1992’s Candyman is a straight-up horror masterpiece with an incredible score, and the sequel, Candyman: Farewell to the Flesh is quite good as well, shifting the action to New Orleans. The less said about the third film the better; it is a poorly-made retread that is only watchable for another killer performance from Tony Todd. As the first Candyman film released outside of the 90s, Nia DaCosta’s 2021 iteration has the unenviable task of recalibrating audience interest in the oft-overlooked horror icon. I will make no attempt to beat around the bush: Candyman was one of my most anticipated movies of 2021. As far as I am concerned, Tony Todd’s Daniel Robitaille remains one of the defining figureheads of the genre at large. Unlike the advertising would have one believe, this psychological horror thriller is a direct sequel to the original movie—it pays tribute to the legacy of the Candyman himself, while expanding upon the themes of racism and gentrification. It establishes Candyman as a practically mythical icon. Collecting an incredible ensemble cast of black talent (including returning cast member Vanessa Williams in a scene-stealing role), this gave me everything I wanted and more.
The opening scene returns us to the Chicago slums of Cabrini Green, circa 1977. A young boy goes down to do laundry, and a piece of candy is tossed towards him on the ground through a dark crumbling hole in the wall. A creepy hook-handed man climbs out menacingly… This sequence establishes our new Candyman, Sherman Fields (Michael Hargrove), who we later learn was accused of putting razorblades in Halloween candy. It becomes the first of many glimpses we get of Fields. In his purest state, Candyman is bone-chilling and horrifying. Initially seen mostly in quick glimpses through reflections, Candyman becomes ever more omnipresent as the film progresses. The very idea of Candyman is built into a hive concept; generations of trauma and hate crimes carry with them their own iterations of the legend. I found this to be a novel concept, playing out in shocking fashion.
The bulk of Candyman thrusts us into 2019’s version of Cabrini Green. The place has come a long way in making affordable housing look fancier, essentially trying to bury the ghetto. Gentrification is one of the central concepts, as well as the attempts to brush away black identity by throwing a coat of paint over it. For a film made in 2019, Candyman has its pulse on hot-button topics that are approached with passion. It would have been easy for some of these topics to present as overly preachy, however not a single point made is done clumsily or without purpose.
At the center of the action is struggling artist Anthony (a bold turn from Yahya Abdul-Mateen II) and his love, a fiercely intelligent and sharp-tongued figure in the art world, Brianna (Teyonah Parris). As Anthony struggles to find inspiration, a story from Brianna’s brother Troy (Misfits alum Nathan Stewart-Jarrett) sparks something in him. Helen Lyle’s tale (the literal events of the original Candyman) has now become a legend in its own right. “One white woman dies in the hood, and her story lives on forever.” The mysterious nature of Helen’s behavior draws Anthony deeper into the web of the lore as he takes it upon himself to research her life’s work. Eventually, this leads him to befriending William (Colman Domingo), who seems to know a hell of a lot about the titular Candyman. Say his name five times in front of the mirror, and he appears in the reflection to kill you! Anthony decides the focus for his next artwork will be on Cabrini then vs. Cabrini now, but it morphs into a darkness that threatens to swallow him whole…
Jordan Peele has worked his magic over this script, which he collaborated on with director Nia DaCosta and co-writer Win Rosenfeld. This makes Peele three for three on his horror movie scripts, but beyond that, the proof is in the product. Peele has become completely fluent within this genre. With his other two collaborators, Peele embraces the horror via a loving nudge of modernity that causes the larger meaning to balloon with relevancy. Nia DaCosta has but one other film under her belt (2018’s Little Woods)—Candyman officially makes me excited for anything she pursues in the future. Her attention to detail in the framing of scenes, orchestration of scares, and stylistic camera movements establishes DaCosta boldly and effortlessly. Visually stunning puppet-like animated sequences provide beautiful imagery instead of stock footage. In a way, they are more effective due to the simplicity.
The use of music, a vital part of that original 1992 feature, is important here too. It even samples Philip Glass’s incredible score! The music injects a modern feel, while staying true to the roots of the first. But what of the kills, one might ask? Gory slashings, gnarly bee-stings, buckets of blood, and a kill that utilizes an artful single-line blood smear nearly identical to the strokes of a paintbrush—Candyman is a film expressly made to thrill the same audience that loves the other movies and satiate their desire for grisly deaths. Unlike the Halloween franchise and its numerous re-calibrations, it never for a second disregards or pushes aside any of the other films either.
2021’s Candyman is inexorably linked to the original, with strong ties to that film both narratively and thematically. Watching them back to back only serves to reinforce their power. Candyman has always been a strange amalgamation of Freddy Krueger mixed with the legend of Bloody Mary, inspired by a short story from Clive Barker. This new film serves to spread the brilliance to a new audience, and it is host to one of my favorite endings of the year (and one of the best cameos!) that left me equal parts shocked and satisfied. Candyman is brutal, unforgiving, and exceptionally dark while paying tribute to the horror of yesteryear, despite still never for a second forgetting what made that original film so great. It is not simply one of the best horror movies of the year; Candyman is one of the best movies of the year, period. Candyman proves one thing without a shadow of a doubt: slashers are back in a big way, and they’re here to stay. I am ready to say his name, five more times if necessary…
Candyman buzzes its way into theaters on Friday, August 27th.