back to life. The film was a modest critical and commercial success, earning mostly favourable reviews and box office takings of $77.4 million worldwide.
1. There’s a surprising link between the original Candyman and reboot director Nia DaCosta
2020’s Candyman was co-written and directed by Nia DaCosta – and there’s an interesting connection between the American filmmaker and the original Candyman. As we mentioned earlier, Candyman actress Kasi Lemmons has since become a director, and has also taught film production at New York University.
In her capacity as a NYU film production teacher, Lemmons actually mentored DaCosta on the younger director’s first film, 2018’s Little Woods (also known as Crossing the Line).