I watched two horror movies last night in which mirrors play a prominent role. One was really good and one was mostly shit, but just mostly.
The first is yet another movie on the list of the 15 best horror films of 2014 that I’m chipping away at. The film stars Karen Gillan of Doctor Who fame, who is really carving out a nice post-Who career for herself. Eleven years after Kaylie and Tim Russell watched their father gun down their mother and only escaped after Tim shot their father, they attempt to kill an evil that dwells in an antique mirror that once adorned the walls of their father’s office. The premise sounds ridiculous, but when you think about it, the premise of most horror movies sound ridiculous. Trust me, by the time you finish Oculus, you won’t think it ridiculous and you just might find yourself wanting to remove all the mirrors from your house.
The execution of this film is nearly flawless, the pacing perfect. Kaylie’s best laid plan appears foolproof, and you know it won’t be going into it, but how the movie unspools is half the fun. (Once again, the trailer gives away way too much so don’t watch it.) This is one smart horror film, one that keeps you guessing the entire time, but never leaves you confused and scratching your head wondering what the hell is going on. If it does, it’s in a “pleasantly confused” way. The end was truly a shocker, one that I didn’t really see coming at all, and one that leaves the door open for a ton of inferior sequels, I presume.
I always say the smartest horror films scare with ideas and not with gore. Gore is just gross and not necessarily scary. I found this to be the case with the original Candyman movie that was released in 1992, one of my favorite horror movies. Sure, it’s plenty gory. How can it not be when the main scariness comes from a guy with a hook for a hand that eviscerates his victims? But I remember thinking at the time how judiciously the gore was used, choosing instead to scare with the idea of the Candyman. Is he real? Is he a figment of the imagination? This was decidedly not the case with the 1995 sequel, Candyman: Farewell to the Flesh. It also suffered from having a weaker story, a lot of info dump and no Virginia Madsen.
Candyman 2 takes the action from the Chicago projects to New Orleans, in which a series of killings that look like the work of the Candyman. Naturally, the cops think it’s the work of some psycho that is obsessed with the Candyman, and there’s no shortage of those people. Enter Annie Tarrant, who teaches in an underprivileged New Orleans school and whose father was killed by the Candyman (or at least in Candyman fashion.) What follows is a confusing gobbledy-gook of weird family ties, not knowing what’s real, unnecessary gore and the origins of the Candyman.
I’m not sorry that I watched it – Tony Todd still kills it as The Candyman and it was interesting to see him play the slave who would eventually become Candyman. But it is definitely an inferior sequel to the original in every way. It didn’t even really deliver any good scares, mostly just jump scares and gross-out sequences..
Every time I watch Candyman, I always think of my brother who postulates how different the movie would have been had Sammy Davis, Jr., who had a #1 hit in 1972 with “The Candy Man”, cast in the role. The world may never know, and it wasn’t even a possibility since he passed away in 1990. But watching these two as a double feature did make me wonder what would happen if you said “Candyman” 5 times in front of the mirror featured in Oculus. That would probably release a veritable shitstorm and it’d be hard to say what would get you first.
Watch Oculus, skip Candyman: Farewell to the Flesh, but watch Candyman and read the Clive Barker story Candyman is based on called “The Forbidden.” You won’t be sorry.