Hooked ‘ on horror
Alan Morrison confronts some urban myths with the director and stars of Candyman.
Scene l: Central London. November 1992. I’m heading for a pint with a mate who's working in the City. when he tells me a story about the friend of a neighbour of a guy he works beside. Seems this guy was in a London bar. having a quiet drink. when he started talking to this good-looking girl sitting next to him. The girl takes him to another bar. buys him a few drinks and . . . he can't remember a thing until he wakes up two days later with a pain in his side and his shirt soaked in blood. A medical examination reveals that he’s missing one of his kidneys.
Scene 2: Avoriaz Film Festival in France. January l993. I‘m asking questions about urban legends to the director and stars of new horror film Candyman when actress Kasi Lemmons excitedly pipes up: ‘I heard a really good one recently in the United States. Okay. a guy goes to a bar with a woman. then wakes up in a hotel room and he‘s paralysed with pain. Finally he reaches for the phone and he calls his friends. He’s been cut from here to here and when they take him to hospital. they find one of his kidneys has been stolen to sell it.‘
Scene 3: Edinburgh. February 1993. l casually ﬂick on a late night American cop show and there‘s a guy bleeding on a park bench. Someone’s whipped out
one of his kidneys. and . . .
. and so on and so on. It‘s another of those apocryphal stories that always happens to the friend of a friend of a friend. Some people believe them utterly: others accept that they're just another variation on the old sit-round-a- campfire-and-scare-us-with-bogeymen stories that have followed us in various malevolent forms since childhood. But at a time when the moral breakdown of society means that toddlers are left battered beside railway tracks and the need for that next fix causes people to murder for pennies. the bogeyman is a more potent force than ever. Because the bogeyman feeds on human fear. moral decay and a desire to blame anyone except ourselves.
Clive Barker knew this when he wrote
:- i W' p ‘- N Candyman: Tony Todd and Virginia Madsen one of the finest pieces of urban horror. the short story The forbidden. from which Candyman was adapted. Writer- director Bernard Rose is equally aware of the power of the bogeyman figure, having been behind the disturbing childhood fantasy Paper/muse. ‘I think that everybody has a bogeyman in their life. whether from childhood or from later.‘ he explains. ‘lt’s a basic need to feel that there is something out there that‘s worse than anything you can imagine.”
Urban legends are by definition international. which means that the bogeyman is as much at home in the concrete estates of The [in-biddm's Liverpool as the graffiti-covered inner city hell of Cabrini Green in C'undvman's Chicago. The plot now
centres on graduate student Helen Lyle. whose thesis on urban despair brings her to a run-down housing project where local murders are blamed on a supernatural hook-handed killer. the Candyman. By calling his name five times before a mirror. Helen unleashes his evil on the world and finds herself slipping further and further into paranoid schizophrenia.
'Nearly every sequence in the film is based on one urban myth or another.’ Rose explains. ‘For instance. the castrated boy in the toilet. the whole hook hand/mirror thing. the bonfire that somebody's lit without knowing there are people inside — it’s a sort of compendium of urban legends.’ What makes them all the more terrifying is that. at first. Helen's research means she is told the story in traditional urban myth fashion — third-hand from a cleaning lady who overheard it; then. gradually. the comfort of distance is eroded until she finds herself in the very heart of the nightmare. The Candyman himself is more than a Freddy Kreuger clone because Rose uses him both as a supernatural adversary for Helen and a manifestation of diseased morality. Ultimately. the viewer is never allowed the comfort of knowing whether Helen is victim or perpetrator.
The film's star. Virginia Madsen. accepts the duality of her role: ‘When life becomes very shocking — for instance. when there‘s a mass murderer — we would rather believe that this person was somehow possessed by demons rather than the truth: that he was just an everyday person who lost his mind.‘ For Bemard Rose. however. the potency of the bogeyman figure has a deeper impact on the individual: ‘For me. the significance of the mirror is that you look and call the Candyman. but actually what you‘re doing is looking at yourself as the murderer. You‘re looking for a demon in the mirror. but you will always see yourself.‘
, Candyman opens across Scotland on Friday I 9 March.
_ Sweet smell ofsueoess
‘When I got the part, I was running around going, “Yes! I’ve got the movie, I’m with Al Pacino . . . I get to drive a Ferrari!” While sleek red sports cars would normally take second place to working alongside an Oscar cert for most aspiring actors, Chris O’Connell has tried to keep in perspective the break that’s likely to throw him headfirst into the limelight. Pltted against the bitter ferocity of Pacino’s blind ex-colonel in Scent of a Woman, his sympathetic performance as preppy school student Charlie Slmms was strong enough to win him a Golden Globe nomination for Best Supporting Actor (although he actually has more screen time than the top- billed star).
Born the youngest of seven children In a small town near Chicago, the 22-
year-old spent part of his school years on local modelling assignments and making commercials before he landed the part of Jessica Lange’s eldest son in Men Don’t Leave. Other small film and TV roles followed, until he finally
came to notice in the yet-to-be- released School Ties. ills new-found fame will be cemented early next year when he flashes his sword as D’Artagnan in a brat pack version of The Three Musketeers, also starring Charlie Sheen and Kiefer Sutherland. All this, despite the fact that there’s no acting gene in his German-Irish blood and his knowledge of who’s who in Hollywood leaves a lot to be desired.
‘When I got my first film, I knew that Jessica Lange was a movie star, I lost didn’t know which one,’ he admits. ‘And I didn’t know what to expect going into this one because, to me, Al Pacino is Tony Montana from Scarface - hey, this guy’s gonna kill me or something. But I met him, and he’s very soft spoken, he’s got a great sense of humour and, although he didn’t know me from a hole in the wall, he didn’t treat me that way. in the beginning I was a little nervous around him and we tended to purposely stay apart from each other because we knew that natural nervousness would work to our
advantage in the film. Later, it wasn’t like Al was a father figure exactly, because i’d sit around and talk to him about women. When young ladies came on the set he’d always kinda check them out or try to set me up or something.’
At the moment O’Donnell is keeping both feet firmly on the ground by filling the gaps between acting assignments with a business major at Boston College. Since filming Scent of a Woman, he’s completed a full semester and summer school because, as he explains, “It’s a real risky business and a college education isn’t going to hurt you.’ So despite the small troupe of autograph hunters who sought him out during his trip to London last month, there are plenty of events that keep him aware that he’s not a household name lust yet. ‘Yeah, there was this big joke on the set: “Scent of a Woman — Al Pacino and Chris O’Connell . . . is she hot?” (Alan Morrison)
Scent of a Woman opens on Friday 12
March. See Screen Test for review.
16 The List 12 —25 March 1993