Home > Reviews > CANDYMAN – Philip Glass

CANDYMAN – Philip Glass

September 29, 2022 Leave a comment Go to comments


Original Review by Jonathan Broxton

Of the best and most interesting horror films of the 1990s was Candyman, directed by Bernard Rose, and based on the short story The Forbidden by Clive Barker. It’s a story that takes issues of racism, illicit love, poverty, societal decay, and the prevalence of urban legends, and grafts them on to a horrific framing story involving Helen Lyle, a philosophy student at the University of Chicago. Helen’s research leads her to Cabrini Green, a run down housing project in one of the city’s poorest neighborhoods, which is plagued by stories about the ‘candyman,’ a vengeful spirit who kills anyone who says his name five times in front of a mirror. As Helen becomes more and more obsessed with the Candyman legend, and she learns about the terrible true story that gave birth to the myth, the people around her begin to be killed in increasingly gruesome ways, and the police begin to believe that Helen is the culprit. The film starred Virginia Madsen, Xander Berkeley, Kasi Lemmons, and Tony Todd in a career-defining role as the bee-covered honey-smeared nightmare demon, and has since gone on to become a cult classic, with commentators calling it “haunting, intelligent and poetic,” “atmospheric and visually stimulating,” and “the finest Barker adaptation ever committed to film.”

One of the most interesting things about Candyman is the fact that the score was written by classical composer Philip Glass. Prior to 1992 Glass was widely regarded as one of the most influential composers of the late 20th century, whose masterpiece works included such acclaimed titles as the landmark Music in 12 Parts, the chamber piece Glassworks, and operas such as Einstein on the Beach and Akhenaten. His hypnotic, mesmerizing, sacred-sounding music also lent itself to documentary films, and he scored several notable such works in the 1980s, including Koyaanisqatsi in 1982, Mishima in 1985, and Powaqqatsi in 1988, among others. However, what Glass had never done prior to Candyman was score a ‘traditional’ Hollywood film, and certainly not a horror film, but something about this film intrigued Glass.

Director Bernard Rose apparently convinced Glass to score it by stating that the film had aspirations above its slasher movie origins, and had something more ambitious to say about contemporary myth and psychology. However, at some point during the production, the film’s producers became dissatisfied with Rose’s work and replaced him with another (uncredited) director who re-shot scenes with a gorier and more traditionally horrific style. This change of direction apparently left Glass feeling very unsatisfied and disappointed with the finished product, but despite this Glass was still able to write one of the most iconic horror scores in recent history.

Glass’s score is a gothic, liturgical work for piano, pipe organ, and chorus, which presents several recurring themes and is written in his inimitable minimalist style, intensely rhythmic and constantly switching between major and minor key harmonies. The score never changes its instrumental content – there is no traditional orchestra whatsoever – but despite this Glass gets a lot of mileage from his limited palette, creating a work of unexpected poignancy, seductive tension, and near-religious intensity. This religious aspect is actually quite fascinating, as it posits the notion that the Candyman is a near-godlike figure of power to the people of Cabrini Green; he is both their protector and savior, but is also capable of unspeakable horrors, depending on who has wronged him and who has spoken his name. There is also an undeniable romantic element to the music, relating to the idea that Helen may be the reincarnation of a figure from Candyman’s human life, and that he has come to reclaim her as his lover in this world, and the next.

The score’s famous main theme is the “Music Box” theme, a lullaby-like piece for chimes that is both soothing and unnerving at the same time, a reflection of Candyman as a mythical figure from folklore and fairy tales. “Cabrini Green” feels like a piece of sacred music from the Middle Ages, a wandering pipe organ figure overlaid with massed vocals wordlessly singing in unison. “Helen’s Theme” is a warmer, more approachable variation on the music box theme, transposed to solo piano, and with a more sentimental sound that speaks to her inquisitiveness and good heart. It’s also interesting that both Candyman and Helen should have the same melody as the basis for their themes, as it reinforces the idea that the two characters are linked through time. The da-da-da-da vocals that come in during the piece’s second half are unnervingly beautiful, especially when accompanied by wild organ chords.

“Face to Razor” is a suite made up of smaller cues which, individually, underscore several of the film’s moments of bloody carnage and hook-based horror. Glass lowers the tone of his pipe organ here, building out of low, dominant bass notes full of portentous doom, while allowing his choir to intone vividly over the top, adding a level of spirituality and religious fervor to the bloodletting and the evisceration.

“Floating Candyman” underscores one of the film’s iconic scenes, where the character appears to Helen while she is strapped to a gurney in a psychiatric ward, unable to move. The score’s main romantic theme makes its first appearance here, rolling pianos and deep, sonorous organs overlaid with almost angelic female voices, clearly showing that, rather than wanting to kill her, Candyman wants Helen to join him as a vengeful spirit from the afterlife, forever in love. The fact that Glass uses romantic, almost sexually charged, music to depict this relationship makes the scene uncomfortably erotic in context – Candyman is clearly a nightmarish figure, but is also powerfully seductive. Towards the end of the cue Glass brings back elements of the main music box theme too, as a complement to the dark romance, further cementing their temporal link. It’s all very clever.

“Return to Cabrini” is initially frantic and aggressive, feverish organ arpeggios and almost screaming vocals underscoring the final confrontation between Candyman and the people of Cabrini Green, who have come to blame Helen for all the recent terrible occurrences there. It gradually morphs into a lyrical, darkly romantic, tragic variation on the Candyman-Helen Love Theme, including a classically rich solo piano interlude, before ending with a cacophonous tumult of music and drama, rapidly pulsating organs and cooing choral tones that eventually slow to a whisper, as Helen sacrifices herself in a fiery pyre of redemption. This music feels more like Handel than horror, and it’s exceptionally powerful. The conclusive “It Was Always You, Helen” reprises both Helen’s Theme and the Love Theme with rich classicism and provides a satisfyingly tonal coda to the score.

A number of factors – ambivalence about the finished film, disappointment about the whole working experience, and the fact that there wasn’t enough music to merit a whole CD – resulted in the score for Candyman not being released at the time the film came out. However, despite Glass’s personal feelings, the film was successful enough for a sequel to be released in 1995, Candyman II: Farewell to the Flesh, for which Glass contributed four new cues to supplement the original film’s music, much of which was tracked in to the second installment. Eventually, producer Don Christensen convinced Glass that there was enough interest in the music to merit an album, and in 2001 he released a 2-for-1 album entitled The Music of Candyman on Glass’s own Orange Mountain label, combining music from both films. Later, in 2019, the standalone Candyman score was released as a special edition vinyl LP by One Way Static Records, featuring exclusive and extensive liner notes by Glass, author Clive Barker, director Bernard Rose, and actors Tony Todd, Ted Raimi, and Xander Berkeley.

It has always been a source of fascination to me that Philip Glass, who is inarguably one of the most acclaimed composers of serious contemporary classical music of the last 50 years, would ‘slum it’ in film music as often as he did. Not only did he score this film, but he also went on to score a number of reasonably high profile studio dramas and thrillers, including Kundun, The Hours, Secret Window, Taking Lives, The Illusionist, Notes on a Scandal, and even the abortive Fantastic Four superhero movie in 2015. Glass said once in an interview that he took on these commissions as a jobbing composer in Hollywood to test himself, and to understand just how hard the industry composers work, and that always impressed me. As such, and despite his personal experience on the film not being an especially pleasant one, Candyman remains one of the most interesting horror scores of the 1990s, one which serious connoisseurs of the genre should explore.

Buy the Candyman soundtrack from the Movie Music UK Store

Track Listing:

  • Music Box (1:05)
  • Cabrini Green (3:27)
  • Helen’s Theme (1:56)
  • Face to Razor (6:13)
  • Floating Candyman (7:04)
  • Return to Cabrini (9:46)
  • It Was Always You, Helen (3:07)

Running Time: 32 minutes 41 seconds

Orange Mountain Music OMM-0003 (1992/2001)

Music composed by Philip Glass. Conducted by Michael Riesman. Orchestrations by Philip Glass. Recorded and mixed by Pete Keppler. Score produced by Philip Glass and Kurt Munkacsi. Album produced by Don Christensen.

  1. October 19, 2022 at 8:49 am
  1. No trackbacks yet.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: