A few years back, I talked about how my 11-year-old self was scared stupid while watching Candyman. For a genre that lacks many slashers of color, it was refreshing to not only see Tony Todd be so dapper and debonair while tormenting Virginia Madsen, but he got his legend status while operating inside of a housing project (the infamous Cabrini Green projects of Chicago, to be exact). Needless to say that the film left a major impression on me, both as a black guy who loves great films and also yearns to see more people like himself on screen.
Today marks the 25th anniversary of Candyman's release. The film, which was directed by Bernard Rose and produced by Clive Barker (it was based on Barker's story "The Forbidden"), was a success, more than tripling its $8 million budget to take in $25.7 million domestically. More importantly, it helped introduce me to Kasi Lemmons, who was featured in everything from The Silence of the Lambs to Fear of a Black Hat, but might be most fondly remembered as the director of films like 1997's Eve's Bayou and Talk to Me from 2007.
In the spirit of remembering Candyman, I got the chance to speak with Kasi about her memories of working on the set, which includes (spoiler alert?) her character's mutilated corpse. She also talks her transition from being on screen to working behind the camera, which in turn has linked her with Octavia Spencer and LeBron James for an upcoming TV series on Madam C.J. Walker. Today, we focus on a film that should go down in history as one of the scariest things to be committed to film.
Do you remember what it was about that script that drew you in specifically?
At the time I had done Vampire's Kiss, a couple of cult turns. For me, it was kind of a big part. I liked the script, I liked the part. I had done a lot of "black girl best friend" roles ala Silence of the Lambs. But it was a very decent part for me and I loved working on the project, it was so much fun. Part of what made it fun, and drew me to the script as well, there weren’t that many people in it, so I really liked that. It felt like a close group of us. But in reading the script, I saw that he was a black guy with a good backstory.
Were you a fan of horror films or thriller films before this?
Oh yes. I still am. But only very good ones, not so much the modern era of them but more the Rosemary’s Baby, The Exorcist.
What are memories of working with Tony Todd?
We thought he was totally scary. He’s the sweetest guy in the world, very tall, just a really beautiful and handsome man, but Candyman is pretty scary. I thought he was very impressive, I liked the wardrobe and the way that character was portrayed. When you’re in a horror film, it’s not scary.
Is it that much different watching the film than working on the film? Do you even enjoy watching films you are in?
I’m not a fan of watching myself, the very kind of traumatic thing was when I got eviscerated. The costume and the makeup is very very graphic, and I had to lay around in it and nobody would look at me. I was lonely because it was so awful to watch. But Virginia, who is my friend, came over and would talk to me as I was laid out as myself dead.
Would you say that was by far the hardest thing that you had to film for the movie?
I remember it being a great joy, so yeah I would say that was the hardest thing. Because I remember it being an incredible amount of fun, we just had a great time making it. Virginia and I had a lot of laughs, it was a very fun part of my life.
What do you remember about trying to make sure the film did portray any racism or racial stereotypes? Was this more of the producers being worried about this?
It probably was, I mean we definitely went through the script. Bernard asked my opinion, but I thought it was actually presented pretty carefully. There was in those days a Cabrini Green, and it was still pretty popping. I remember one day being there and hearing of somebody shooting a hole in the generator. So there was still activity at Cabrini and I think that was one of my main concerns, how do you portray a project, a famous project.
Did you hear from anybody after the film about how the movie portrayed that area?
No, and usually once people get used to you being around they become very friendly and have a lot to say. I didn’t hear anything negative while shooting, but by the time the picture came out I was on to other things.
I remember reading about Friday and the block they shot that on and how there was resistance at first and then afterwards, I don’t want to say it was like protection, but they looked after the cast and the people working on the set.
Honestly that usually is the way it happens and protection isn’t too strong of a word. They are friendly in the neighborhood and at first they might greet you wearily, but eventually it just becomes a part of the production.
How have you looked back at the film in terms of being iconic?
For me, when I look at it I’m really looking at my career. So I’m looking at Vampire’s Kiss, Silence of the Lambs, and Candyman and I say "OK, I was in three kind of iconic cult films at that time." I’m thrilled that I was in Candyman, it has lived on and there are people that love that film. Films come and go so easily and disappear from the memory, it’s very, very common that you see movies, even movies that you think are pretty good, and they don’t have a lasting impact on you.
After Candyman, you had a couple of more acting gigs, but you were also behind the camera for films like Eve’s Bayou. Were you thinking when you got this role that you were going to continue acting?
I thought I was going to continue acting until one day I wasn’t really doing it so much anymore. I love acting, it’s my first love and I never really expected it to end. It was only once I became so immersed in writing and directing that I realized it was a more artistically rewarding part of my life because it’s so much harder and demanding and a richer experience for me. That was at the height of my career.
Do you have any plans on revisiting Candyman for its 25th anniversary?
I think I’ll watch it, yeah definitely.