A Look into Urban Horror


Horror films are packed to the rim with conventions and it's not like it is a secret.  Most horror films like to go by the old adage that if "it ain't broke, don't fix it" so they use the same gimmicks over and over again.  One main convention that is used in almost every horror film you will ever see is what the scientists refer to as "isolation".  The most popular forms of isolation may include, but are not limited to the haunted house visage, the crew trapped in a spaceship, or the kids out in the woods of West Virginia without cell phones.  The point of this whole isolation thing is to create an environment where our protagonists inevitably get stuck and cornered by whatever evil is coming after them.  Cutting off any possible form of help is a classic move in horror cinema and rightfully so.  What could be more frightening that screaming for help in a desperate time of need and having absolutely no one there?  Most of these filmmakers will set their movies in obvious and easy locations where there really wouldn't be anyone around to begin with (backwoods Texas anyone?).  However some filmmakers have worked hard to change this gimmick.

It's called Urban Horror and the definition for it is exactly what you think it is.  It's a horror story that takes place in an urban setting that may or may not have a different method of isolation.  In some of these urban horror genre movies, the isolation is even more frightening because you are cut off from the rest of the world in the middle of a major metropolitan area.  You're alone amongst millions of people (I personally find that more sad than terrifying, but hey, to each his own right?).  The film House of 9 took this idea and ran with it by trapping 9 people in a house in the middle of London and making them kill each other in order to get food, water, and a huge pay day for the last person standing.  This is an interesting idea mixing the absolute sadness of being alone with the absolute terror of being trapped, but in my opinion, only one urban horror film has truly set the standard for the entire Urban Horror subgenre.

Released in October of 1992, Candyman came and went without too much of a shakedown at the box office.  Being release on 1,500 screens, the movie did eventually make back 25 million dollars before it quietly left the multiplex.  This was one of those movies that took time to digest and soon after its video release, the acclaim started pouring in.  The film wasn't just about a scary urban urban legend (I know I typed it twice, think about it), it has more layers that a tasty 7 layer taco dip.   The movie is about a number of topics including the deconstruction and union of the community, the illusion of ownership, and personal responsibility.

Based on a short story by Clive Barker, Candyman the character was in many ways just like the cenobites (from Hellraiser).  Sure, Candyman didn't look as cool as the cenobites, but just like them, he still had to be summoned by a human being.  People who bring the Candyman into our world are completely aware that they do so in trading their own life for his.  Most people dismissed this as a ridiculous urban legend but when Helen Lyle (Virginia Madsen) and her friend Anne Marie (Vanessa Williams) invoke him in a mirror, then [spoiler ahead, although I would assume you stopped reading if you hadn't seen Candyman yet and immediately purchased it] he comes to life and eventually kills both of them.  It was supposed to be harmless fun but it they turned out to be responsible for a number of murders, and in Helen's case, she was actually arrested and charged with murder (she was framed by the Candyman, but that really isn't the point here).  Helen is at least indirectly responsible for what has taken place.  People have died because of what she did.  Of course her actions weren't of malicious intent but in the back of her mind, there was always the chance that terror would ensue.  It's easy at this point to draw parallels between the original Iraq war (remember that? 1991? First George Bush?  Well it happened.) and this movie.  Was Helen's gain from messing around and evoking something evil really worth the trouble?  Looks like it wasn't, but then again it's not like the community would have came to their rescue anyway.

The Cabrini Green Projects is the scary and unsettling location of the movie.  Opposite from these buildings, across from the river were two other structures that were discovered to have originated as projects (same structure as the Cabrini Green Projects), but then turned around as luxury condos after knocking down a few walls and putting up a few layers of paint.  The idea of ownership in this case is interesting to analyze because essentially, the buildings started out exactly the same then it came down to the owners to decide whether to make them into them as luxury apartments or low rent housing.  Also, it's not only the owners that have an effect on it, but also the tenants.  If you treat you community poorly whether it be by littering or joining a gang, you are still responsible (there's that word again) for the outcome of your environment.  In Helen's case, the community became tightly knit with everyone sharing their problems and hostilities to come together against the Candyman.  That was of course not until after Helen sacrificed her own life in order to save a child.  It wasn't until Helen took an extreme jump to hero that the community accepted her, not for who she was but what she had done.  Proving herself through action negated the horrible acts that she was accused of/responsible for which is clearly a case of redemption and acceptance through self sacrifice.

There are a number of Urban Horror films that are more like a farce or horror comedy such as Evil Bong (2006), Leprechaun in the Hood (2000), Tales from the Hood (1995), and even Snoop Dogg's Hood of Horror (2006).  Tales from the Hood being the exception to the rule by being a serious horror film rather than a farce, but regardless, no one will ever be able to make an urban horror film quite like Candyman.  It has made a resounding force on the horror world not only as an exceptional and completely unique look into the genre, but it showed us that not every convention has to be followed to the line.  They can be twisted, turned and spit out into forms that are familiar but yet stunningly different.  I personally feel that Candyman and Scream were the last two great horror films.  I'm not saying nothing good has been made since (that would be insane) but nothing has had such an impact and resonance on the community as these two films.

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