1990s films, abandoned mansion, avenging spirits, based on a short story, Bill Condon, Bill Nunn, Candyman, Candyman: Farewell to the Flesh, cinema, Clive Barker, cursed families, Daniel Robitaille, David Gianopoulos, David Gianopoulous, electronic score, Ethan Tarrant, evisceration, family obligations, family secrets, Farewell to the Flesh, film reviews, films, former plantations, Gods and Monsters, guilt, hook for a hand, horror, horror films, Kelly Rowan, Mardi Gras, Matt Clark, Michael Culkin, mirrors, Movies, New Orleans, Philip Glass, pre-Katrina New Orleans, revenge, sequels, slavery, Tony Todd, upper vs lower class, vengeance, Veronica Cartwright, William O'Leary
How much of a good thing, exactly, is too much? For most of us, if we’re talking about indulgences like food, alcohol, candy or amusement park rides, it’s probably when we get sick: becoming physically ill from something is a good way to end the good times. In reality, however, we can have too much of almost anything. Too much time off can make one restless, too much sleep can make one groggy and too many Tribbles…well, we all know the trouble with Tribbles, don’t we? Too much self-assurance and you’re an asshole, too much humility and you’re a wimp. In film, just as with the rest of the world, it’s certainly possible to get too much of a good thing although sequels certainly push back against this conventional wisdom: since replicating a previous film’s success is so important, delivering more of the same “good thing” is usually the order of the day.
In many cases, sequels to popular films that weren’t originally planned as serials attempt to give fans more of the “good stuff” by either expanding on the backstory of the returning characters, so as to give fans of the characters a deeper, richer experience (along with more face-time with their favorites), or by attempting to replicate the most popular aspects of the first film. This can lead to films like Friday the 13th Part 2 (1981), which often plays as a remake of the first film, or Halloween II (1981), which picks up from the end of the first film and continues with many of the same characters (the survivors, at least). Personally, I tend to be a bigger fan of expanding upon the story versus simply replicating my favorite parts from the previous film: even if I really enjoyed something once, why would I want to see the exact same thing over and over? As someone who was never big on the original Candyman (1992) when it first came out, I never saw a reason to bother with the sequel, Candyman: Farewell to the Flesh (1995). For purposes of the blog, however, I recently re-watched the original film and decided to screen the follow-up as a double-feature. Unlike the original film, I had no experience with the sequel save for some vague memories from trailers when it originally came out. How would Farewell to the Flesh measure up as an actual sequel to a seemingly stand-alone tale? Would it fall into the same pitfalls as other “unnecessary” sequels or would it actually stake out its own place and expand upon the original’s mythos?
Even though the action has moved from Chicago to New Orleans, we begin with a direct link to the first film in the person of egomaniacal, obnoxious egghead Purcell (Michael Culkin), the urban legends expert who butted heads with Helen over her Candyman research. This time around, Purcell is giving a reading of his most recent book about Candyman, a book which mentions that Helen took on the persona of Candyman in order to continue his gruesome crime spree. After the reading, Purcell is confronted by Ethan Tarrant (William O’Leary), who blames the writer for the death of his father, Coleman. According to Ethan, Coleman was killed by Candyman after Purcell convinced him that it was just a myth. When Purcell is shortly eviscerated by our friend, Candyman (Tony Todd), Ethan becomes the primary suspect and is tossed behind bars. Detective Ray Levesque (David Gianopoulos) is positive that Ethan’s responsible for not only Purcell’s death but Coleman’s, as well, mostly because he’s always disliked the “mansion on the hill, rich and privileged” lifestyle of the Tarrants: they’re so wealthy that they must be corrupt, he reasons.
After hearing about her brother’s arrest, schoolteacher Annie (Kelly Rowan) rushes to be by his side but it doesn’t seem to be much use: Ethan has already confessed to Purcell’s murder (even though it’s obvious he didn’t do it) and feels equally responsible for his father’s death. As Annie tries to figure out what’s going on, she visits the Tarrant family manor, a former plantation that been collapsing into rubble, moss and graffiti for some time. Once there, Annie happens upon elaborate murals and an impressive shrine dedicated to Candyman. When one of her students, Matthew (Joshua Gibran Mayweather), begins to draw pictures of Candyman, Annie takes it upon herself to help “dispel” the myth by “summoning” Candyman in front of her students. Annie’s mildly triumphant when nothing happens but her victory is short-lived once she realizes that the urban legend does, in fact, exist and he’s now stalking the streets of New Orleans. As Mardi Gras kicks into full force, Annie gets pulled further and further into the darkness. As the people around her continue to get gutted, one by one, Annie soon becomes the prime suspect (ala Helen from the first film) and must delve deep into her family’s long-buried secrets in order to finally put an end to the curse of Candyman. Everything will come to a head in the long-abandoned, flooded former slave quarters of her old home, as Annie faces off against the monster that destroyed her family…a destruction that may have been completely justified, as the abyss of time collapses to show Annie that anyone can be capable of ultimate evil, under the right circumstances.
Despite the somewhat lesser production values, Candyman: Farewell to the Flesh actually holds up as a pretty suitable sequel to the original film. While it lacks some of the previous film’s “Ken Russell on opium” vibe, there are enough artistic flourishes to keep this one from seeing like strictly “direct-to-video” product. Philip Glass returns to score the sequel, which helps to provide a sense of continuity with the first film, particularly since certain passages/suites are reused for similar effect. The locations are also top-notch: pre-Katrina New Orleans is always an eye-popping delight, especially during Mardi Gras, and the film makes expert use of its setting. On top of the gorgeous New Orleans imagery, the abandoned mansion and flooded slave quarters are pretty damn awesome: in particular, the slave quarters may be one of the single creepiest set-pieces I’ve seen in some time and are a fantastic place to stage the final confrontation.
Like the first film, Candyman: Farewell to the Flesh incorporates a few complex themes within its more traditional “slasher” framework. Whereas the first film dealt with “white flight” and the plight of urban housing developments in the big city, the sequel tracks this conflict back further, focusing on the overt racism that led to Daniel Robitaille’s transformation into Candyman. We get an even more detailed and disturbing depiction of his murder this time around (although the incident was still disturbing in the original film), which focuses on plenty of small but important details: the women and children who gather around to laugh as he’s tortured to death…the fact that “Candyman” isn’t a name that Robitaille chose for himself (ala the Son of Sam or the Unibomber) but is something that was given to him by his attackers/oppressors, like a slave name…perhaps most importantly, the film steps back to give us a slightly more clear look at the relationship between Robitaille and his white girlfriend, a relationship that was directly responsible for his murder. If anything, this extra emphasis on the past events tends to paint Candyman as something of a Byronic anti-hero, like a Dracula: he’s not some heartless monster but a loving, compassionate man who was tortured, mutilated, humiliated and killed by a rabid, racist mob. Whereas Candyman seemed like an equal-opportunity slayer in the first film, his killings in the sequel are directly tied in to his killing, making them more revenge-related than sociopathic. It’s a small but significant difference.
Despite the fact that Farewell to the Flesh holds up so well, it’s still a noticeably lesser film than the original. While the slight loss of atmosphere is a bit of a bummer, the over-reliance on “musical stinger jump-scare” effects is a complete wet blanket: this was an issue that was non-existent in the first film, which makes the repeated stingers that much more annoying. A slightly bigger issue has to be the subtle sense of deja vu that the film evokes: while its bears distinct differences from the original, Farewell to the Flesh still manages to replicate many of the original’s biggest beats. In many ways, Annie and Helen are the same character and go through nearly identical arcs across their respective films. The “Candyman shrine” moments in both films are nearly identical, although the scene in Farewell to the Flesh is much more visually interesting than its predecessor. Perhaps most noticeable, however, is the utterly repetitious nature of the killing: if you’ve seen one “hook hand-gutting” in Farewell to the Flesh, you’ve seen all 99 or so of them, since each and every one is executed in the exact same manner. The Candyman films were never about a cornucopia of inventive deaths, ala the Friday the 13th films, but the generic, repetitious nature of the deaths here actually makes this a bit tedious by the midpoint.
Director Bill Condon, who would go on to helm the Oscar-winning Gods and Monsters (1998), treats the material with utmost sincerity, which helps elevate the pulpy source a little. While the film doesn’t feel quite as inventive as the original, Condon is a pretty sure hand with staging the various action sequences and, as mentioned earlier, the climatic scene in the slave quarters is a masterpiece of atmosphere and efficiency. From a craft-standpoint, Farewell to the Flesh must surely stand as one of the more elegant, nuanced “non-essential” genre sequels out there: while there was absolutely no need to continue the story after the first film ended, Farewell to the Flesh feels less like a money-grab than an attempt to say something new, if only ever so slightly.
For the record, I’m still not a huge fan of “sequels for sequels’ sake,” even though I’ve re-watched most horror franchises so much that I have them memorized. That being said, I ended up being duly impressed by Candyman: Farewell to the Flesh. I didn’t go in expecting much but the film managed to throw me several curveballs and there was enough connection to the original to warrant calling this an actual sequel. While it’s not an amazing film, Farewell to the Flesh is a clever, energetic way to continue the series. Although I’ve yet to see the third and (presumably) final film in the Candyman trilogy, my intuition tells me that Farewell to the Flesh will still stand as the better finale. This might be more of the same but it’s different enough to keep me from getting sick of it…yet, at least.