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Candyman (2021)

CANDYMAN (2021) is the first sequel in 22 years to CANDYMAN (1992), my pick for the best horror movie of the ‘90s. Though I don’t think this one’s nearly as good as Bernard Rose’s original, it’s much more worthy of the mantle than the previous sequels, Bill Condon’s New Orleans-set CANDYMAN: FAREWELL TO THE FLESH (1995) and (it goes without saying) Turi Meyer’s horrendous DTV CANDYMAN 3: DAY OF THE DEAD (1999). It’s nice that various trends have aligned to allow revisiting the subject decades later, minus any mercenary needs to strike while the iron is hot, and with the now-gentrified Chicago neighborhood where the first film took place providing a new angle from which to explore its still-relevant race and class themes. That seems to be the main point of interest for director Nia DaCosta (who did the excellent 2018 drama-with-some-crime LITTLE WOODS) and her producer/co-writers Jordan Peele (GET OUT, US) and Win Rosenfeld (executive producer of BLACKkKLANSMAN).

When the movie starts, the Universal logo comes on, so that globe spins around, and the letters come out, and then you realize they’re backwards. For half a second I thought something was wrong with the projection, but of course it’s referencing the importance of mirrors in the CANDYMAN films (where the titular restless spirit is summoned by chanting his name, like Bloody Mary). A couple of production company logos proceed to play backwards as well, so by the time the film proper started I had to look around until I spotted some numbers on a building and could finally be sure the movie was playing properly. Beginning the movie already off balance. Nice touch.

Then the opening credits are, in a sense, a mirror image of those in Rose’s film, which played over a perfect God’s eye view of early ‘90s Chicago, hovering over buildings, the camera and lettering following along the highway we’ll later be told was built to divide the city racially and economically. In DaCosta’s film the camera is on the ground looking up, as if to say that this will be CANDYMAN from a different perspective. And it is, in the sense that it’s told by a Black director and mostly Black writers, who are American, of the generation that grew up on the original film, and the story is centering on Black characters who live in the neighborhood, instead of a white graduate student (Virginia Madsen as Helen Lyle) coming there to research her thesis. But in a class sense it’s not entirely different – the last high-rises of Cabrini-Green, the real-life housing project where CANDYMAN was set and partially filmed, were demolished in 2011. In the sequel it’s now a hip arts neighborhood where the protagonists have just moved into a condo even nicer than what privileged Helen had on the other side of the highway.

I believe it’s implied that once-rising, now-stumbling artist Anthony McCoy (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, The Get Down, AQUAMAN, Watchmen) couldn’t afford it on his own. Some seem to think he’s a sponge on his girlfriend Brianna (Teyonah Parris, CHI-RAQ, IF BEALE STREET COULD TALK, POINT BLANK) and her money, which may or may not come from her job as a gallery director. After hearing about Helen Lyle from Brianna’s comic relief brother Troy (Nathan Stewart-Jarrett, DOM HEMINGWAY), Anthony gets interested in the history of his new neighborhood, wanders the less-re-developed areas for inspiration, and meets lifelong resident William Burke (Colman Domingo, TRUE CRIME, RED HOOK SUMMER, WITHOUT REMORSE), who tells him about Candyman. That becomes his new subject and obsession, and (in the tradition of Freddy Krueger) reminding people to be afraid of the hook-handed, bee-covered ghost of a lynching victim who comes out of your mirror brings him back. Anthony begins to fall apart mentally and even physically (an infected bee sting leads to some legitimately disgusting body horror) as people get murdered around him and his career only seems to benefit from it.

This is very much a sequel, but it’s designed to make sense on its own. Tony Todd’s Candyman (a.k.a. Daniel Robitaille since part 2) is powered by his story being told, and sure enough the relevant facts are exposited FRIDAY THE 13TH PART 2 style, as scary stories (but with the addition of cool shadow puppets). In some ways the story may work better for newbies – a major connection to Rose’s film is not at all hidden if you’ve seen it, but plays as a big reveal when the characters discover it. And some of those in the Candyfan/Name of the Rose community seem to get confused by DaCosta’s introduction of Sherman Fields (Michael Hargrove, THE EXPRESS), the fur-collared, candy-giving, hook-handed, mirror-summoned spirit of a man killed in Cabrini-Green in the 1970s.

Sherman is not a rebooted Candyman – he’s part of the movie’s mythological expansion of Candyman as not one person, but a series of echoing atrocities, from the Reconstruction era to today, from lynch mobs to official police squads judging Black men as a threat and swarming on them. The first film is about long-past racist murders and archaic prejudices and taboos forever haunting a society with its literal and figurative architecture intentionally built to maintain those evils. It’s also about urban legends – Candyman had to keep his story alive by shedding enough “innocent blood” to ensure word of mouth. Helen and Daniel are discussed in this movie much more than they’re seen or heard, but as Candyman once said, “It is a blessed condition to be whispered of on street corners, to live in other people’s dreams, but not to have to be.”

In DaCosta’s film the line from Candyman’s backstory to modern police killings is drawn much more explicitly than in Rose’s, but maybe it has to be when told from a Black perspective. In a recording from her research project, Helen laments Cabrini residents not wanting to call police about anything, which I believe she interprets as a “stop snitching” code. But we see in flashbacks how William’s entire life is ruined by accidentally bringing neighborhood weirdo Sherman to the attention of the police – not even calling them on him – leading to the death of this innocent man. In the first film Helen recognized her white privilege in the way the police responded to her being assaulted in Cabrini-Green as opposed to two Black women being murdered there. But (at least before they decided she was a murderer and turned on her) she could count on their help and protection. Anthony, before being in any kind of trouble at all, instinctively ducks behind a building as a police car drives past.

Unlike Helen, he has to go through life knowing he could get Candyman-ed. He even has the same occupation as the first Candyman. Robitaille was a portrait artist for rich people, mostly white (information repeated in the new movie). Anthony is a different type of artist, attempting to channel his own emotions and socio-political statements into paintings and installations. But his work is at the mercy of curators and critics, some of whom seem full of shit, all of whom only take him seriously after his name and work become connected to a gruesome murder. Innocent blood is sustaining his career just as it sustains Candyman. When his name and the title of his installation are inexplicably mentioned on the news report about a murder he’s excited and says it’s “kind of cool” before awkwardly back-peddling. Like Candyman, he wants people to say his name.

But when he starts seeing a Candyman in reflections instead of himself, it has a double meaning. It’s the usual horror movie “oh my god, what am I becoming?”/“is this the dark side of me I try to deny?” type tropes, but also it’s “That could’ve easily been me” – a victim of police brutality and systemic racism. Especially a tall, muscular Black man like him. He could easily be the guy cops decide is threatening them.

Rose’s Candyman was a ghost haunting Cabrini-Green because it was the site of his murder. He represented the enduring damage of our racist history, so he mostly didn’t kill people who “deserve” it. I think that’s horror, that’s scary, but I understand this film’s desire to reshape him from a curse on this once-impoverished community to an avenger. Even pre-Candyman-obsession, Anthony’s art centers around lynchings of Black men, and I think we’re supposed to be uncomfortable with him commodifying Black death for trendy art people, many of them white. I think DaCosta is conscious of not wanting to do the same. Her Candyman’s innocent victims are mostly pretentious dicks, and mostly white. The least deserving are the group of teenage girls who summon him in a school restroom. They’re a diverse enough lineup to model for a catalog, but the one Black girl survives, witnessing it from inside a stall.

(Not important but I want to note that this scene features a Naked Ray Gun t-shirt and a Bad Brains patch.)

Before seeing the movie I noticed how many headlines and tweets called it “overstuffed” or similar. I didn’t really get that feeling, but the one thing I felt they could be referring to is the little bit we learn about Brianna’s dad being an artist and her witnessing his suicide. It comes up in a couple short flashbacks and vague conversations but, unless I’m missing something, doesn’t have a direct connection to Candyman, and she doesn’t find any closure about it. I like that, though. Here she is dealing with a fucked up boyfriend so similar to her fucked up dad and she doesn’t even have time to deal with her own issues because the supernatural stuff takes precedence. And because she always has to shoulder his shit anyway.

There’s plenty to nitpick about the movie. Both bad-guy-art critic Finley Stephens (Rebecca Spence, PUBLIC ENEMIES) and good guy curator Brianna are given pretentious art-talk lines that sound preposterous coming out of human mouths in conversation. William Burke having a life-ruining childhood experience while doing laundry and then growing up to own a laundromat comes across as pretty silly, even if it’s meant to be symbolic of him never moving beyond that incident. It seems like a bizarre oversight that Anthony doesn’t get blamed for murders he should be the instant prime suspect for, especially in a movie where the central theme is police blaming Black men for shit they didn’t do. And I think I need more viewings to decide whether or not I like the particular escalation of craziness that occurs at the climax.

But those things seem insignificant against its many strengths. Abdul-Mateen as Anthony and Parris as Brianna are the strong leads that FAREWELL TO THE FLESH lacked. The story organically connects to the original without copying its structure, and the setting and characters are related but very different. The major kill scenes are all staged in original and interesting ways – I especially like the massacre seen from inside the toilet stall, reflected in a makeup mirror dropped by one of the victims (which I’ll assume is an homage to that cool scene in the Jason Statham movie SAFE where a battle is seen from inside a car, in the side mirror). As a fan of the first film, I really appreciated that it found so many ways to connect to it without ever feeling like some “Here’s the part you fans were asking for!” bullshit. And I like that the contemporary horror trend it follows is the one most in line with the first film: to try to say something about race in the context of a good horror story. That wasn’t what you did back when part 3 came out.

When I wrote about the 1992 film in 2005 and even in 2015 it was my sense that it was largely just remembered as “that movie that freaked me out when I was a kid where you say Candyman five times in the mirror” and not recognized widely enough for the greatness of its filmmaking, much less what it was saying. But somewhere between GET OUT getting people interested in what Peele was calling “social horror,” the rebirth of Fangoria as more academic analysis of horror was becoming more popular on the internet, and the release of the documentary HORROR NOIRE: A HISTORY OF BLACK HORROR, it seemed like enough essays were being written about ol’ Beehive Ribs that I didn’t need to preach about him anymore. Everybody was on board again, it seemed like. But I’ve also been told that many (younger?) people find its racial politics offensive, and not in the “it’s teaching my kids critical race theory” sense. Supporting that claim is a recent Fangoria “Problematic Films” column titled “In Defense of Candyman.” It’s a good discussion, I recommend reading it, and it does in fact come out in favor of the film. But the part that makes me feel like I see very different things in CANDYMAN than other people do is when interviewee William O. Tyler says “had Virginia Madsen’s character just been cast with a Black actress” that “nothing about that character would change. There’s no reason why that character needs to be white.”

I know it’s not up to me to judge what is “problematic” on this topic. I only ask to testify. As the likely greatest Black horror icon, Candyman belongs to the Black community in a very real way. And that’s why we hear this idea that the movie shouldn’t center on a white woman. Which is fine, but it’s really saying “I wish the character Candyman was in a movie other than CANDYMAN.” You’re asking for a totally different story, and I’m glad we get to see something like that in this sequel. But in the original telling, seeded in Clive Barker’s short story “The Forbidden” and expanded in Rose’s movie, it is, as they say, a feature and not a bug that Helen is an intruder in Cabrini-Green. Her friend Bernadette is Black and for class reasons doesn’t feel she belongs there either, but she has the sense to know she’s a tourist, a trespasser, and unwelcome. Helen, being a white person, does not get that at all. She’s all, Hello, I’m Very Important College Lady. Your daily struggles are perfect for my thesis. Can I come in?

You can’t take that out and say it’s the same thing. That’s what the movie’s about! That’s the point of the story!

As I wrote in 2005, when I was first realizing that the movie I thought was pretty good but not as good as NIGHTBREED when it came out was actually a masterpiece:

So Candyman haunts Cabrini Green, and race and class issues haunt the whole movie. The main character is some white lady (Virginia Madsen), who’s working on a thesis about urban legends when she hears the story of Candyman murdering somebody in Cabrini Green. She decides it will make her thesis more interesting to go find out about this murder. And the whole movie has the tension of the upper class white woman sticking her nose in other people’s business. It makes you uncomfortable to see her bothering (and in some cases endangering) the black cleaning staff at the college, some poor single mother in the projects, and a little kid. And it seems like they’re supposed to be impressed that she’s working on a thesis. Good job, white lady.

I was surprised at first to see Helen referred to as a “white savior” in the Fangoria column. Yeah, maybe she thinks she’s Michelle Pfeiffer in DANGEROUS MINDS, but she’s not helping anybody – she summons Candyman and drags poor Anne-Marie and her baby (and dog) into it. And Anne-Marie fucking warned her not to. “Whites never come here except to cause us a problem,” and that she did! So when Helen ends up saving the baby at the end she’s not so much a savior as someone taking responsibility for her own disastrous choices. And the fact that she replaces Candyman as the scary monster at the end is what sticks with me. Sandra Bullock never did that. But since Helen does sacrifice herself and the residents posthumously honor her for it, I can see how you could consider it to fit the trope. That’s fair.

Rose is obviously an outsider to the Black community of Chicago, and surely that leads to some blindspots. But he’s also an outsider to America itself, and I really believe that distance helped him recognize how to create a truly American horror icon like Candyman – a character rooted in American history but speaking to the present – while many over here were obsessing over European vampires in castles and shit.

But it is good and right that the CANDYMAN series has ended up in the hands of primarily Black filmmakers and characters. I’m glad that DaCosta was able to add a new chapter, and will be interested to see if another Black director brings us another one. More than that I hope that despite the dominance of so-called i.p. she and others will find opportunities to introduce us to new horror characters and ideas – whether about these types of issues or not about them at all – without the baggage of having to be so directly tied to the great works of others, the artifacts of the past, and the scary places we’ve already been to.

Candynerd shit:

I was glad Bernadette got a name drop.

I like that Troy tells Helen’s story as the crazy white lady who killed a dog, kidnapped a baby and got lit on fire, because that was the legend Candyman wanted to create.

I thought it would be really cool if the hole in the wall Sherman hid in was supposed to be the same hole that had the Candyman face painted over it in the original film, as if different Candymen are inevitably drawn to that place. The shape is pretty similar but the room seems smaller, so it’s probly supposed to be an allusion to the earlier scene and not literally the same location. Maybe I’ll just take it as the latter anyway, because I like that idea.

Joke spoiler: I love that part where she takes a long look into the scary dark stairway behind the door in the back room at the laundromat and then literally says “Nope!” and closes the door. It’s funny to have a big laugh like that so late in a movie that really doesn’t have many jokes.

Further reading:

I want to recommend two really great pieces by people who straight up hated this sequel. Angelica Jade Bastien eviscerated it for Vulture, calling it “the most disappointing film of the year so far, limning not only the artistic failures of the individuals who ushered it to life, but the artistic failures of an entire industry that seeks to commodify Blackness to embolden its bottom line.” I really don’t get why she hates DaCosta’s direction and Abdul-Mateen and Parris’s performances so much (she also mentions that she’s “cool on” Peele as a director, for what that’s worth), but I can’t deny some of what she says about the muddled politics or how it compares to the original, and she made me consider many things I hadn’t.

I also have some pretty big disagreements with this review by Walter Chaw. I do not think this sequel is “hot garbage,” I think he’s crazy to describe the weird score by experimental musician Robert A.A. Lowe as “the standard notes and electronic fuzz,” even if it’s no Philip Glass, and his complaint about the laundromat pen ignores that she’s not, like, following an address on a random matchbook – seeing the pen reminds her of something weird Anthony said earlier about talking to the guy from the laundromat. Nevertheless I think this is a really great essay, particularly in regards to Barker’s short story and Rose’s movie, but it also makes plenty of criticisms worth considering. And I’m glad I’m not the only one calling it CANDYMAN 4.

Further viewing:

For the record

I found this ridiculous home video on Youtube with less than 1500 views in the 12 years since it was posted, where a teenage DaCosta and friends goof on slasher movies. The page says, “If you stumble upon this and you aren’t in this vid or know anyone in it, this is not to be taken seriously, it was made late one night in high school. i swear I make better movies now :P”

I can vouch for that! She definitely does!

P.S. I hope I live long enough to see SAMURAI MARATHON (2048), some young Japanese director’s sequel to Rose’s SAMURAI MARATHON (2019).

This entry was posted on Thursday, September 2nd, 2021 at 1:37 pm and is filed under Horror, Reviews. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

44 Responses to “Candyman (2021)”

  1. Oh man, I’m glad I wasn’t the only one to think there was something wrong with the projection when those titles came up backwards! I had the exact same experience.

    The “Nope!” line would have been funnier for me if someone in the theater hadn’t already literally shouted the same thing when the one girl runs out of the bathroom.

  2. This one didn’t really work for me but I do want to bring attention to Robert A.A. Lowe’s score. It classes the movie up at least an entire letter grade. It is truly great stuff, so strange and haunted. The opening credits, with its combination of bizarre angles of the city against the disjointed pulsing synth and wailing, chanted vocals, was genuinely foreboding. It made seeing it on the big screen with a massive sound system completely worth it.

  3. I thought this one was pretty good. Mostly from the vantage that it’s a part four in a horror franchise, it goes above the call of duty.

    I agree that the opening credit visuals and score are badass, and I also was close to running out to let them know something was wrong with the projection during those backwards logos. IMO, if you’re gonna do that, the very next shot should have some visible forwards text in it somewhere so we know everything is ok.

    As for the “overstuffed” complaint critics are making, it didn’t occur to me to put it like that, but there is some extraneous stuff. Like it just throws in a high school bathroom scene, because they wanted some teenagers in it.

  4. The high school bathroom massacre is a great example of why the movie doesn’t work for me. If that scene was like a short fan film on youtube? Absolutely fantastic. It’s well staged, well blocked, and well paced. It really works! But as part of the larger narrative of THIS movie? It feels disjointed. It’s digressive. It’s as though the filmmakers had this killer general idea for a great Candyman kill sequence and then inelegantly inserted it into the movie but never found an organic way to integrate with the story they were telling. It’s not the only section of the movie that has that disconnected feel either.

  5. Obviously I can’t argue with it not working for you, but personally I like digressions. I like when movies get you settled in and then say, “Okay, but also this other thing is going on over here” and then finish up and come back. Not that this is on the same level, but that’s a thing I really like in Tarantino movies, or crime novels, and it certainly happens in some FRIDAY THE 13THs and stuff. In this case I think it was recognizing that young people scaring themselves with the Bloody Mary ritual is one of the things people associate with CANDYMAN even though it was never the main thrust. But the scene’s purpose in the story is to show how the art show and then the news coverage has brought back the legend of Candyman and given him new victims. I think the scene works really well.

  6. I’m surprised to discover that some critics disliked this movie so much. I avoided reviews, saw the movie, thought it was a great legacy sequel from a different POV than the first. IMO it was really clever (SPOILER) to turn Candyman into a “hive” personality. A smart way to justify the bees a little bit more (they always felt a little random to me, like a lot of Clive Barker concepts do) or at least build on the iconography in a smart way. And I loved Laundromat Guy (whose Sisiphyean punishment of being fated to do laundry forever was *chef’s kiss* in my book)’s line about how when a spot becomes stained over & over, the fabric gets thin. 1) This is a variation on a horror concept I’ve always liked, that the walls of reality can be penetrated by traumatic events and monsters can come through, 2) He articulates this concept in laundry terms because he’s a laundry guy, and 3) This horror concept is a perfect metaphorical fit for how society is reaching the breaking point with black men being murdered over and over. All in all, I found it a smart, funny horror movie with some cool kills and a thing or two to say about the world we’re living in. If critics wanna dump on it, they’re missing out.

  7. Great review Vern. I’m excited to learn that Robert A A “Lichens” Lowe did the score for this one. Many years ago he made an incredible album called The Psychic Nature Of Being and it’s still one of my all time favorites.

  8. I’m sorry, but “racist cops are the REAL monsters” sounds way too much like what someone would come up with to parody how modern Hollywood would reboot Candyman. It’s not enough that he’s already a tragic, sympathetic villain–now he has to be Batman?

  9. The real Candyman was the friends we made along the way.

  10. Unlike the other Candymen, this one was created specifically get back at Cops and various other white people.

  11. have not seen this and probably won’t until video, but I’m looking forward to a low-expectations watch. I enjoyed Vern’s review, as well as the other two. The theme in both of the negative reviews is that the film is clunky and preachy and less than the some of its overt and subtextual parts and that it is vastly inferior to the original — whereas the original is much more subtle and haunting, saying many insightful things about racism, sexism, and classism (and academic politics, and sexuality) without the shallow, on-the-nose, check-box-y performativeness that is typical of a lot of franchise/corporate woke-ism that is pitched at young, educated, (predominantly white) upwardly mobile wokies. I thought the Vulture review that Vern cites was particularly great.

    All that said, I’m a Colman Domingo fan, and Candyman is still Candyman, so, I’ll look forward to checking out this one eventually.

  12. What? No. Cops who kill innocent Black men are the natural continuation of the mob who lynched Daniel Robitaille. It doesn’t need to be stated, but also it would be sort of ridiculous to do a CANDYMAN in 2021 without addressing it. Not sure where you get the Batman part.

  13. I must not be fresh enough on the original because I didn’t remember the name McCoy so the connection to the original got me and I loved it. It’s totally Candyman 4 but I understand making that a surprise, and the marketing value of “spiritual sequel” or “reboot” even if it’s neither of those things.

    They pulled it off better than Blair Witch did with The Woods.

    And I love the idea that there can be multiple Candymen, that any unjustly killed Black man can become the new one. Wonder if it works for innocent women killed too. Candyman 5 will confirm.

    I enjoyed the ending for its righteous punishment in the moment but you’re right, not sure it’s consistent with Candyman’s ethos. Smarter folks than I can weigh in.

  14. Well, take Frankenstein’s Monster for instance. Is it tragic and wrong that he was created in the first place and then treated the way he was? Yes, of course. But at some point he has to be a threat in and of himself. If he just goes around killing bad people, that’s not horror, that’s a revenge fantasy. You wouldn’t call The Crow a slasher, after all.

    If you want to reboot Candyman as the Crow–I think that’s silly enough to begin with, but then doing a Part 4 where he’s suddenly/has always been The Crow is just ridiculous IMHO. Like what people were accusing Don’t Breathe 2 of.

  15. I haven’t seen the movie yet but Kaplan’s right: this sounds suspect. Candyman is not an avenger. Making him one fucks the metaphor right up. Candyman is the stain of injustice that spreads and infects one and all who come in contact with it, not some righteous wraith who only targets those who have it coming. He is not the vengeance of the downtrodden; he kills oppressed and oppressor alike, his only concern being the continuation of his legend. He is not on your or anyone’s side. I feel that this is a much more mature and accurate depiction of the legacy of American racism than some angry dude who chops up racists and fake liberals.

    I’m trying to keep an open mind here despite not hearing a single thing about the film that sounds palatable to me since I truly do believe that coming at CANDYMAN from an actual black perspective is one of the few good ideas of this endless reboot era, but I am skeptical. This kind of feels like some HELLRAISER III shit where they tried to dumb down Pinhead into Freddy.

  16. FWIW, I think there’s plenty of room with how things are depicted that if you want to, you can interpret Candyman as not an avenger, but still the malevolent entity of the first film, now utilising the current climate to become relevant and exist again. The idea he could be getting used against the cops is really just one character’s take, and not necessarily something that lines up with his actual agenda. It’s the main way I can make sense of the ending with the way the first movie (and even one particular flashback in this movie) depicted him. Also the “multiple faces” thing raises the question of if Robitaille is really the first Candyman at all or just another story this entity uses for its own ends.

  17. That’s another thing–all this ‘hive mind/Candymen’ stuff sounds like the possession worm from Jason Goes To Hell or the Dream Demons from Freddy’s Dead. An unnecessary and ill-fitting addition to the campfire tale simplicity of the initial lore. I know every horror sequel has to add to the mythos, but once you get to the point where Candyman isn’t Candyman–or is just a facet of some Lovecraftian MegaCandyman–it just feels like too much clutter. Like Prometheus.

  18. Building on Stu’s interpretation and taking Kaplan’s comment in another direction, we can look to WES CRAVEN’S NEW NIGHTMARE as a film that attempts to re-imagine the central villain in a broader and more universalistic / archetypal direction. I always liked how NIGHTMARE 7 imagines the Freddy of legend as actually just a cypher/host/embodiment of some more general spirit of evil or the devil or whatever. This idea that evil wears many masks, and the Freddy story was just one mask or container or manifestation of this more diffuse evil that is always trying to push or breakthrough. This makes me think of a few other — and only tenuously related — ideas or images. One is that image in KRAMPUS that Krampus is actually this otherwordly and possibly even semi-Lovecraftian monster thing that is just wearing a creepy Santa Claus mask and, What is actually behind that mask?

    That’s an interesting visual representation or metaphor for something that is more conceptual — which is that evil is something that has both personal and impersonal or even “transpersonal” elements. This idea of “transpersonal” evil (my term) is akin to the Lovecraftian idea of cosmic horror. In other words, the evil has personal qualities (a kind of intelligence and intentionality about it), but is not governed by emotions or physical embodiment (or various laws of physics types of things) in the same way creatures are, so, there is also an impersonal or alien quality. This idea of a malevolent force that is somewhere at the venn diagram overlap of demon, alien, serial killer, animal kingdom predator, biblical plaugue, and natural disaster — it’s something like each of these things, but isn’t reducible to any one of them. It’s own thing that we can, at best, capture with metaphorical and symbolic language and imagery.

    I like the way NIGHTMARE 7 explores this, and I like this extension of CANDYMAN, at least in concept. For me, the NIGHTMARE 7 version and reading of Freddy never really undercut the original concept of Freddy as the burned janitor child killer dream ghost. They could both co-exist as different iterations, and, so, it didn’t bother me at all when FREDDY VS JASON pivoted back to what was essentially the NIGHTMARE 3-6 variant of Freddy.

  19. Well, there is a key difference in the fact that WCNN is openly not in the same continuity as ANOES. It exists in a world where Freddy Krueger is just a fictional character–the black trenchcoat “Krueger” is sort of like whatever spider thing Pennywise the Clown ‘really’ is, taking the form of an evil clown, or the Wolfman or what have you. If they made an ANOES sequel where Nancy’s grandkid discovered that Freddy Krueger ceased to exist after he was burnt alive and the Robert Englund character was really some demon cosplaying as him (and that it can take the form of any child molester killed by vigilante justice)… yeah.

    And like I said, rebooting Candyman as a wrongfully murdered dude who uses superpowers to kill bad guys already strikes me as predictable and a bit condescending.

  20. I’ve always felt that the second half of the original CANDYMAN was terminally muddled, from the hidebound Crawford-Davis hagsploitation/William Castle trope of the female protagonist framed and institutionalized to the barely touched upon BRAM STOKER’S DRACULA-style monster-cegenation – it’s way over-cluttered, particularly in comparison to the lean power of Barker’s original THE FORBIDDEN, making a confusing mess of the first half’s sinister implications. So I appreciate NEW CANDYMAN, which so badly mutilates it’s already sub-par storytelling to explore a series of social/political points in the most awkward and didactic fashion imaginable, for making the original look streamlined and assured in comparison.

    I guess the fact that a black woman finally directed a movie as artistically unsatisfying and physically exhausting to watch as the Paul Haggis CRASH is a pretty big watermark for the politics of representation, though.

  21. Fair point, Kaplan, but I don’t think it goes far enough to characterize WCNN as merely “not in the same continuity” as ANOES. WCNN doesn’t just exist in a separate continuity — it exists in a world that subsumes and relativizes — that is, undercuts — the ANOES continuity. Still, to the extent that CANDYMAN 2021 is trying to have it all ways and is just a clunky retcon, I can understand how that would be frustrating. I’m still intrigued.

  22. Well, saying WCNN takes place in “the real world” seemed like it was overstating things a bit, since I doubt A Nightmare On Elm Street 5 *really* kept any ancient evils locked away. Then again, looking at the state of the world, maybe we should make another Nightmare movie, just to be on the safe side.

  23. This is one of those situations where you would just need to see the movie. This disagreement about how to interpret Candyman and what he should be (and whether that can change) is a discussion that the movie itself is having. It’s almost 30 years later, made by a different generation, for a different generation and demographic, so of course it tries to introduce new ideas to the story. I prefer the first movie but it’s worth hearing the idea out before saying it’s wrong.

  24. Is it a good horror movie? That’s the question for me. I hear all this political shit, shit that used to be subtext in horror, and now it is text. Is there a decent scare? Is it creepy? Suspense? A jump even? This is Candyman 4 after all, not your favored news channel.

  25. Drew: I’ve read a handful of reviews and they barely even mention that aspect of the movie. It’s like reading restaurant reviews that don’t bring up food.

  26. I do think it’s creepy and builds tension and has some cinematography that creates a bad vibe (the early ground up shot of the skyscrapers and clouds in the present), it’s just the social commentary really isn’t woven in very subtly and the ending is kinda jarring and also ends at the point I wanted to see what immediately happens after, which makes me wonder if it was more Peele’s input, because I had that issue with the end of US.

  27. “it’s creepy and builds tension and has some cinematography that creates a bad vibe”

    So they put a low drone on the soundtrack and called it a day. Got it.

  28. Mr. Majestyk- No, it’s more about watching this guy gradually being taken over by this thing he’s summoned, and how that’s depicted and things like the elevator scene, or the part later on involving an art critic.

  29. I think it’s a better Horror movie than SHANG-CHI is a Kung Fu flick, I’ll put it like that.

  30. Does Tony Todd get a cameo at least? Is he still alive? He was fantastic in everything I have seen him in. He makes Worf episodes watchable.

  31. It was pretty well publicized from the moment he signed the contract that Todd would reprise his role in this movie. Of course if he is actually in it or maybe just has a quick cameo, has to be answered by someone who watched it.

  32. Tony Todd is in a single shot, digitally fucked around with, at the very end of the movie.

  33. Caught this last night. The crowd was just me towards the front, and three old ladies in the back row. I was sure they’d walk out early on, but they stuck in there– and were happily talking about the Tony Todd cameo when the credits rolled. Never judge a book, etc.

    On the whole, I liked it fine, but it didn’t wow me. I dug the direction, framing, cinematography, production design, score, and general filmatism. Some lovely shots looking down stairwells, or following characters down winding, repetitive hallways. The mirrored elevator was also a standout.

    I’m intrigued by the metafictional aspect– Anthony and Brianna both lapse into artsy-fartsy speak to explain their various artistic goals and motivations, but keep running into encouragement from their patrons or bosses to commodify generational trauma and the black experience for a (mostly) white audience. This is also ironically what the movie itself is– and is probably one of the reasons white critics like this better than critics of color. It’s also what the Candyman myth is– a phantasmagoric but literal manifestation of black pain, a hive of generational trauma and cyclical violence– one that compels an audience to remember it so that it can keep living. Like a movie franchise.

    I had some trouble with the plot– maybe a second watch will help. How or why did he get stung by that bee? What does his physical deterioration represent? And why did they save that one scene for a big reveal when I could’ve sworn it was in the press materials months ago? Would’ve been smarter to establish that in act one and tie it more tightly into the themes.

    I was also confused by the motivations that led to the climax of the movie. The movie launched into the third act without too much connective tissue. Reading as much as I could find on the internet, it seems like the idea is to combat systemic violence and gentrification by turning the Candyman into a weapon against the oppressor? So that is a transformational change from the way Candyman worked in the original film(s), to a new avenging angel that this movie seems to create by the end. Holding the mirror up to the elements of society that created the Candyman, and having vengeance wrought, thereby removing the previously indiscriminate nature of the Candyman’s killings. Maybe.

  34. Probably spomewhat spoilery.

    This film is very strong visually and sonically. It’s alway either gorgeous or fascinating to look at and frequently is both. Cast are all solid and, again, just interesting to look at. For these reasons alone, I found myself pretty engrossed for the first 25-30 minutes, which were very strong.

    After that first 30 minutes, it kind of lost me. Anthony’s journey is in many ways a very Helen Lyle O.G. CANDYMAN kind of journey. That’s fitting enough if we’re ready to treat this as a soft reboot, but as a stand-alone sequel, I didn’t feel like I got enough new in the narrative or suspense departments.

    In part, I struggled with Anthony, because we start to lose him as our main character and point of view as he becomes pulled into the undertow of a sort of transformative trance he’s undergoing. It was hard for me to stay invested in him, because he wasn’t all that interesting or well-developed as a character. That is one of the main problems in general — the film does a fine job in giving us a sense of who is who and setting some of the basic themes and conflicts, but most of the characters and their relationships feel a bit one-dimensional and under-developed. As such, it’s hard to really stay with any one character or connect to them, particularly as Anthony starts drifting out of it.

    Relatedly, I felt like the racial politics were a bit muddled. The film wants to say something about gentrification and about the BLM/police reform movements, and maybe about intersectionality, but it fails to say much that is truly provocative, powerful, or novel about these subjects. What it does say feels perfunctory, superficial, on the nose.

    Finally, in some ways this film seems to be going for a NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET 2 kind of concept: Anothony’s got the body, Candyman’s got the brains (and the hook!). That was interesting enough, but the mythology of CANDYMAN was confusing to me, since it kind of retcons the need for Robitaille (or “the whole hive” of victimized black men) to essentially posess some unfortunate victim who will serve as a kind of living “host” to the CANDYMAN essence. Why is the Sherman Fields iteration of Candyman (vs. Robitaille) so dominant in the film and in Anthony’s subjective experience of his Candyman transformation? Why does Robitaille need — or choose — to inhabit a person, given that he didn’t need to do that in CANDYMAN 1. In other words, the idea of a lineage and hive of Candymen was a retcon that, for me, served to muddle and clutter things — contrast with Helen and Robittaile in CANDYMAN 1, which kept things leaner and more concrete. In this film, both the protagonist and the villain feel wispy and diffuse, morphing in ways that make it a little squishy and hard to connect to the material.

    Also, I normally like Colman Domingo, but he’s just a bit too over the top in this one, crossing over from gravitas into a kind of borderline hamminess that I found distracting.

    Ultimately, I feel like this is a handsome film that makes really interesting visual and sonic choices, but the plotting and pacing are poorly executed. Sort of a bag of interesting but underdeveloped images and ideas that lack strong cohesion or propulsive energy. It just sort of shambles along and occasionally splains a bit and shambles some more and splains a little bit more. ​

    I will say that Sherman Fields is a good creepy alterna-Candyman, de-aged Tony Todd is fun (for all 5 seconds of him), and I like the floating head-of-swarming bees visual image. As I said, it’s generally a very handsome film if nothing else.

  35. Also, I really didn’t get the girls’ school bathroom scene, which felt tangential, out of place. I get how that girl from the art show links things, but it still felt like an unnecessary rabbit trail. Honestly, I would’ve liked it if they dropped the brother and his boyfriend and even Brianna and just kept it tight on Anthony as the once-promising artist who may have missed his window and who is simultaneously struggling with his past and with racism and class guilt (wanting to make it in the art world, feeling like an impostor there and like a traitor to his roots, conflicted). This film gave us a bunch of other minor characters and scenes like the girls bathroom scene that didn’t help the film in the focus, narrative economy, and momentum departments.


    Having slept on it, one more entry in what is becoming my CANDYMAN 2021 journal. Yeah, in the same way I was baffled by the bathroom scene, I continue to be even more baffled by the Sherman Fields character as the film’s primary iteration of Candyman.

    By the end of the film, we’ve got the implication that, despite having originated with Daniel Robitaille (or at least found one of its most potent expressions in him), the Candyman mythos is bigger and broader than Daniel Robitaille or his specific legend. We’ve got the idea that Candyman is some other kind of mythology infused spectre altogether. This is a problem for a few reasons.

    First, the original film seems pretty clear that Robitaille’s ghost is capable of handling his own business, and it’s pretty simple, actually. You summon him, he kills you. If you’re special, he’ll haunt and pursue you for awhile and destroy your reputation and social life before he kills you. He’ll fully capable of getting that job done.

    This film posits the need for Robitaille to act through intermediaries or share his Candyman glory with lesser, stand-in custodians of the Candyman persona. If you want to posit that kind of torch-passing model, fine, but the film also clearly wants to position itself as existing in the same continuity as Helen Lyle, who looms at least as large as Robitaille himself in this film. This makes the retcon of other intermediate, transitional Candymen all the more confusing.

    1. Why wasn’t Helen Lyle herself interacting with Sherman Fields’s Candyman. Or why wasn’t Anthony interacting with Robitaille Candyman?

    2. If Sherman Fields Candyman is fully capable of killing all kinds of people when summoned, why do we need Anthony to assume the mantle?

    3. I mean, I guess because Colman Domingo says that Anthony will be more of a Black Anvenger Candyman, but that seems like half-baked, hopeful conjecture on Domingo/Burke’s part. He’s just a traumatized, cooky guy who runs a laundry mat. What makes him the authority? Where and when did Domingo/Burke get his catechism in Candyman spells and rites?

    4. If dead Sherman Fields Candyman is fully capable of killing all kinds of people when summoned, why wasn’t dead Daniel Robitaille similarly capable? Answer: He was, which is why he did fine for himself in O.G. CANDYMAN without Sherman Field.

    The film, taken as direct sequel to CANDYMAN 1992, seems generally confused about basic mythology concepts like when and where Daniel Robitaille needs helper/succesor Candymen, how Robitaille and succesor Candymen (like Fields) can share Candyman duties (as is implied by Robitaille being active in 1992 with Fields nowhere to be found, while Fields is active in the 1970s to the present with Robitaille mostly nowhere to be found)? Can multiple Candymen co-exist, or do they pass the torch. What is their motive? Are they social justice-oriented black avenging angels (this film), or are they black monsters that embody and transmit oppression onto mostly black people and the ocassional unfortunate white tourist who wanders into Cabrini-Green (1992 film)? The decision to pitch and continually reinforce this as existing in the same continuity as the 1992 film results in a confused and contradictory mythology, when the smarter thing to do would’ve been a direct re-imagining that just dumps the Helen Lyle storyline and provides a little more basic clarity about who Candyman is targeting and why. We don’t need everything exposited out, but even simply in the show don’t tell aspects of storytelling, is Candyman an indiscriminate killer, a guy who haunts and oppresses “his own” people as a kind of spectral manifestation of multi-generational oppression that won’t let it’s victims go, or an avenging angel against the white-privileged?

  37. I think I’ve already done this on this thread, but I want to defend the bathroom scene. Its purpose is very simple and clear – people are talking about Candyman again, giving him power, here is an example. That said, I do not believe that a horror movie necessarily has to have a reason to insert a kickass “the monster comes and kills people” scene. This is not specific to you, Skani, but it’s actually puzzling to me that some of the same people who are criticizing the movie as too pretentious or didactic or complaining about “elevated horror” also want to take out the standout traditional horror set piece for not advancing the theme enough or something. I can’t imagine what people will be saying if we ever get another Jason or Freddy movie.

  38. I don’t know, I think it’s fair to hold a movie accountable if it seems to be implying that it’s better than the usual genre tropes, but then it just goes right ahead and indulges in them anyway. I know I’m harder on a movie that has potential to do something different than I am on an unapologetic genre workout. I haven’t seen this movie, but I remember thinking the appearance of such lazy staples of horror cinema as “classroom lecture hamfistedly delivers the themes of the story” and “skittering J-horror ghosts” and “dog reacts to unseen presence” seemed especially lazy in the context of the rest of HEREDITARY. You make me suffer through all this whimpering and drama as if you got an ace up your sleeve and then you’re just gonna do the same exact shit as any old James Wan ripoff?

  39. Right. Yeah, I think I’ve been pretty clear that I am a fan of a lot of so-called “elevated” or A24-core horror.

    I don’t think this movie is too pretentious either, just that it wants to be very afrocentric race conscious and somewhat class conscious, but it ends up muddling and diluting its political themes in a kind of a generic stew that feels more opportunistic and scattershot than offering a principled angle or point of view.

    Also, I would tend to be more patient with an impressionistic, ambiguous, metaphorical shit in a film that wasn’t elsewhere doing a lot of exposition and substantive plot work to try to link this back to CANDYMAN 1992. In other words, if they want to do a different interpretation of Candyman, why go to such lengths to retain 1992 as canon and to situate this film in key elements of the 1992 plot. Unlike TWIN PEAKS or something, CANDYMAN 1992 is not set up to be this mind-bendingly ambiguous narrative: it’s rich with metaphor and subtext and doubling, but the CANDYMAN mythos is relatively simple and elemental.

    In contrast, this film does feel like a set of loosely connected images and plot threads that raise more questions than they answer, but not in a sense of generally mysterious provocation, but in more of a “pile of contradictions and unanswered questions” mystery box sort of way. For example, I think the bathroom scene is decent as a set piece, but it seems out of place in the film — a shoehorned digression in a film that is already a bit meandering and digressive. Anthony is not actual Candyman in those killings, right? It’s Sherman Fields Candyman. But why is Sherman Fields Candyman the dominant Candyman in general? And what does this have to do with what’s happening to Anthony or those in his social circle? And if (Sherman Fields?) Candyman is already getting stronger and broader in his reach and influence, what does Candyman (Robittaile version or Fields version) need Anthony for? The bathroom scene feels like it’s nodding toward a subplot that is not actually quite developed enough to be a subplot, and I don’t get how it fits in with the main plot. It’s a vestige or an initial lurch at something.

    What’s worse: I don’t get the main plot either. Candyman needs or wants to be reborn as Anthony (or Colman Domingo wants him to merge with Anthony?) even though he’s already doing fine in the “is scary and can kill people” department as Sherman Fields? Is he actually fracturing off into multiple Candymen that are concurrently active with somewhat different missions?

    In conclusion: The whole Sherman Fields instead of Tony Todd/Robittaile Candyman thing is confusing the fuck out of me, and by the time we have Anthony becoming new Candyman, I’m totally confused about what is Candyman, where he begins and ends, and is he (has he always been?) splintered off into multiple distinct presences or guises, or has he just been operating under the Sherman Fields guise for the last 45 years and is now tired of it (just as it’s getting some new momentum?). I’m just lost, but not in a David Lynch mobius strip way, more in a “this was poorly conceived” way. The movie somehow both over and under-explains its own mythology and thematic points.

  40. All that said, I think the non-exposition, non-discursive aspects of the filmatism are excellent — casting, sound (I actually really dig the score), production design, cinematography and framing, set piece execution, general creepiness factor. All of that is firing on all cylinders.

    In terms of narrative, I think there are several interesting stories to tell here, but this film can’t seem to decide which one it wants to tell:

    1. Candyman as a specific ghost (Robitaille) who is possibly diminished in power for some reason?
    2. Candyman as a mythological force of evil that works by adopting a semi-recent black martyr as his persona and basis for a kind of self-renewing urban legend potency (a Freddy-esque / WES CRAVEN’S NEW NIGHTMARE kind of take).
    3. Candyman as specific ghost or evil force that may have various motives or agendas and/or various guises / personae that may overlap in time and generally have ambiguous interrelations (e.g., Fields, Robittaile, Anthony).
    4. Candyman as a black avenging angel who has specifically chosen Anthony to pass the baton (er, hook) to?

    What’s unclear in this movie are the interrelations among the varius “human” sides or guises of Candyman, whether Robitaille is in some sense the core essence of Candyman (or just the most memorable, earliest persisting persona), why Sherman Fields Candyman sometimes seems to co-exist as a contemporary of Robitaille Candyman (as implied by their overlapping timelines), why Anthony Candyman is needed when Fields Candyman still seems quite potent, whether and in what sense Candyman was ever weakened or diminished in his urban legend potency (the Robitaille Candyman seems quite powerful in 1992, and the Fields Candyman seems quite powerful and renewable in 2021), what actually is special about Anthony, whether Anthony Candyman reflects an actual pivot in “core” (Robitaille?) Candyman’s powers or mission (i.e., now he’s really focused on specifically killing white people or racists)?

    The film could’ve easily avoided resolving in such a tangled heap by making up its mind about the Sherman Fields Candyman variant and what his presence says about the 1992 Robitaille variant’s weakness and/or the need for Anthony’s variant. As it stands, the film seems to want to say that “core” Candyman (Robitaille) needs or wants Anthony for some special purpose or more basically as a means of self-renewal (revivifying and turbocharging the urban legend), but the presence and efficacy of Fields Candyman constantly raises questions like, “Isn’t Candyman doing fine?” and “Where was this Fields Candyman in the 1992 film, and where (for the most part) is Robitaille Candyman in this film?”.

    Did I just miss a critical element of one of Domingo’s exposition dumps or flashbacks?

  41. And just a few more things:
    1. A film about Anthony’s journey to becoming Candyman could’ve worked better if it really took us deeper inside Anthony’s own trauma and psyche — his memories, his racial identity, his class identity. Instead, it presents him mostly as a kind of semi-aspirational hipster art kid. I don’t feel like we get much of his black consciousness, class consciousness, or general personality in this film. He’s just the chosen one — CAnakin-dyman. It’s a shame, b/c the Abdul-Mateen is a pretty mesmerizing screen presence.

    2. A film more focused on the multifarious and slippery / mysterious nature of Candyman could’ve made for a really interesting premise. That there are various dueling and competing origin story narratives or versions of Candyman (the Robitaille story vs. the Fields story vs others) in a kind of “telephone game” / rumor mill / “unreliable narrator” / competing “gospels” sense. Candyman as ancient evil with many faces could be intersting.

    3. Finally, a straight up “killy whitey” Candyman who is killing people for their racism or the sins of their parents or for “Uncle Tom” types of turncoatery could be very interesting and cathartic. If done well. This one in particular I think would be best explored as a straight up remake / re-imagining and not as a sequel that is trying to do something with the Helen Lyle character.

  42. I feel like there’s some kind of culture war type issue that would explain why HEREDITARY is so controversial around here but I am a conscientious objector and I just urge everyone to give peace a chance. CANDYMAN is not implying it’s above the type of movie it is. The bathroom scene is a great scene in a good movie. It speaks for itself. Ari Aster doesn’t seem to be the type of horror fan that I am, but he made unquestionably two of the best horror movies I’ve seen in recent years.

  43. I had no beef with HEREDITARY, but if people are hating a film for the good old fashioned reason of thinking it “sucks” rather than thinking it’s an immoral object contributing to the downfall of society, I’m all for it.

  44. I didn’t mean to relitigate the HEREDITARY affair. It was just a readily accessible example of a movie that seems poised to do something different, so it’s disappointing when it does a lot of the same old stuff.

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