Saturday, 6 August 2011

Candyman, Candyman, Candyman, Candyman, can’t do it…

04:59:00 Posted by Ashley Lister , , , 6 comments

by Ashley Lister

I adore a good, scary horror story. I’m always awed by the power it can have over the reader/audience. Take one of the movies I watched last week as an example: Candyman.

For those of you unfamiliar with Candyman, the story is a tightly woven piece of classic Clive Barker. There are themes of racism, poverty, corruption, misogyny and other such horror genre stalwarts. But the basic premise is built on the ‘Bloody Mary’ legend.

With the Bloody Mary legend, you have to stare into a mirror and say ‘Bloody Mary’ four times. This summons the demonic character of Bloody Mary, who then kills you to death.

In Candyman, if you stare into a mirror and say ‘Candyman’ five times, this summons the evil spirit of Candyman. Once Candyman has been summoned he tickles your insides with his hooked hand.

(Surprisingly, I don’t think either this story or the urban legend on which it was based was ever nominated for a Man Booker prize).

But here’s the strange thing. I can’t look in a mirror and say Candyman five times.

I consider myself to be a rational person and I’ve got no particularly religious tendencies, other than celebrating Christmas presents and Easter eggs.

But I can’t repeat Candyman’s name whilst staring into a mirror. To be honest, I get creeped out saying the name once whilst staring into a mirror. I was seriously drunk the only time I ever said the name twice into a mirror.

The idea of going further genuinely gives me the shivers.

And this is the power of well-written fiction. If a story or a poem can touch us so that we have a physical reaction, then it’s done its job. And, whilst I know this week’s theme is ‘shivers’, I’d argue (as Vicky Ellis said on Thursday) that any physical reaction – whether it’s laughter, arousal, the emotional overflow of tears or any other physical response – shows that the writer knows what they’re doing with their craft.



Lindsay said...

I can't do it either. It's rare a horror film really scares me nowadays, but I can remember watching this when I was younger and it terrified me. The only movie that has scared me in the past 10 years was one called 'Session 9' and I can not watch it again it had such an odd effect on me. That would be the horrible noise of the warped twisted voice of the mental patient on tapes rasping 'do it Gordon' urging him to kill. (shiver shiver shiver)Great post.

Vida said...

I don't get the whole enjoying-being-terrified thing. I've heard all the arguments, the escapism, the thrill, the knowing it's not really real thing - but for me, I'm so affected by images and memories, once it's in I can't ever let it go. And I have enough fear, I have no wish to imbibe any more artificially created ones. Less so with books, then I can enjoy the story more, but with films.. agh.

For me, if it works, then the whole point is we've accepted it as real, we have the reaction, and it's in there, recorded.

But also, I'm just a scaredy cat :)

Ashley R Lister said...


I'm now going to have to try and find a copy of Session 9. It sounds like a good one.


Ashley R Lister said...


I grew up on a diet of Stephen King so I have some very fond associations with the horror genre. I can understand anyone avoiding it though because there is something fatuous about frightening ourselves for entertainment.


vicky ellis said...

After watching The Grudge (and not even the Japanese version, it was the watered down US film with Buffy) I couldn't go to the bathroom on my own at night! This was about 5 years ago. For ages afterwards anyone making the popping noise at the back of their throat was able to give me the shivers.

I'm a Barker fan too, Dowd is one of my favourite menacing characters ever. I find horror novels more frightening than films. Probably the combination of imagination and the solitary nature of reading. Films might have a more immediate impact than writing but the writing stays with you longer.

Ashley R Lister said...

The Grudge is good for that. Ash Jr made me watch the Japanese version and you do right to avoid it.

There's also a Richard Laymon short story in Dreadful Tales - it's called The Fur Coat - and it stayed with me for a month after I'd read it. The impact wasn't particularly horrifying. It was just such a stylish execution of the story's message that it made me feel very sad every time my thoughts went back to it.