Reviewer: Julie Lynn Hayes
Summer of Sam
It’s the summer of 1977, a long hot summer in New York City. Disco fills the air when a series of murders terrifies the inhabits of the city. A serial killer is on the loose, one who uses a .44 caliber weapon. And no one knows where he’ll strike next.
Vinny (John Leguizamo) is a young married hairdresser who loves his wife Dionna (MIra Sorvino). Even so, Vinny has an eye for the ladies, including his wife’s cousin. When the cousin wants to go home, Vinny graciously offers to drive her, and they end up in carnal knowledge in the car, outside her house. Rudely interrupted by a driver leaning on his car horn, Vinny leaves, not realizing until later that he narrowly avoided becoming a victim of the serial killer.
Vinny has a group of friends he hangs around with, including Richie (Adrien Brody), Joey (Michael
Rispoli), Brian (Ken Garito), and Bobby (Brian Tarantina). Richie stands out in this group because of the way he dresses and acts, always reinventing himself. He’s an aspiring punk rock musician, but he leads a secret life that his friends would never understand – he dances in gay bars, and participates in pornos, and has sex with men for money.
Grad student Helen Lyle (Virginia Madsen) and her friend Bernadette Walsh (Kasi Lemmons) are working on a joint thesis involving urban legends. To her dismay, she learns that her professor husband Trevor (Xander Berkeley) has been lecturing on that very topic to his students, despite her request that he not do so. But then Trevor seems to do as he wants, despite the fact that Helen is very devoted to him. When she drops in on his lecture unexpectedly, she senses a little something something between Trevor and a student named Stacy. A something Trevor is quick to deny.
Helen runs across a story of a man known as the Candyman, who has a hook where his hand should be, and terrorizes people to this day. According to legend, he can be summoned by looking into a mirror and repeating his name five times, which Helen does, although nothing happens. Deciding to delve into this myth, Helen discovers that the projects where Candyman is said to have been seen is a mirror to the apartment building she lives in. The difference, other than economics, is that a woman died n the projects, supposedly at the hands of the Candyman.
Being rather outspoken and bold, Helen persuades Bernadette that they need to investigate this new
lead, despite the fact that these projects are more than a little dangerous. This fact is emphasized by the harassment they receive on their arrival. It doesn’t help that they are dressed like cops. Once inside, they find the empty apartment and look around in the hallway first, photographing some of the colorful graffiti that lines the walls, such as Sweets to the Sweet. Helen insists on looking behind the bathroom mirror. Against Bernadette’s advice, she enters the next apartment. Did she just see something?
The two women are caught red-handed in the apartment by a young mother Anne-Marie (Vanessa Williams) who lives next door. Helen takes advantage of this to question her. On returning later, she meets a young boy named Jake (DeJuan Guy) who is frightened of the Candyman, and doesn’t want to get into trouble with him.
About this time everything begins to go wrong. After an encounter with the Candyman in the parking garage, Helen finds herself in Anne-Marie’s apartment, covered in blood, next to the severed head of a dog. And the baby is missing! Anne-Marie is screaming at Helen, who has picked up a knife from the floor, and that’s what the police see when they break in.
Now that she has been labeled as not only a killer but crazy, who will ever believe that the Candyman is real?
I took a class on urban legends a few years ago (it was a fascinating class and actually fulfilled a requirement. Where else can you get to read and watch The Exorcist for college credit?) As I watched this, I wondered if Candyman was a variation on the urban legend of the Hook Man?. Just a thought.
At any rate, the theme of this film is definitely urban legends, in particular Candyman. Candyman’s story is a tragic one. He was condemned for his relationship with a white woman, his hand cut off, then tortured and killed. Now he only cares about killing, and being feared by people, lest he cease to exist.
The premise is interesting, but I wasn’t overly impressed with Virginia Madsen in the lead role of Helen. In fact, she often got on my nerves with her limited range of expressions and emotions. And why is it that people, when they come upon a murder scene, insist on picking up the murder weapon? Seriously? The best thing about the film is Candyman, played by Tony Todd. He is elegant and menacing, evil and yet almost human and it’s hard not to feel sorry for what happened to him, even though he takes revenge to a whole new level.
There is a second Candyman movie that came out this year, done by Jordan Peele, also starring Tony Todd. In this version, the baby is grown up, and I am guessing that Candyman enters his life somehow, maybe through his mother. Should be interesting. I recommend watching this one first, and I’ll give it a solid 3 Stars.