The name ‘Candyman’ was first uttered in 1992. Bernard Rose’s original film was inspired by Clive Baker’s 1985 story The Forbidden, a tale of race relations and class guilt in post-industrial Liverpool. Rose, however, struck by the dynamic architecture of Chicago, shifted the setting so that the harrowing tale took place in one of the city’s most notorious housing projects, Cabrini Green. He then swapped the race of the titular ghoul from white to black, and Candyman was born.
The horrifying premise is one we all recognise from adolescence. One in which characters make the fatal mistake of being a little too curious, and end up summoning the titular demon by saying his name four times into a mirror. His preferred method of killing – by ripping his victims from “your head to your groin” – proved so harrowing that the film spawned numerous sequels. Unfortunately, none of them were nearly as good as the original. That is, until now.
Nia DaCosta, working with co-writer and producer Jordan Peele, has made a slick, contemporary “spiritual sequel” to the original Candyman, which drips with all the things which made the original so harrowing whilst making it relevant to the racial politics of the present day. This new interpretation of the Candyman legend takes us to present-day Chicago, 30 years after the gruesome killings of the 1992 film took place. Like the original, DaCosta and Peele’s Candyman analyses how the cityscape defines race relations, ghettoising black communities and then gentrifying these ghettos for white renters. It also follows the same narrative arc: an obsessive individual becomes possessed by the spirit of the Candyman – a monster not of flesh and blood – but one born from the collective unconscious of a brutalised community.
The story follows Anothony McCoy (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II), a struggling artist, and his curator partner Brianna Cartwright (Teyonah Parris). We are introduced to the sleek couple when Brianna’s younger brother (Nathan Stewart-Jarrett) comes to dinner and conveniently shares the story of the original film – with a few misconstrued details. We are immediately made aware of how much the surrounding neighbourhood has changed. The couple’s stylish apartment is a far cry from the old Cabrini Green housing project, which has since been torn down and erased – replaced by up-market flats. However, as the film progresses and the bodies start piling up, it becomes clear that the Candyman has not been erased with it. At this point, I should say, if you haven’t already, please watch the original 1992 film. This remake makes so many references to Rose’s storyline that you’re not being given the full picture without having seen it.
Take the way McCoy ends up back in Cabrini Green after finding Helen’s (the original protagonist) dictaphone and thesis notes. He makes all the same mistakes she did, invoking the spirit as he wanders around the derelict flats. He goes on to exploit the tragedy of the 20-year-old events to inform his new artwork. The piece, a mirror that McCoy asks the guests of his exhibition to interact with, sets off a chain reaction of savage murders which, whilst intensely gory, are not nearly as frightening as the shallowness of the exhibit’s white attendees.
As well as being incredibly self-aware and offering some hilarious moments (let’s not forget Peele began his career as a comedy writer), this remake is a testament to the trojan horse quality of horror. At their best, horror films offer an insight into contemporary politics under the guise of accessible cinema. This version of Candyman is a masterclass in that respect. When you watch the film, you are not watching a mere slasher flick. You are watching a movie that criticises how the media portray violence against black people, the way that same violence haunts and defines the experience of black Americans, the monstrosity of institutionalised racism, and the corrosive effect of white apathy.
Candyman is released in cinemas on August 27th. Watch the trailer below.