A peculiar film released at the end of the reign of the slasher sub-genre in the 1980s, Candyman took its identity among Freddy Krueger, Jason Voorhees and Michael Myers very seriously, injecting its main antagonist with a large dose of political subtext. Donning an iconic brown fur jacket with a mob of loyal bees, Tony Todd as Candyman is no insane convict or murderous fool but, in fact, a victim of his own society’s oppression.
Investigating the urban legend of the murderous Candyman, the film follows a college student named Helen Lyle, played by Virginia Madsen, who soon discovers that the myth is indeed real, stalking her to the very edge of insanity. As the two individuals are drawn ever closer, Candyman’s identity is slowly revealed, detailing a brutal demise as the son of a slave whose hands are cut off by the father of his white lover, disgusted at his relationship with his daughter.
Adapted from Clive Barker’s novel The Forbidden, the film directed by Bernard Rose is a powerful, horrifying moral tale that not only creates an iconic horror villain but also speaks to the injustice of racism and black stereotypes in contemporary society. As a result of its progressive nature, Rose’s screenplay gathered a huge amount of attention, with Eddie Murphy the original choice to play the titular villain before Tony Todd stepped in to play the towering figure.
Recalling an initial scepticism about taking on the role due to the number of bee stings he would have to endure throughout the production of the film, Todd persisted, noting to IGN: “I’ve always wanted to find my own personal Phantom of the Opera“. Needing a specialist animal trainer to join the production and control the honeybees, Bernard Rose employed Norman Gary, a specialist who had previously worked on films The Deadly Bees and My Girl starring Macaulay Culkin.
Using over 200,000 real honeybees, the production crew and cast wore bodysuits in order to protect them from stings, with Tony Todd even negotiating a bonus of $1,000 for each sting that he received on set. It was during the climax of the classic slasher film, however, that Todd’s willpower was truly put to the test; he was tasked with placing 500 bees in his mouth before sending them into the face of the protagonist, Helen.
Fitted with a protective mouthpiece to avoid as many stings as possible, freshly hatched, non-stinging bees were used in the scene, though this did not stop the actor from getting stung several times, all in the name of cinema. Taking over half an hour to get all the bees out of Todd’s mouth, the actor even recalls being “tranced out” once the scene was over.
Ever the professional, Tony Todd recalled in an interview with The Guardia:, “Everything that’s worth making has to involve some sort of pain. Once I realised it was an important part of who Candyman was, I embraced it. It was like putting on a beautiful coat”. If only every actor was as committed to such painful, yet remarkable performances as Todd.