Ladies of Horror May-hem: Helen Lyle


There were a couple other names that would have been more appropriate picks for this particular holiday here in the States, but I vowed to go with whatever name I picked first. Abide by your rules, Loba. That’s my motto. And so I drew Helen Lyle, the intrepid grad student whose skepticism is no match for the Candyman.

[Loba Tangent: Again, I apologize for any spoilers I include here. I will try to be vague, but there are certain things I must include to provide a better understanding for Helen’s nomination. Do not let this dissuade you from watching this film. It’s wonderful.]

Helen was created by horror maven Clive Barker as the finder, foil, and finally believer in the history of Daniel Robitaille, a former slave who met a grisly end and found eternal resurrection as the urban legend known among the inhabitants of Cabrini Green as Candyman.

At first prone to humor and, yes, judge those whose unwavering belief in Candyman never quite convinces her, Helen continues to seek the truth behind the myth. Her curiosity is unquenchable to the point that, when she finds herself on the opposite side of laughter and judging from colleagues and mentors, she grows even more determined to root out the truth of Robitaille’s existence.

Helen is the curious cat. And we all know what curiosity does to cats.

Then again, we also learn what happens to those who become legendary. Legends never die.

Candyman has always been one of my favorite horror movies, thanks in great part to the unsettling chemistry shared between Helen and Candyman, played by Virgina Madsen and Tony Todd, respectively. In their roles as the myth and the detractor, each eager to prove their case at the expense of the other, they perform a beautifully synchronized cat-and-mouse game that you realize quite early on is not going to end well for the mouse, tenacious though she may be.

Madsen’s Helen is the detached interloper at first, separated from those who hold the key of understanding she seeks by her dismissal of their beliefs as well as the whiteness of her skin, a physical barrier for many reasons among the residents who keep Candyman’s legend alive. Barker’s counterpoint of Helen as “executioner” of the Candyman legend through her dismissal of its genuineness is poignant and, in many ways satisfying in its defeat. As a legend, Candyman can now face the threat that those like Helen once brought him…but her physical traits, which warn his believers away, draw him closer, push him to choose her, to cherish her.

“It was always you, Helen.”

In the end, Helen becomes what she seeks to disprove in a resolution that satisfies in unexpected ways. I’m not going to say anymore, even though I fear that I have already said too much. Just as long as I don’t say it four more times, I should be okay…