Clive Barker’s short story The Forbidden inspired the horror classic Candyman. To be honest, the short story in print sucked. The movie however, has served as an epic horror film that has captured audiences for over twenty years. Candyman is one of those urban legends that teenagers feed off of. Actually, all ages feed off of such legends. Let’s be honest, looking into a mirror in the dark freaks everyone out…And, I don’t believe that a “Candyman” or a “Bloody Mary” exist, but you would never find me chanting their names in front of a mirror!
Helen Lyle is a graduate student conducting research for her thesis on urban legends. While interviewing freshmen about their superstitions, she hears about a local legend known as Candyman. The legend contains many thematic elements similar to the most well known urban legends, including endangered babysitters, spirits who appear in mirrors when fatally summoned, and maniac killers with unnatural deformities.The legend claims that Candyman can be summoned by looking into a mirror and saying his name five times (similar to the Bloody Mary folkloric tale), whereupon he will murder the summoner with his hook-hand. Later that evening, Helen and her friend Bernadette jokingly call Candyman’s name into the mirror in Helen’s bathroom but nothing happens.
Discussing the legend with fellow academics, she uncovers an origin story. Candyman was the son of a slave, who became a well known artist. After falling in love with a white woman who became pregnant, he was set upon by a lynch mob, who cut off his painting hand and replaced with a hook. He was smeared with honey (prompting the locals to chant ‘Candyman’) from a nearby apiary, and the bees stung him to death.
With her colleague Bernadette, Helen enters the notorious gang-ridden Cabrini–Green housing project, the site of a recent unsolved murder linked to Candyman. There she meets Anne-Marie McCoy, one of the residents, as well as a young boy named Jake, who tells her a disturbing story of a child who was castrated in a public restroom near the projects, supposedly by Candyman. While Helen explores the run-down restroom, a gang member attacks her: he carries a hook, and has taken the Candyman moniker as his own to enhance his own “street cred” by associating himself with the legend. Helen survives the assault and is able to later identify her attacker to the police.Helen later returns to school but hears a voice calling her name as she walks to her car. The apparent real Candyman now appears and explains that since Helen has been telling people in Cabrini-Green he is just a legend, he must again prove he exists. Helen blacks out and wakes up in Anne-Marie’s apartment, covered in blood. Anne-Marie, whose Rottweiler has been decapitated and whose baby is also missing, attacks Helen and she is forced to defend herself from Anne-Marie using a meat cleaver. The police then enter the apartment and arrest Helen.
Trevor, Helen’s husband, bails her out of jail the following day, but while he is out of the apartment, Candyman appears to Helen again and cuts her neck, causing her to bleed unconscious. Bernadette then arrives at then apartment and Candyman murders her. The police are called and Helen is sedated and is placed in a psychiatric hospital pending trial.
After a month’s stay at the hospital, Helen is interviewed by a psychologist in preparation for her upcoming trial. While restrained, Helen attempts to convince the psychologist that the urban legend is indeed true by calling Candyman. Candyman appears, murdering the psychologist, and Helen is able to escape. She briefly confronts Trevor but he is not living with one of his students. Helen then flees to Cabrini–Green to confront Candyman and to locate Anne-Marie’s still-missing infant. In an apartment’s attic, she encounters the words “It was you all along, Helen.”Candyman predicts that Helen will help carry on his tradition of inciting fear into a community, and promises to release the baby if Helen agrees to sacrifice herself. Instead of holding his end of the bargain, Candyman takes both the baby and Helen into the middle of a massive junk pile which the residents have been planning to turn into a bonfire, intending to sacrifice both Helen and the baby in order to feed his own legend. However, the residents believe Candyman is hiding inside the bonfire pile and set it aflame. Helen manages to rescue the baby, but dies from burns in the process. Candyman also burns in the fire, leaving only his hook-hand behind.
After Helen’s funeral, in which the residents of Cabrini–Green pay their respects to Helen, Trevor stands before a mirror in the bathroom of their former apartment. He chants Helen’s name in grief, summoning her vengeful spirit. Helen kills Trevor with Candyman’s hook, leaving Trevor’s new lover Stacey with his bloodied corpse as Helen becomes the embodiment of the urban legend.
The film ends as the credits roll over a painting of Helen with her hair ablaze on a wall in Cabrini-Green, showing that she has now entered folklore.