Nearly 30 years later, horror fans still regard Candyman as one of the best horror movies of the 1990’s. Based on Clive Barker’s (Hellraiser) short story, The Forbidden, Candyman turned its title character into a classic boogeyman while making Tony Todd a horror icon. In addition to director Bernard Rose’s haunting imagery, Philip Glass’ score remains one of the genre’s best. Now, after a year’s delay, Nia DaCosta’s direct sequel has arrived to overwhelmingly positive reviews. Like the 2018 Halloween, DaCosta’s Candyman is something of a ‘re-quel’. Though it’s directly connected to the 1992 original, DaCosta’s movie re-imagines its racial themes for our present day.
Three decades have passed since graduate student Helen Lyle’s infamous crimes and death in Chicago’s Cabrini-Green. Like the legend she chased, Helen has become a ghost story. When struggling artist Anthony McCoy hears the story he heads to what’s left of a now gentrified Cabrini-Green looking for inspiration. But Anthony finds more than inspiration – he stumbles on the decades-old legend of ‘The Candyman’. Soon horrific images haunt Anthony and his art as a new wave of gruesome murders begins.
Candyman Updates Its Story of Racial Violence for the 21st Century
When news broke that a new Candyman was in the works, speculation focused on whether the new movie would be a sequel or reboot. While it’s definitely a sequel with direct connections to the 1992 original, Nia DaCosta re-imagines and re-contextualizes much of the Candyman mythology. In fact, DaCosta – who also shares writing credits with Jordan Peele (Us) and Win Rosenfield – weaves contemporary racial justice issues with an expanding mythos. Initially, DaCosta introduces to a new ‘Candyman’, Sherman Fields. It’s a story of police brutality and injustice that resonates today. Eventually Candyman connects Sherman Field’s story to the original’s Daniel Robitaille. Later DaCosta connects Anthony McCoy to the original in a simple but clever way.
It’s a story of police brutality and injustice that resonates today.
As a woman of color, DaCosta also weaves the gentrification of Cabrini-Green – and appropriation of Black culture – into a more complex racial allegory. Whether it’s McCoy’s struggles amongst elitist White art culture or the introduction of Candyman’s across generations. DaCosta positions her Candyman as a statement on the cycle of racial violence in America. Where the sequel runs into some problems are the splintering of characters and subplots. Occasionally, Candyman loses its focus on Anthony to explore backstories for other characters. Perhaps it’s a case of trying to do much in 90 minutes. Still it’s only a minor quibble with the story.
Candyman Every Bit as Scary and Brutal as its Predecessor
As a pure horror movie, Candyman largely re-captures the original’s tone and brutality. Some horror fans may take issue with the CGI-inspired bloodletting. Don’t worry – it’s no less gruesome. Moreover, DaCosta proves to be inventive in the staging of the sequel’s scares. In particular, DaCosta uses mirrors and reflections in ways we didn’t see in the original movie. The results are some surprising and inspired scares. In addition, DaCosta varies her scares, alternating what (and how) violence appears on the screen. She also selectively mixes quiet, benign setting with more orchestrated scares to keep audiences off balance.
…DaCosta proves to be inventive in the staging of the sequel’s scares.
As Anthony McCoy, Yahya Abdul-Mateen II continues to build an impressive resume. Despite his hulking physique, Abdul-Mateen convinces as a vulnerable, struggling artist increasingly falling down a rabbit hole. It’s a layered performance that lends the sequel the same feeling of prestige horror that the original enjoyed. Following her breakout performance in WandaVision, Teyonah Parris is equally impressive here as McCoy’s successful art gallery director girlfriend. While some of her story thread feels slightly shoehorned into the sequel, Candyman ensures Parris’ ‘Brianna Cartwright’ is a fully realized character. And horror fans don’t need to fret. Tony Todd does make an appearance.
Candyman a Lesson on How to Revive an Old Horror Franchise
A direct sequel that acts a bit like a soft reboot, the 2021 Candyman positions its title character for new audiences and potential sequels. If its story is a bit overstuffed, Candyman still feels potent and relevant. And DaCosta ensures that its still an inventively scary and brutal movie that respects the source material. Whether you call it a sequel, remake, or re-imagining, Candyman illustrates how to re-invigorate an old horror franchise.