THIS TIME on Torments, Dan looks at a listless bore.
By the time the mid-90s rolled around, the twin concepts of ‘tude and edge reigned supreme in the pop-culture consciousness. Characterised by a flagrant disregard for established authority, this nebulous pseudo-movement incorporated figures as disparate as The Crow and Sonic the Hedgehog, where directionless ennui and pre-millennial angst informed the outlooks of an angry youth dissatisfied with the comparative rosiness of the Baby Boomers. The then-christened Generation X proceeded to laud media that was simultaneously aloof and earnest, revelling in the music of Nirvana, the films of Quentin Tarantino and the transgressive fiction of Irvine Welsh.
All good fun, but the cruel clarity of hindsight renders much of it a little embarrassing, as any cultural artefact entrenched in its own zeitgeist inevitably becomes. (See: Hackers.) Enter Clive Barker. The English answer to Stephen King, Barker’s visceral horror captured the imagination of gore-hounds everywhere, refracting the slasher genre through a grisly occult lens. Though coming to mainstream prominence with 1987’s Hellraiser, Barker’s work came to exhibit a profound influence on the aggressive, in-your-face nature of 90s pop-culture.
1992’s Candyman – an adaptation of a Barker short story – runs counter to that narrative, however, relying more on the intimation of violence and a chilling performance from Tony Todd over immediate yucks. Candyman 2: Farewell to the Flesh (ugh) is not its predecessor. It may not be as inextricably 90s as Hackers, but it is absolutely a product of its time, dripping in self-absorbed dissidence and piss-tinted colour gradation. It’s also a plodding meander that, despite relocating to the vibrant French Quarter of New Orleans, is as lifeless as the victims that slowly – ever so slowly – pile up around us.
The plot, for what it’s worth, centres on the titular antagonist returning to his hometown haunt after a schoolteacher (Kelly Rowan) repeats his name five times into a mirror. Buried beneath the slashing and gashing lies an allegory of racial injustice – one that helps to humanise an otherwise otherworldly antagonist – but the focus is rooted so heavily in genre convention that the potential is whittled away until it feels exploitative, robbing the Candyman of purpose and depriving the film of a powerful moral that its prequel at least attempted to honour.
The original film, though flawed, made certain to establish suspense and intrigue through subtle cues and misdirection, the occasional lashings of violence made all the more impactful by how understated it was as a whole. Farewell to the Flesh, instead, thrives on false jump-scares and fake-outs to offset the audience’s nerves, literally resorting to the eternally-awful “cat appears to frighten the protagonist” classic. Todd’s excellent performance – a refreshingly sombre angel of death compared to the standard slasher villain – is muted by the film’s insistence on showing its hand at every turn, crippling his gravitas with warbling choirs and deafening drum hits.
To the credit of Philip Glass, who wrote the score for both films, his music in Farewell to Flesh was one of the few things preventing me from falling asleep; or, at least, it was when it wasn’t underscoring nothing scenes with droning keys and sustained humming. But this isn’t solely on Glass – his music in Koyaanisqatsi made disparate shots of skyscrapers compelling, yet Farewell to the Flesh boasts no visual uniqueness to stand out from the slew of horrors that mark the era. Its tint more closely resembles The Crow: City of Angels – namely, aged urine – and even Mardi Gras seems tired and pallid through the film’s lens.
Director Bill Condon would go on to make Dreamgirls and Gods and Monsters, the latter written by Barker, but here the material eludes him. The film is a jumbled mess, cutting in and out of irritating narration and sluggish scenes that add nothing but minutes to the run-time. It only comes alive when Todd is on-screen; his sheer presence threatens to turn the film around, and an eerily gruesome origin sequence is one of the most memorable in contemporary horror, but the rest of the film is an exhausting, ill-conceived slog.
In truth, I almost switched it off out of sheer boredom. There simply isn’t enough in Farewell to the Flesh to warrant any kind of recommendation; it was so draining, in fact, that it’s taken me three months to finish this article from conception to completion. That fact is made all the more upsetting by how promising the good concepts in the film are, but dragging myself back to rewatch Candyman 2 has been one of the greatest challenges I’ve taken on since SCM began, and I’ve sat through After Last Season three separate times now. That’s as damning an indictment as any.