I have trouble watching horror movies these days. Most are just derivative garbage meant to get teenagers in the theaters on a Friday the 13th or Halloween and turn a quick buck. The rest seem so poorly made that I don’t think I could stand to be in the theater for 15 minutes of their 110 minute run time. Mostly, I just don’t find them scary anymore.
As a kid, being chased around by an unstoppable villain with a fucked up face or some aliens who want nothing more than to terrorize you and your family was literally the scariest thing there was. Of course it was! You had no real fear because you had no real responsibility. My biggest fears right now are: climate change, a broken government killing civilians in far away countries and figuring out if I am on the right path of life or not. Its hard to make a movie where one of those things stabs a topless chick right after she’s lost her virginity. Adult life has its share of terrifying things, and none of them make good horror cinema.
So it makes sense that the films that still scare me are the ones that I watched as a kid. I can remember many nights spent at friends houses watching some Friday the 13th or Nightmare on Elm Street movie and then having a real hard time falling asleep. I remember watching The Shining and thinking it was the most psychologically damaging thing I had ever witnessed. I remember thinking the music in Halloween was amazing and that Jaime Lee Curtis was ridiculously hot (which actually lessened the scariness). But mostly I remember watching Candyman.
In a summer where my best friend and I decided to watch all the horror movies we could, Candyman was high on the list. We had heard it was good, that it was scary and that it took place in Chicago (where we grew up). So we rented a copy of the movie, plunked down on my couch and gave it a viewing. When it was over, my friend and I were so paralyzed by fear that for a few minutes, I think we doubted reality. As a dare, I told him I was going to say Candyman 5 times into the mirror to see if we could get him to show up. He tackled me to the ground to prevent us both from getting hooked in the back. Such was our mental state.
A few things to note about Candyman that I think set it apart from the rest of the 90s horror movies. It was directed by Bernard Rose who went on to direct Immortal Beloved, a film about Beethoven, and Anna Karenina, based on the novel by Tolstoy. Not exactly a horror movie director. The original short story was written by Clive Barker, truly one of the greats of modern fantasy and horror, and includes many trademark Barker themes, especially the combination of ecstasy and pain (sort of a continuation of Hellraiser). And the score was composed by Philip Glass.
Obviously music plays a huge role in all films, but in horror movies not directed by John Carpenter, the soundtrack is usually forgettable and unimportant. Its mostly there to blast really loud at the scare moments. But when you have a world class composer like Glass involved there is no way for it to be hidden. Candyman revels in a huge chorus of male and female singers, intoning wordless chants over organ, piano and synth. It rises and falls, pushes and holds back, breathes into the film and the characters. Its unlike anything else made for any horror film before or since.
The soundtrack has been a lost gem for a long time. One Way Static is about to release a vinyl edition of the original soundtrack for the first time ever and I think it comes at a perfect time. Glass is 77 and has produced a huge body of work in his career, I’m not going to list it all here, you can wikipedia it, but the Candyman score has always stood out to me as a real highlight because it manages to be many things at once. Scary, romantic, epic, haunting, hypnotizing, and as mercurial as the film is itself. Listening to it reminds me of my old house. Of my best friend and I pushing our limits. Of watching the movie and doubting reality for just a few minutes. Of being young and being scared of nonsense, as opposed to being scared of the inevitable end of all things.