“An entire community starts to attribute the daily horrors of their lives to a mythical figure.”
At first glance you might wonder why Bernard Rose’s supernatural slasher film Candyman is on this list, let alone concluding it. Before you click away from this page, ease up on that index finger and listen to why this film is one of horror’s most brilliant allegories for religion.
A grad student played by Virginia Madsen researches an urban legend about a man with a hook for a hand who will supposedly appear when you call his name (Candyman) five times in a mirror. Even after collecting several stories of murder and bloodshed from the local Chicago housing projects called Cabrini-Green, which is supposedly where the legend began, she still has her doubts. So, she looks in the mirror and calls his name. To her terror and astonishment, Candyman appears and starts her down a journey into madness.
This still doesn’t sound like it has much to do with religion until you pay attention to the way Candyman speaks. He, like most of Clive Barker’s monsters, is very well spoken. He says things like, “You destroyed the faith of my congregation, so I was obliged to come,” followed by, “I am the writing on the wall, the whisper in the classroom. Without these things I am nothing, and so I must shed innocent blood.” That is to say, Candyman only exists because people believe in him. He is literally made flesh by their faith. When someone questions his existence by calling his name (which would essentially kill him), he is forced to split them open with his hook, if only to keep the faith alive. In this way, Candyman is religion.
When people hide all the terrors that come with being alive into a religion – like the fear of death or the absence of objective meaning – the survival of said religion becomes paramount, and, like Candyman, religion can only survive on the faith of its followers. When that faith is challenged, bloodshed too often becomes the most compelling answer, as we have seen throughout history and even in some of today’s more violent faiths.
Candyman warns us that there’s a cost to keeping religion alive. Would you dare break the faith, would you call his name?
With that ominous question left to linger, we have reached the end of the list. Be sure to leave some of your favourite religious horror films in the comments below and remember to say your prayers tonight… This list is proof you’re going to need them.