I am intrigued by the 1992 film Candyman because, besides being spooky, it is a horror film that also deals with class issues. Much of the film takes place at Chicago’s Cabrini-Green housing projects. Virginia Madsen’s character, Helen, is also a Chicago resident, but is part of a wealthier community. After doing some research on a local urban legend, Helen discovers that her apartment was initially built to be another housing project. But due to location her building’s plan was changed. When visiting Cabrini-Green, Helen meets a single mother reluctant in discussing anything with Helen and her friend Bernadette (Kasi Lemmons). This mother is struggling to support herself and her child. Helen and Bernadette are seen as outsiders when they visit Cabrini-Green.
I have quite a few problems with the film’s ending, but overall I do like that this horror film offers more than just a scary premise. There are multiple scenes, characters and plot developments that cause the audience to consider class distinctions and issues. I do think that the film’s ending sort of kills any criticism offered, because Helen becomes the white, affluent martyr.
So for this forum, I’m interested in suggestions on other horror films that somehow cover class issues, and discussion of any of these films regarding their commentary on class. Also, do we consider haunted house films to fall under “class” issues, or money problems in general?? For example, haunted house films often begin by a couple or someone starting over purchasing a house, often a fixer-upper, in hopes of beginning a new life. And their money is often wasted as they die very quickly or must flee the house. But is this type of scenario different from class issues?? Or is there an organic connection??
You’d also appreciate Wes Craven’s The People Under the Stairs, with interracial poor protagonists and villains meant to represent the Reagans.
Carpenter’s They Live and any of Romero’s Land of the Dead also have strong class content.
Oh, yes, Brad. I forgot about People Under the Stairs, perhaps because the last time I watched it I was at a slumber party and only in fifth grade!! But I do believe I purchased it from a bargain bin a year or two ago. I must dig it out and re-watch it. Thanks for the suggestions!!
I am intrigued by the 1992 film Candyman because, besides being spooky, it is a horror film that also deals with class issues.
I love “Candyman”. One or two minor quibbles aside (the “Helen” ending among them) I think it is easily the best US horror film of the 1990’s (not that there is much competition for the title, but still). Bernard Rose’s direction is a thing of beauty.
Also, do we consider haunted house films to fall under “class” issues, or money problems in general?? For example, haunted house films often begin by a couple or someone starting over purchasing a house, often a fixer-upper, in hopes of beginning a new life. And their money is often wasted as they die very quickly or must flee the house. But is this type of scenario different from class issues?? Or is there an organic connection??
It really depends on whether the film, consciously or unconsciously, makes a point of it or not, doesn’t it? I can conceive of many scenarios where it would address class issues (say the couple are affluent speculators seeking to remodel the house for the sake of gentrification or for a quit profit when they flip it or if they have been marginalized from the middle class and driven into a home nobody with means would ever occupy) or it could simply be used as a quick excuse to get the ghosly boos started on schedule.
Other class-issue films off the top of my head:
“Tales from the Hood” (don’t laugh, a lot closer to The Twilight Zone than to a ‘hoodsploitation flick)
“I Walked with a Zombie”
“Deliverance” (I’d argue it’s a horror film)
Hmmm… what problems do you guys have with the ending? SPOILERS Just that Helen saves the baby? Or that she comes out of the mirror? Maybe I just don’t remember well enough, but I don’t think I had any problems with anything from the ending. I actually really enjoyed it!
@Hellshocked: I guess when I think of this issue I usually remember the films that use the house as “a quick excuse to get the ghostly boos started on schedule.” But now that I think of it, maybe Poltergeist deals with class issues. The neighborhood wasn’t quite a McMansion one, but it did have that type of quality to it, the “every house looks like the next” type of neighborhood that was becoming more desirable at that time. And of course, in order to achieve this ideal life the company must build over a graveyard. Lots to think about with that one.
I’ll have to look at Wolfen again. It’s been a long time and I only barely remember one or two scenes.
I hadn’t watched Tales from the Hood for the reason you stated, but now that you likened it more to a TZ episode I have to watch it.
I would also argue that Deliverance is a horror film. You know, I hadn’t thought about the class issues in that film. Obviously we have two sets of characters from two different social classes, but I’d never considered the implications because there were other areas of the film I focused on. But the “backwoods family” vs. “middle class city folk” formula has been done multiple times in horror films.
So, it seems like, with this list, we usually look at class issues in three ways.
middle to upper class city dwellers vs. lower class “country folk”
middle to upper class white city dwellers vs. lower class African Americans
middle to upper class white city dwellers vs. the ghosts of Native Americans
@DFFOO: Maybe I’m overly cynical, but I hate how Helen has to deliver Cabrini-Green from evil. The affluent white savior strikes again. But again, I could be too cynical (or just in a cynical mood the last time I watched the film).
But did Helen deliver Cabrini-Green from evil? My understanding was that there was an actual (human) killer who used a hook and people just said that it was Candyman (that’s the guy who hit Helen in the bathroom). Then I guess Candyman came to Helen to prove that he was real? I am a little sketchy on that part, but I’m pretty sure that Candyman wasn’t terrorizing Cabrini-Green until Helen came along… which actually fits pretty well with the class-issue subtext. Helen ends up being a savior from problems that she herself caused.
Also, I think you could say that now Helen will be the one terrorizing Cabrini-Green if people say her name in the mirror. And then there’s also the interpretation that she was just crazy and she was the one killing everyone in the first place – emphasized by the whole looking in the mirror, Candyman coming out of the mirror thing.
Either way, I love how ridiculous it is that a white woman caught holding a black woman down while brandishing a meat cleaver in a room with a decapitated dog and a missing baby can get bailed out of jail.
I think there’s a lot to discuss about this movie, and it does a really good job just kind of suggesting themes, but not fleshing it out to the point where it becomes didactic, or even clear-cut. Definitely one of the best horror movies!
Yes, I can see how much of the blame can be placed on Helen. So I can appreciate that she must atone for her “sins” but at the same time something about her entire death scene strikes me as a little too “let’s feel bad for the rich white woman.”
I also think that Helen’s connection to her own “almost another Cabrini-Green” apartment complex is crucial. Maybe she even feels some type of guilt and thinks she can make things better by solving Cabrini-Green’s mystery.
“I think there’s a lot to discuss about this movie, and it does a really good job just kind of suggesting themes, but not fleshing it out to the point where it becomes didactic, " Agreed. I do have trouble figuring out if I think Helen is a victim or a heroine, and usually think she falls in both categories. Especially because of her relationship. I think of Helen’s character every time I read “The Yellow Wallpaper,” and could just see her getting patted on the head by her partner (was he her husband or just SO, I don’t remember) as he calls her a silly little goose.
“My understanding was that there was an actual (human) killer who used a hook and people just said that it was Candyman (that’s the guy who hit Helen in the bathroom). " I thought that it was both. That Candyman used to be alive, was killed in a dramatic fashion, then haunted the grounds he was killed on.
Hmmm… what problems do you guys have with the ending?
I loved the pyre scene. It was an example of a successful anti-climax. Coming out of the mirror, though? I can see how it might be justifiable but it reeked of leaving-the-ending-open-for-a-sequel to me.
Maybe I’m overly cynical, but I hate how Helen has to deliver Cabrini-Green from evil. The affluent white savior strikes again
That’s one way of looking at it. On the other hand it was her white savior complex that got the whole mess started. She waltzed into a world she did not understand, tried to rescue it from itself and paid the price for her hubris. It was because she tried to convince everyone that the Candyman does not exist that he was compelled to lash out and remind everyone that he is very real. I viewed the pyre sequence as Helen atoning for the mess she made and begging for forgiveness more than deliverang the projects from evil.
I haven’t seen Deliverance in ages but as I recall we have a group of yuppies who feel the world is their oyster and that they are entitled to do whatever they want because the fact they are white, rich, young and good looking will protect them. They either look down on the locals or don’t find they are worth paying much attention to. What makes the film somewhat different from other hillbillysploitation fare is that the (impoverished) locals themselves are being displaced (the town is going to be submerged when the river is turned into a dam). It’s not a stretch to say they view our heroes as yet another intrusion they seemingly have no control over. It isn’t primarily about class but there is subtext to be found.
Wolfen is a very underrated little flick. It is predominantly an eco-horror film but issues of class, wealth disparity and urban decay are addressed.
Tales from the Hood is not a great film or even a very good one. It is somewhat ambitious though and (unfortunate title aside) absolutely does not glorify drug dealing, gang banging or anything in between. Quite the opposite.
So, it seems like, with this list, we usually look at class issues in three ways.middle to upper class city dwellers vs. lower class “country folk”middle to upper class white city dwellers vs. lower class African Americansmiddle to upper class white city dwellers vs. the ghosts of Native Americans
The tendency does tend to be that of an oppressed group rising up against their oppressor, supernaturally or otherwise. Most of the films listed were off the top of our respective heads though. I’m sure if we gave it some thought we could find much more varied and subtle examples.
“My understanding was that there was an actual (human) killer who used a hook and people just said that it was Candyman (that’s the guy who hit Helen in the bathroom). "
Candyman himself killed very occasionally. Others, under his guise, kept the legend alive so he really had no need to until Helen started mucking about.
I definitely see both of your points about Helen creating and then atoning for a situation she messed with and messed up, so I do feel better about that.
But like Hellshocked, I also had issues with the almost tacked on Helen in the mirror ending. Definitely screamed sequel, even though I don’t think Helen was heard from again in any of them.
I wonder if, in the same way there is some class subtext lurking in Deliverance, there is similar class subtext in I Spit on Your Grave. Jennifer is the intruder in many ways, because the locals all seem to have very blue collar jobs and then Jennifer decides to set up shop as a writer needing an undetermined amount of time to live in this area so she can write in peace. But in I Spit on Your Grave, as in Deliverance, it seems that the wealthier characters are the ones the audience should feel sorry for. Hellshocked said: “The tendency does tend to be that of an oppressed group rising up against their oppressor.” But what happens when the oppressed are the villains??
The masterpiece Leprechaun 5: In The Hood also covers issues of class and race in urban America. It has a particularly sophisticated understanding of Irish and African American ethnic relations.
Well sympathetic characters in mainstream (US) films always tend to be white, young, affluent (even when they work as waitresses or police officers they tend to have ridiculous houes or apartments) and good looking unless the plot specifically calls for them not to be. As far as “I Spit On Your Grave” is concerned I don’t think it made culture clash a point. It seems to me that it was just a very cynical attempt to create the most harmless, delicate, sympathetic character type to an audience of the period in order to maximize the visceral impact of her humilliation/debasement/assault and ultimate revenge.
It does reveal some unconscious attitudes toward class, however, come to think of it. The filmmakers assumed that the audience would accept the violent and debaucherous behavior from the locals without question simply because they were were blue collar country folk.
@Ari: I really thought the beloved Leprechaun 5 would have appeared in this thread so much sooner.
@Hellshocked: " It does reveal some unconscious attitudes toward class, however, come to think of it. The filmmakers assumed that the audience would accept the violent and debaucherous behavior from the locals without question simply because they were were blue collar country folk." Yes, that’s what I was thinking. Maybe this even goes beyond monetary class issues and connects to how we view “Country Folk.” All good ol’ boys or battered kitchen-dwelling women.
Every time I watch I Spit on Your Grave I’m fascinated by the need to include an incredibly brief scene that shows the lead antagonist talking with his wife and children.
Once was enough for me.
More films for the list:
Salo: 120 Days of Sodom (can’t believe it hasn’t been mentioned yet)
The Wicker Man (not about class per se but there are some implications)
Blacula (the first few minutes anyway)
Martin (George A. Romero so no big surprise there)
Sorry… still on Candyman here. I didn’t think the Helen in the mirror ending felt tacked on at all, given all the talk about that being her destiny and becoming immortal as the personification of people’s collective fears. Yeah, I guess it does scream “sequel,” but I feel like that’s just a bonus for what is otherwise a well-deserved and appropriate ending. You guys are too cynical!
BijouxL The one thing I find slightly confusing about this thread is that seems by class, you are referring to working/lower classes. Most horror films are about class but about fairly specific middle-class anxieties. The melding of real life horror (poverty, crime, drug addiction) with fantasy horror (axe wielding quasi-supernatural maniacs) generally produces frissons. I think that’s what those films – like Candyman and People Under the Stairs harness productively.
@ Hellshocked: I had to watch I Spit on Your Grave multiple times for writing purposes. I even watched it on SelectaVision.
DFFOO: I think you’re right. At the time I last watched it I was at the height of my cynicism. But I feel I’ve moved well past that phase. So much so that I plan on re-watching this film soon because a few of the things you and hellshocked have said are causing me to reconsider my previous stance.
But do you wish that we’d seen Helen later in the series?? Did we see her later (I don’t remember)??
Ari: I did seem to focus on working/lower class, but I certainly didn’t mean to limit the discussion to just those issues. The middle-class anxieties, are those the class issues present in a lot of haunted house movies?? Is Amityville Horror an example of this??
Yes! Definitely all haunted house films feed off of anxieties over home ownership. Also, many horror films work specifically on contexts of fear of outsiders, suburban anomie, conformity, sexual morales, etc.
Thanks for responding, Ari, because that’s one of the issues I was still working out in my head. I remember Stephen King wrote about Amytyville in Danse Macabre. He said the scene that really stuck with him, beyond Margot Kidder practicing calisthenics, was when James Brolin’s character ended up letting his brother-in-law borrow money, then losing the refund check (at least, I think that’s how the scenario went). Anyway, the point was that Brolin’s frantic search for the check was really the heart of the film’s anxieties. They were already spending all their money on buying and remodeling the house. So I guess a new question would be: What haunted house films successfully deal with class issues, or are at least very much attempts at dealing with this issue. Because like hellshocked mentioned earlier, this marriage of themes isn’t always successful.
^ I had forgotten about that scene but, yeah, Amityville is perfect for that. They always buy those houses for a bargain, right? Houses they would otherwise be unable to afford.
Other films: The Changeling definitely fits. Poltergeist as well. I’ve never seen Paranormal Activity but from what I know about it, it might fit. The Shining and Evil Dead 2 -possibly? I’m not sure.
I remember the argument someone made somewhere that vampires and zombies both also figured into middle-class anxieties – zombies as the lumpen proletariat (the unwashed masses) and vampires as the upper class elites (refined and aristocratic). Could be something to that.
I haven’t seen any of the Candyman sequels, so I’m not sure if Helen comes back or not.
I think the Shining vaguely fits the class anxiety thing with the Native American subtext. The hotel was built on an ancient indian burial ground, there’s some Native American art throughout… people have seriously read really far into those things. But it’s definitely a lot more about familial anxiety. But they are a lower-middle-class family, so I’m sure you could read pretty far into that. It’s not like everybody already reads way too far into everything Kubrick did, anyway… :P
Oh, Paranormal Activity is all about money!! (OK, there’s other stuff as well, but that’s a big one). And the houses featured in these films are NO fixer-uppers.
Proletariat Zombies. I love it.
Glad you brought up The Shining. Even though the Torrance’s aren’t buying a fixer-upper, Jack and Wendy’s need to work at The Overlook certainly stems from their troubling economic situation. And this issue is elaborated on in the book.
The Shining and The Holocaust. I certainly hadn’t thought about that connection before!!
The first three of Romero’s Living Dead trilogy (Night of the Living Dead, [my favorite movie ever] Dawn of the Dead, Day of the Dead) have something to say about class issues too, I believe. Some white characters in his movies are either racist or insensitive, and the minority is usually the race of the last man standing. Heck, Night of the Living Dead wouldn’t be as important as it was if not for the casting of Duane Jones and its (unintentional) symbolism.
Sorry… still on Candyman here. I didn’t think the Helen in the mirror ending felt tacked on at all, given all the talk about that being her destiny and becoming immortal as the personification of people’s collective fears.
But did she? The Candyman offered her immortality if she would become his. By burning with him and the child she would become his lover in the eyes of their congregation and thus, as part of his legend, immortal. She refused his offer though and gave her life to save the child and everyone saw it. She ceased to be an object of fear and became just one more victim of the Candyman.
Then there’s also the fact that the reason Candyman is able to stay alive as rumor is because he has the weight of history behind him. As a wealthy, educated black man, the son of a slave, who was butchered in the most gruesome and public way imaginable for the crime of loving a white woman his legend remains because it is a constant reminder of class relations. Helen, as a white, middle-class grad student (with no stigma attached to saying her name 5 times either) would represent very little to the residents of Cabrini Green.
The last reason I don’t particularly care for the ending is because it is such a tonal shift. With the exception of some of the more gratuitous flash cuts this is the only moment where the film truly becomes a slasher. The scene is…beneath it.
zombies as the lumpen proletariat (the unwashed masses)
I think it was Stephen King who referred to zombies as “working class monsters” but, then again, so are most zombie holocaust survivors. Many modern zombie films tend to be fantasies about the erosion or complete breakdown of social protections, leaving the elites in peril and the working class, with their “gumption” and “hands on knowledge”, on top (unless we are talking Romero of course). This usually leads to in-fighting, petty cruelty and implosion which I guess is meant to serve as a warning of what would happen if the average man took over.
As far as classic horror goes (think Universal) it’s interesting how many of the traditional monsters were from countries that were considered “uncivilized” (The Creature is from the Amazon, The Mummy is Egyptian) or, worse, foreign invaders (Dracula, a Romanian in England, The Wolf Man, infected by a gypsy)
I’m loving this Candyman talk!!
I see what you’re saying about her not being an object of fear. And I guess that does make the ending problematic, but I’m a sucker for the narrative construct of destinies being fulfilled (gives me goosebumps every time!), so I guess I was just able to overlook the fact that it didn’t make much sense. Although, I did feel that many things were problematic (I gave it four stars and not five), but I can’t really remember what my minor gripes were. I need to watch it again and re-evaluate the ending. I hope it comes out on blu-ray soon – Candyman’s voice is so awesome and it would be even more awesome uncompressed!
Now I feel like watching it again.
Maybe we should all watch it again soon. I’ve certainly got a few things I need to reevaluate now.
So, Candyman was educated and his education was seen as threatining because it occurred at a time when someone of his social standing, and race, was not "supposed " to be educated. Helen shared similar characterization in that her husband and his male colleague were possibly threatened by her attempts at higher education. She at least was not taken that seriously as seen in the dinner scene. And, like Candyman, she was killed in an horrific way. While she did perhaps become too intrusive in her research at CG her initial catalyst was furthering her education. So maybe she shares a lot of character traits with Candyman and it would then make sense for her to become a similar entity.