VOICE OVER: Rebecca Brayton
WRITTEN BY: George Pacheco
He is the writing on the wall. The whisper in the classroom. Be his victim. For this video, we'll be discussing the horror villain origin of Daniel Robitaille, otherwise known as the Candyman. We'll be taking into account both the film adaptations of Candyman, as well as Clive Barker's source material, as we examine the tragic events that eventually led Robitaille down his path to becoming one of horror's darkest and most unique cult figures.
Candyman Horror Villain Origin
He is the writing on the wall. The whisper in the classroom. Be his victim. Welcome to WatchMojo, and today we'll be discussing the horror villain origin of Daniel Robitaille, otherwise known as the Candyman.
We're going to be taking into account both the film adaptations of Candyman, as well as Clive Barker's source material, as we examine the tragic events that eventually led Robitaille down his path to becoming one of horror's darkest and most unique cult figures.
The earliest origins of Candyman are taken from the fifth volume of Clive Barker's “Books of Blood,” which were collections of his short stories. "The Forbidden" was the tale eventually adapted into "Candyman," and it deals with a series of murders inspired by local urban legends. A student named Helen chooses to center her thesis on graffiti tied into the local Candyman legend, and it's not long before her investigation turns very real... and very deadly.
It's important to note here that only some of the iconography that's closely associated with Candyman appears in Barker's short story. The villain's hooked hand and connection with bees mutilating his face and chest cavity are there, but he's never given a name, specific race, or backstory. All of this material was thanks to the first film's director, Bernard Rose, who encouraged his stars Tony Todd and Virginia Madsen to flesh out their characters.
It's thanks to Todd and Madsen's imaginations that we have the story of his love affair gone horribly wrong. The name of Daniel Robitaille isn't actually introduced until the second film in the franchise, "Candyman: Farewell to the Flesh," where it’s revealed that Robitaille lived in New Orleans near the turn of the twentieth century. He was the son of a slave, a well educated and talented artist who was charged with painting the portrait of Caroline Sullivan, a local woman and daughter of a well-to-do landowner.
The pair would fall in love, and carried on an affair behind the landowner's back. This relationship was eventually discovered, and Robitaille was punished in horrible fashion. He was attacked and tortured by a group of locals, who hacked off his right hand and covered him in honey, leaving him to be stung by a large swarm of bees. He's left for dead, but swears vengeance from beyond the grave in a scene that's dramatized a little differently in both of the "Candyman" sequels. In "Farewell to the Flesh” and the direct-to-video entry "Candyman: Day of the Dead," the mob mocks Robitaille with the name “Candyman” as he’s tortured. In the second film, though, Robitaille utters "Candyman" before passing, embracing the name.
There are a number of remarkably consistent themes throughout the "Candyman" film series, however, all of which help add to the character's mythos and legacy. Barker describes Candyman as being a colorful creature, with bright yellow skin, blue lips, and red eyes. He possesses a sickly sweet smell, and is described as appearing jaundiced, but race or ethnicity is never brought in as a factor. Tony Todd's stately, almost seductive performance plays up Candyman's well-educated roots, while his infamous fall from grace reminds us of his racist treatment by those around him in late 1800s New Orleans.
The films all take place within poor, urban, or historically marginalized communities, most notably "Candyman's" setting of the real-life Cabrini-Green housing project community in Chicago. This development became infamous for crime, violence and gang activity, eventually earning a dubious reputation as one of the most dangerous places to live within the Chicago area. Meanwhile, the second film takes place in urban New Orleans, while "Day of the Dead" sets its story around Los Angeles and the Latino community.
Candyman's power and behavior is almost vampiric in nature, only instead of surviving off blood, Todd's character seems to obsess over belief and submission. The Candyman is intent upon maintaining the urban myths that feed into his cult of personality. The third film even features a group of Candyman devotees who meet in secret and repeat his name five times into a mirror - which goes back to the urban legend of Bloody Mary - almost willingly giving themselves over to death. Todd brings into his performance a hypnotic presence, a la the most romantic of vampires, while also inferring a measure of tragic loss that gives the character depth above many other slasher villains from the same era.
"Farewell to the Flesh" even reveals that this forbidden love from Robitaille's past resulted in a child with Caroline. This creates a bloodline for the leads that will feature in both "Candyman" sequels, the Tarrant Family and Caroline McKeever. The horrible racism that resulted in Robitaille's death could also be tied into how each film pins its murders upon these innocent protagonists - Helen, Caroline, and the Tarrants - a decision that could tie into themes of racial profiling amongst the African-American community.
The bees are another element that features prominently within each film, starting with the swarm that mutilates Robitaille's face. When he appears as the Candyman, these bees are now at his command, often appearing to his victims via Todd's mouth or hollowed-out chest cavity. Real baby bees were used to achieve these practical effects scenes in the franchise, with Tony Todd wearing a dental device to prevent him from accidentally swallowing any of the insects. This didn't stop the actor from reportedly being stung twenty-three times during the shoot, although Todd smartly negotiated a clause in his contract that earned him a thousand dollar bonus for each bee sting!
There really seems to be no separating Tony Todd's performance from the character of Candyman. The man has put so much of his own imagination and personality into the character, that it easily lives alongside Clive Barker's original creation. In fact, it's not unfair to say that Tony Todd IS the Candyman, an actor who helped flesh out and bring to life one of horror cinema's most haunting and enduring creations.