I recently re- watched Candyman, a horror film from the early 90’s, because I love an old horror and because I heard about the remake coming out. What I didn’t realise is that this film had sequels. So, I thought it would be an interesting rabbit hole to go down, and cover as a movie franchise.
The big bad in these films is an urban legend about a man called Candyman, who has a hook for a hand. Like the Bloody Mary sleepover game, in this story, you stare into a mirror and say his name five times, and he’ll come. Originally, the plot was a Clive Barker story, and was set in the UK, with the focus being on class barriers in Liverpool. When adapting it for film, it was changed to be set in the US, specifically in “the projects”, and Candyman became a slave who dared to fall in love with a white woman, resulting in his lynching. Now he’s able to supernaturally menace the living.
When it came out, Virginia Madsen, who played Helen, the protagonist of the first film, pointed out that the film was not something that would please Spike Lee and expressed concerns about the race element, but the filmmakers did consult the NAACP who read the script and were unperturbed and gave it the go-ahead. The 2021 installment is written by Jordan Peele and returns to the area where the first film takes place, and is more reflective of recent events.
Helen Lyle (Virginia Madsen) is researching urban legends for her thesis when she comes across the story of Candyman. She says his name 5 times into the bathroom mirror, much to the horror of her research partner and BFF Bernadette (Kasi Lemmons), and opens a deadly can of worms. In trying to find out more about Candyman and what she’s brought on herself, she heads to the projects to find the truth and stop the killing. But she has something that the murderous, hook handed bad guy wants. I love the 90’s style of this film. I love seeing the camera she uses that runs out of film and the chunky computers. It’s neat. I also love the eerie voice over and the dream like quality of the whole. And there’s a lot of urban imagery, graffiti and murals, and choral orchestral dramatic music. It’s a film that has it’s own flavour. And I feel like Tony Todd is really enjoying himself in the role.
Candyman: Farewell To The Flesh (1995)
This time we’re in New Orleans, which the plot now tells us is where Candyman was killed. It’s carnival time, and the plot follows the same idea as above: a blonde with a bob is menaced by the Candyman after calling on him to prove to a friend that he’s not real, and then he frames her for his killings and kidnaps a kid. You get the idea. It’s carnival time in New Orleans, though, and our blonde heroine just happens to be Candyman’s descendant, and has to find the original mirror that his soul is trapped in or he will use her to fulfil a prophecy. Or something. The film has a similar sound, but this time a radio station rather than Candyman voiceover. Tony Todd is back, and is probably the best thing in this film. The change from the urban setting to New Orleans doesn’t feel as interesting and the rest of the cast are not that engaging. The film does try to be bold and create tension, but feels much more like trashy slasher fare and doesn’t have the nice style that the first did. That said, I quite like the scenes in the old house. I love an old house in horror movies.
Candyman: Day Of The Dead (1999)
This is a super forgettable film. Donna D’Errico is the menaced blonde this time, playing the grown up daughter of the woman in the previous film, this time set in Los Angeles. She decides to show the paintings that Candyman did in his life in a gallery, but manages to bring down Candyman, and the plot is generally the same, etc etc. This film is really dull, not cheesey enough to be funny, sadly. Tony Todd does his best with the material, and the highlight is the amusing cult of emo teens who worship him. But mostly, the film is very late 90’s in style and tone, leaning towards something like Urban Legend or Scream, but without the class or acting skill of those films. It’s more boobs and blood than anything. But it ends the cycle of Candyman: the girl destroys the paintings and Candyman has no more link to the world. The. End.
With a screenplay by horror master Jordan Peele, this story takes us back to Cabrini Green, which has now been gentrified, and gives us a Candyman for a new era. This time, an artist Anthony McCoy (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II) is told the Candyman story when he moves with his partner into a new apartment built on what was ghetto territory, and he’s drawn to research the story. But he soon summons up the old dark force, and the deaths start piling up. There are so many things that this film does well. It’s a sequel, but it’s not a re-hash and doesn’t feel like a cash in. It’s from the black perspective, it has loads of plot, great central performances, gory deaths,… all the things you expect in a good horror film. Plus plenty of little loving details that link back: A character reads the Clive Barker story that the original film was partly based on, part of a witness statement is heard from the case that the original film used, that kind of thing. I also really liked the way it was filmed. Interesting angles and mirrors are used a lot and done really effectively to heighten the tension. And there are also sequences that use shadow puppets that are beautiful and dark and fairytale like. It’s a solid scary film, and I was happily impressed.