I personally regard Bernard Rose’s Candyman as one of the best things to come out of the horror genre during the whole of the nineties, but even I have to admit that the telling of a black urban myth via the eyes and ears of a Virgina Madsen’s privileged white student seems in retrospect quite the misstep. Not only did it give the movie a distinct “white saviour” complex as our lead negotiated the Chicago projects of Cabrini-Green, but it also fell foul of some “black man terrorizing white woman” stereotypes that only got worse as the films went on.
This leads us to the Jordan Peele produced reclaiming of the franchise as he and director Nia DaCosta lead us to the nearest mirror, goads us into saying the name Candyman five times and stands back to watch the arterial blood fly… But is this bold reimagining of a genuine horror icon going to succeed in hooking our emotions as well as our flesh?
Decades after the events of the original movie, Cabrini-Green has been torn down, built up and has been gentrified beyond all recognition, but a rotting heart still beats where the old projects once stood. Into this world comes enigmatic visual artist Antony McCoy and his girlfriend, art gallery director Brianna Cartwright who hear of the legend of Helen Lyle from her brother one night which tells a slightly different version to the one we witnessed in 1992, but manages to fire up the imagination of a previously struggling Antony nonetheless. Snooping around the neighbourhood, McCoy meets laundrette owner William Burke who spins him the story of the Candyman – however, this isn’t the version of Candyman we’re familiar with but tells the all-too-familiar story of Sherman Fields, a hook-handed black man wrongly convicted of planting razor blades in children’s candy who was subsequently beaten to death by police during his “arrest”.
Falling through the rabbit hole when pondering this local legend, Anthony starts to promptly notice strange happenings, especially after he starts to incorporate aspects of the city’s history into his pieces – a bee sting on his hand refuses to heal and seeming starts to show signs of necrosis, images of a mangled faced Sherman appear reflected in mirrors and members of the art community close to him start turning up torn to shreds by what looks to be a big fucking hook…
Is Anthony on the verge of suffering a huge psychotic break or has he really managed to stir up the Candyman for real – or should that be Candymen? McCoy is about to get a crash course what happens in Cabrini-Green to black men victimized by white mobs and find out first hand (or should that be hook) what it truly takes to create a legend.
With this “spiritual sequel” to Candyman, the team of DaCosta and Peele may have delivered us the most original sequel to an established horror icon since Wes Craven’s New Nightmare that takes the concept of the original and takes it to bold new places.
In fact, it’s the fiddling of of the established mythos that kept me riveted the most as the film might as well be called “How To Build A Candyman” and while fans may initially be disappointed that the movie doesn’t focus Tony Todd’s Daniel Robitaille in favour of the mangled features of the infantile Sherman Fields, the story widens the backstory of the malevolent spirts like a hook spitting skin. The idea that the Candyman is something that can be created by the rage generated by the act of a black man being brutally victimized by a white mob is something the script runs with and expresses it with flashbacks visualized by some magnificent scenes that utilizes crude shadow puppets to maximum effect – in fact Candyman may quite possibly feature the greatest end credit sequence you’ll see this year – nay, this decade…
The movie riffs on the original in other ways too, with copious mentions to Virgina Madison’s Helen Lyle and a Anthony’s genuinely suprisingly link to the first film, but aside from all this, can Candyman stand on it’s own two feet?
Thankfully, yes – although the movie is admittedly nowhere near a scary its predecessor (it plays more like a really good episode of the excellent Lovecraft Country) Nia DaCosta creates a movie with an intriguing visual language that demands you keep your eyes glued to every inch of the screen thanks to some stunning architecture and a relentlessly intelligent use of reflective surfaces that means that the Shermanversion of Candyman is literally dotted everywhere around the movie wherever mirrors are present. The movie also – and understandably – launches headlong into the racial implications of the story, taking in police brutality, gentrification and impoverished black neighbourhoods that, while important, arguably isn’t as well done as Get Out. The fact that the movie relies too much on speeches instead of plot mechanics means that the sub is noticably missing from the subtext – but even unsubtle parallels to the black experience in America is better than none at all and the underlying plot that aims to (spoiler warning) weaponize the legend of the Candyman in order to answer the rage at the decades of mistreatment is a truly potent one.
In many ways, it’s this wide reaching amount of ideas that both make Candyman so interesting and yet also makes it a little unfocused – a side plot involving a bunch of high school mean girls trying out chanting the titular name at the restroom mirror feels like a darkly amusing swipe at all the weird “challenges” doing the rounds on the internet (it’s arguably way more lethal than eating tide pods) but doesn’t add much to the story in general except boost the already impressive bodycount. But DaCosta handles the frenzied bloodletting with noticable style, especially with a scene shot from the outside of an apartment block which pulls away silently as a victim is dragged around their living room by an invisible assailant.
The leads are great with Aquaman’s Yahya Abdul-Mateen III and WandaVision’s Teyonah Parris (soon to be teaming up again with DaCosta for the MCU’s The Marvels) providing a solid backbone for the twisted visuals and plentiful gore as the film winds its way to its brutal and tropical conclusion.
If we’re lucky enough for this series to continue – a Halloween-style trilogy would go down a treat – then the possibilities could be endless for a franchise that’s deserved to be in better hand for the best part of fifteen years, but finally – finally – Candyman is once again the bee’s knees.