“The candy man. The candy man. The candy man. The candy man. The candy man.” Repetition is a summoning spell that repeats the past into the present. Horror is a sound you can’t stop saying.
1992 film by Bernard Rose the candy man it repeats its summoning spell like an echo that turns words into sounds and back again. Set in Chicago’s Cabrini-Green housing project, the film features the protagonist Helen Lyle (Virginia Madsen), a white anthropologist who studies urban legends. She becomes fascinated with the story of the Candyman, a black artist in the 1890s who painted a picture of a white woman, fell in love with her, and was duly murdered. His hand was cut off and replaced with a hook and his genitals smeared with honey and exposed to bees.
Candyman supposedly chases after Cabrini-Green, who is on the ground where he was killed. If you look in a mirror and say “Candyman” five times, he appears, whispering loving and terrifying promises. “I am the writing on the wall, the whisper in the classroom.” Tony Todd’s incredibly sensual voice drips with honey and blood. To say his name is to invoke a sweetness of sound and terror; pain, as he says, is “exquisite.”
Philip Glass’s soundtrack for piano, pipe organ and choir reflects the repetition in the summoning spell. The iconic minimalist iteration of it, drawing the same figure over and over again like pictures on glass, forms a backdrop for Cabrini-Green’s boxes, completely identical apartments, and stacked identical apartments. Glass’s insistent, gritty buzz collapses, at key moments, into the white noise buzz of bees en masse, the carefully ordered divisions of space and sound pressed together in a single trauma crawling up the ribcage, a hook of iron drawn through a honeycomb.
The film’s most famous theme is “Music Box,” in which Glass’s characteristic repeating echoes the jingle of a child’s toy. “Music Box” is introduced at the beginning of the film; is the background music for one of Helen’s interviews, in which an informant tells her the Candyman story.
According to the informant, a woman was taking care of children when a lover arrived. The nanny tells him the story of the Candyman, the story in the story that culminates in the repetition of the name and the wet sounds of death.
Glass’s music is a theme for the baby. But her maddening loop is also an aural mirror of the loop of history which is also the loop of history. The past is a story that repeats itself in the present. Horror is a sound you can’t stop saying.
Nia Da Costa’s 2021 the candy man The sequel/reboot is scored by Robert Aiki Aubrey Lowe. His incidental music is influenced by Glass, holding up a sort of buzzing electric mirror to Glass’s crystalline compositions.
However, Lowe reproduces a piece of the original score. Glass’s “Music Box” theme is used in a scene that repeats and retells the events of the previous film.
In a flashback sequence told through artist Kara Walker’s creepy shadow puppet cutouts, we see Helen Lyle start to investigate Candyman and then go berserk. She makes snow angels out of blood and throws a child into the fire.
Glass’s music tinkles and clicks as the words grate, echoing the campfire horror story from the first film. However, the story told by the shadow puppets here is confusing; in the “real” events of the first film, the Candyman, not Helen, was the killer, and the baby survived. To reflect this, Lowe adds ambient echoes and hisses. The music box fades into the hum of white noise, space and sound collapsing into a single trauma, a bloody hook dragged through honeycomb.
The “Music Box” theme gets a clearer ending representation in the closing credits of the 2021 film. At this point, we’re back to walking through the ravaged and gentrified landscape of Cabrini-Green. The rescued baby the candy man, artist Anthony McCoy (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II), has been caught up in the story, sadly learning that the Candyman is not a ghost, but a genus or hive. A black man who moves into a house in the wrong neighborhood; a black boy executed for a crime he did not commit; a black man accused of putting razors in candy—everyone dies and is reborn as a death story. Racist violence repeats itself in a predictable path, like a bee following a scent trail.
Kara Walker’s puppets repeat each story in a ritual of light and dark as the music box repeats its endless theme. The film is the music is a sound is a story is a word. The candy man. The candy man. The candy man. The candy man. The candy man. Horror is a sound you can’t stop saying.