Released: 21 August 2021
Director: Nia DaCosta
Distributor: Universal Pictures
Budget: $25 million
Stars: Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, Teyonah Parris, Colman Domingo, Nathan Stewart-Jarrett, and Michael Hargrove
Thirty years after the events of Candyman (Rose, 1992), the once crime-ridden area of Cabrini-Green has become an upstanding neighbourhood. However, when struggling artist Anthony McCoy (Abdul-Mateen II) learns of the legend of a hook-handed bogeyman known as Candyman, his mental and physical state deteriorate as the fearsome killer begins a new campaign of terror.
In 1985, visionary British horror writer Clive Barker wrote a short story titled “The Forbidden”, which was published in the fifth volume of his Books of Blood series (ibid, 1984 to 1985). The story was adapted into the critically and commercially successful Candyman (Rose, 1992), a haunting horror story that immediately turned star Tony Todd into a modern horror icon. While its two sequels were far less successful, the first film stood the test of time for its depiction of racial tensions in American society. Although many parties attempted to get a fourth Candyman film off the ground, the production was stuck in Development Hell for nearly twenty years before Jordan Peele, fresh off presenting similar themes in his lauded films Get Out (ibid, 2018) and Us (ibid, 2019), came onboard to produce a direct sequel to the 1992 original, much to the approval of Tony Todd. After being delayed due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Candyman was finally released to largely positive reviews and, as of this writing, has produced a box office gross of $31 million.
The original Candyman, while a cult classic, is often lost to the mists of time; in many ways, it’s an under-rated horror classic that often gets overshadowed by bigger budget or more popular horror films and franchises. Yet, with its haunting soundtrack, visceral and shocking kills, and Tony Todd’s enigmatic charisma, the film remains one of the most memorable of its genre. When I heard that it was getting the same “requel” treatment as Halloween (Green, 2018), I was intrigued; unlike many horror franchises, Candyman was never beaten into the ground with endless sequels and remakes so doing a follow-up thirty years later actually felt like a fresh concept. Throw in Jordan Peele, the alluring Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, the advertised return of Tony Todd, and some intriguing trailers and I was left thinking that this follow-up could have a lot of potential.
The film picks up some thirty years after the events of the first film; Cabrini-Green, once a crime-ridden ghetto, has been gentrified and largely transformed into a modern, affordable housing estate for artists and creative types like our main character, Anthony McCoy. A struggling artist, Anthony hasn’t produced a worthwhile piece of artwork for some time and is having a hard time finding suitable inspiration; not only that, but his pride is constantly taking hits when friends and family alike continue to insinuate that he’s only able to remain relevant because of the influence of his girlfriend, art gallery director Brianna Cartwright (Parris). Despite this, the two have a very stable and loving relationship; she is incredibly supportive of him, doesn’t seem to mind that she’s having to shoulder their financial responsibilities, and offers both constructive criticism of his artwork and defends him to others not just out of love for him but out of a genuine belief in his artistic talent.
Anthony finds himself creatively inspired when he learns of the events of the first film; Cabrini-Green resident and laundromat operator William Burke (Domingo) recaps for Anthony how art student Helen Lyle (Virginia Madsen) came to the area investigating the urban legend of Candyman and then apparently snapped and kidnapped a baby before burning herself to death in a bonfire. These sequences are all beautifully rendered using cardboard cut-outs and shadows to create visually interesting and ominous scenes rather than simply reusing footage from the first film, with Madsen returning in photographs and voice clips when Anthony acquires her tape recorder and notes to learn more about the legend of Candyman. Becoming obsessed with the tale of Daniel Robitaille, who was tortured to death simply for falling in love with a wealthy white woman, Anthony finds his career on the turnaround when his abstract piece “Say My Name”, which hides paintings of violence and strife behind a mirrored façade, is mentioned on the news following a violent killing at the art gallery.
Unbeknownst to Anthony, his work summons the Candyman’s vengeful spirit once more; now depicted as a “hive” of unjustly murdered African-Americans, the Candyman in his film is the spirit of hook-handed Sherman Fields (Hargrove), a strange but ultimately harmless Cabrini-Green resident from Burke’s childhood who was discriminatorily beaten to death by overzealous cops after being fingered for placing razorblades in the sweets he offered to Cabrini-Green’s kids. Thanks to Anthony’s work, more and more people feel compelled to try out the legend and say Candyman’s name five times in a mirror, which not only results in their brutal death at his hooked hand but also increases the spirits strength and influence over Anthony, whose physical state deteriorates after suffering a seemingly innocent bee sting and whose mental state crumbles as he becomes both obsessed with Candyman and guilt-ridden over his part in summoning the phantom and enabling his killing spree.
The Nitty-Gritty (Minor Spoilers Ahead):
One of the many things that made Candyman so memorable was the haunting score and methodical, ominous shots of rundown urban areas often overlooking in film (and in real life). a prominent theme in Candyman was that Cabrini-Green had basically become a lawless area where gangs and violent criminals were free to terrorise the residents and any passers-by with few repercussions as the police had little authority there, and the real-life danger of the destitute area and its overlooked populace only added to the first film’s menace and mystique. In this new Candyman, Cabrini-Green has been robbed of its ambiance; having been largely torn down and replaced with high-rise condos or left to be reclaimed by nature, the area may no longer home to gangs or downtrodden minors but it is still regarded unfavourably by both the social elite and former residents.
Unlike the original film (and, quite possible, the sequels, though I can’t really speak to this), Candyman places a great emphasis on mirrors; once summoned, Candyman is intangible and invisible and only appears when seen in a reflective surface. This results in a number of unique and memorable kills as Candyman flashes in and out of shot depending on how many mirrors are in the scene and means that you’re left staring intently at the screen any time mirrors or windows are present to try and catch a glimpse of the hook-handed killer. Candyman’s kill count is incredibly high in this film compared to the original; Sherman Fields is much more a sadistic supernatural killer rather than an enigmatic phantom and has no interest in captivating targets into continuing his legend in the same way Daniel Robitaille did. While this results in some vicious, brutal kills and some shocking and well-executed jump scares and shots of Sherman leering through mirrors, I couldn’t help but feel a little disappointed. Candyman is one of the handful of horror villains who is actually as eloquent and charismatic as he is terrifying and, while this new Candyman definitely captures the same ominous atmosphere of the original and is an intense horror experience, it definitely feels as though something is missing without Tony Todd’s booming baritone enticing people to “be [his] victim” and kind of reduces Candyman more to a typical slasher villain with a fancy gimmick rather than the tragic figure he was in the original film.
Overall, the film does a great job of continuing the urban legend of Candyman; since the characters discover the events of the first film throughout, it’s not really necessary to have seen to original Candyman before seeing this one; if anything, this new Candyman could inspire new audiences to seek out the original movie to add additional context to some of the revelations brought forth here but I think it does a decent enough job of standing by itself and being a follow-up. As you might expect, bigotry and racism are central themes in Candyman; for the most part, they’re subtle, with the likes of art critic Finley Stephens (Rebecca Spence) casting shade on “people” like Anthony and quickly clarifying that she meant artists rather than racial minorities and her only really becoming interested in “Say My Name” after it is linked to a series of horrific murders. Similarly, Burke relates how white people purposely create ghettos like Cabrini-Green simply so that they have more ammo to use against their people and then profit from gentrifying the areas, and feels an empathy for the original Candyman, Daniel Robitaille, whose only crime was falling in love. Nowhere are the racial tensions more explicit, however, and the film’s message at its most uncomfortable and relevant, in the depiction of local law enforcement; particularly in the ending, but throughout the film, the police are a law unto themselves who literally shoot first and ask questions later. As uncomfortable as this may be, the depiction of police violence against racial minorities has never been more relevant and Candyman is a perfect platform to explore this issue; indeed, Candyman recontextualises the vengeful spirit into one of retribution as he can be evoked to strike back at the same bigotry that created him in the first place.
Unquestionably, Candyman is one of the most intense and gripping horror films I’ve seen in recent memory. The film spectacularly evokes the same haunting atmosphere of the original and is bolstered by some unique cinematography, especially when presenting the titular phantom. Seeing characters be cut to shreds and manhandled by an invisible force that only reveals itself in mirrors makes for some brutal and powerfully violent kills and horror; the fact that Candyman often floats ominous through the air and haunts his victims from the shadows of mirrors only adds to the tension. Candyman does a great job of showing Anthony’s mental and physical degradation as the urban legend begins to literally consume him and, thanks to its resonating themes of racism and bigotry, Candyman is definitely an incredibly relevant film that speaks to today’s society. While I felt a little disappointed by Tony Todd’s absence and Candyman’s depiction as more of a groaning slasher than an enigmatic phantom, Candyman remained a chilling and impressive reintroduction and recontextualization of the titular character and ended up being a more-than-worthy follow-up to the haunting original.
Have you seen Candyman? If so, what did you think to it and how do you feel it compares to the original film? What did you think to the film’s performances and the depiction of its new Candyman? Were you a fan of the use of mirrors and which of the film’s kills was your favourite? Which of the Candyman films is your favourite and what do you think to this tendency to create follow-ups that ignore existing continuity? Would you be interested in seeing a sequel to this film or do you think it’s better to leave it as a stand-alone sequel? Whatever your thoughts on Candyman, feel free to share them below or on my social media.