As cinematic boogeymen go, you can’t do much better than Candyman. Since his first appearance in Bernard Rose’s Candyman (1992), he has remained a haunting figure and an urban legend born from the stuff of nightmares. His legacy continues in Nia DaCosta’s Candyman (2021), summoned once again to gouge throats and spill blood. Candyman stars Teyonah Parris (Chi-raq), Colman Domingo (Zola), Nathan Stewart-Jarrett (Misfits), and Yahya Abdul-Mateen II (Watchmen) who’s low register is stiff competition for Tony Todd’s unforgettable bellow.
Written by co-producers Jordan Peele (Get Out) & Win Rosenfeld (BlacKkKlansman), and Nia DaCosta (Little Woods), this new adaptation of Clive Barker’s work threads that nearly impossible needle of updating a celebrated classic for contemporary audiences, while also elaborating on the mythos of its villain. Candyman (2021) doesn’t quite match the sheer terror of its predecessor but what it lacks in scares it makes up for in some really inventive kills. Of course, maybe I’m just that old horror fan who can’t get over the original.
“[…] one of the most impressive expansions of an established character in recent memory.
The real good news for any younger horror fans out there just learning about Candyman is that you don’t have to watch the original to enjoy this sequel/reboot. Any important info from the first movie is explained to you (and with cool silhouette puppets too!) but who’s to say that having just a faint understanding of who Candyman is, won’t make the movie scarier. If all you know about Candyman is taken from the scary stories you’ve heard over the years, then he’s is already your boogeyman too.
In the Fine Art scene of modern Chicago, gallery curator Brianna (Teyonah Parris) and her painter boyfriend Anthony (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II) are told a scary story by Brianna‘s brother Troy (Nathan Stewart-Jarrett) at the house-warming party for their new apartment. The story, in large part, is a summary of Candyman (1992) and the murders committed by the now infamous Helen Lyle. Suffering a slump in his artistry, Anthony finds himself drawn to Helen’s story and the gentrification of the Cabrini Green neighborhood where she is said to have burned alive. In his research, he meets lifelong Cabrini Green resident Burke (Colman Domingo) who tells Anthony all about Sherman “Candyman” Fields.
Sherman Fields was targeted and murdered by police after reports of children finding razor blades in their candy. Sherman was later proven innocent but his spirit haunts the city to this day. According to legend, you can summon Candyman by saying his name five times in a mirror, but doing so invites him into our world where he wreaks havoc with his bloody hooked hand. Pretty spooky stuff, but not spooky enough to stop Anthony from turning the legend loose on Chicago’s art scene. His work is finally the talk of the town, but he has unknowingly set free a long-forgotten horror that has now returned to slice and dice its way through pretentious critics, opportunistic gallery owners, and snotty teenagers foolish enough to dare each other into sudden death.
Candyman, as he’s been known for the last 3 decades, has always represented the horrors of our past. What DaCosta & Co. have done with Candyman (2021) is underscore the fact that there is always a darker truth behind the boogeymen that society creates. In Sherman’s case, it was easier to believe that he was a monster than to admit that he was an innocent man murdered by the police. Even children’s minds invent monsters in their closets because it’s more rationale than admitting that the people responsible for protecting you are also the ones who hurt you must.
There are layers to the story that I don’t feel comfortable revealing in a week-of-release review but there is a lot to discuss about what makes Candyman (2021) a successful modern horror movie and fans will no doubt spend the rest of the year unpacking it all. Burke very clearly says “For me, Candyman was Sherman Fields” because there is no one face to the darkness lurking in Candyman (2021). Candyman is a shared experience. It’s a bold reworking of the original story but one that builds off of what came before to create a more complex work, rather than tossing the blueprints in the garbage.
Unfortunately, for all the creative interpretations of this menacing metaphor, Candyman (2021) feels more like a truncated origin story than a follow-up film. It comes in at a brisk 91 minutes but is very clearly chiseled out of a much longer block of marble. Aspects of Anthony‘s descent into Candymadness comes on a little too quickly as does its bee-filled finale, but it’s not without a handful of creative kills. Candyman only appears in mirrors, interacting with the world like a homicidal ghost, come to seek vengeance on anyone foolish enough to summon him. After all, what is Candyman but a reflection of our own horrific nature? It also makes for some brilliant visuals where we see his grim figure in reflections while his victims attempt to defend themselves from his deadly grip. (PS- keep your eye on every reflective surface in the film. You might just catch a quick glimpse of Candyman’s hiding in the shadows)
Candyman (2021) is not the terrifying experience I had hoped it to be, but it is one of the most impressive expansions of an established character in recent memory. It’s simultaneously a sequel and a reboot (a la David Gordon Greene’s Halloween) but its reworking of the Candyman mythos is prescient and par for the course given the subject matter. Urban Legends are meant to be told and retold and retold again. The original intention of the story may be lost to time, but they are stories we tell ourselves about ourselves.
Candyman pays its respects to the films that came before it while still establishing itself as its own unique work. Another Candyman film (if we’re lucky enough to get another one) will likely be less bogged down by the world-building needed to resurrect this hooked-handed killer but Nia DaCosta has firmly established Candyman as the boogeyman befitting the culture today.
“Candyman (2021) doesn’t quite match the sheer terror of its predecessor but what it lacks in scares it makes up for in some really inventive kills.”
Nia DaCosta’s Candyman, from Universal Pictures and Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, hits theatres August 27. Bee sure to let us know what you thought of this bold refresh of the 1992 classic over on Twitter, Reddit, Facebook, and in the official Nightmare on Film Street Discord. Not a social media fan? Get more horror delivered straight to your inbox by joining the Neighbourhood Watch Newsletter.