When I first heard Jordan Peele was recreating Candyman, I knew I had to see it. I love Jordan Peele’s work. From Get Out to Lovecraft Country, everything Jordan Peele has his hand in is captivating. When I learned Nia DaCosta (Little Woods), Yahaya Abdul-Mateen II (Watchmen) and Teyonah Parris (WandaVision) were involved, I became obsessed. However, there were two major problems. One, I am terrified of horror movies, especially gory ones. Two, I had actually never seen the original Candyman. How can I watch a sequel without the original? Candyman has a deep history in the Black community, specifically of being almost every millennial’s first horror movie. My husband, a horror film connoisseur, has noted Candyman as one of the scariest he has seen. So how does a film from 1992 hold up in 2021? Let’s get into it.
The 90’s was famous for urban legend-centered horror films. Urban Legend, Scream, and Sleepy Hollow are a few examples. The horror genre thrived during this time. Candyman was the leader of the pack with its 1992 release. Candyman follows student Helen Lyle as she works on a thesis about local legends. She gets enveloped into the story of “Candyman,” a spirit with a hook for a hand. He kills whomever summons him by calling his name in a mirror five times. *SPOILER ALERT* I mean, this film is over two decades old but, as a courtesy, spoilers will follow. Candyman was the son of a freed slave. He became well known for his talent as a painter. When he fell in love with a White woman he was commissioned to paint, he’s assaulted by an angry mob.
They chopped off his painting hand, covered him in sugar and left him to be killed by a swarm of bees. His ashes were spread across land that later became the Cabrini Green housing project. Candyman keeps the residents in fear of his curse because, according to his monologue, that is the only way for his spirit to stay alive. Helen, in true horror film fashion, gets a lot more than she bargained for. Upon summoning him due to her skepticism, he begins to haunt her because of her striking resemblance to his lost love. She’s mesmerized with him, but when she declines his offer to become his prey, he decides to make her life hell until she gives in to his wishes. Helen gets thrust into a whirlwind that puts the lives of her and her acquaintances in jeopardy.
For a 20-year-old horror film, Candyman held up extremely well. To create a film that does not rely on “shrieky” sound effects and a million jump scares and still be frightening? It’s a lot harder than it sounds. There was one scare in the beginning that was fully anticipated and it still got me. The film was excellently cast. Tony Todd plays Candyman, and while he does not have a lot of lines, his demeanor is expertly chilling throughout the film. Also, the layering of Candyman’s voice added the perfect sinister touch. Virginia Madsen is Helen and she nails the character throughout the movie. According to IMDb, the writers considered Eddie Murphy and Sandra Bullock as the film’s leads. I am extremely thankful that did not happen. There also seems to be a story within the story which draws you further into Helen as a character.
Now let’s get to what troubled me. A Black man who was killed by a mob of what I can only assume to be White men who makes it his purpose to terrorize a housing project of Black people seems tasteless. Throughout the film, I kept toying between two theories. One, the unfortunate placement of a housing project and his soul is trapped where his ashes are scattered. However, if he goes wherever he’s summoned, he does not have to have the people in the projects riddled with fear. Other people who are calling his name are keeping his legend and soul alive. Two, maybe he is just a coon and the self-hate he has is the catalyst for his actions after death. The writers of the film are both White males; do with that information what you will. It definitely impacted my viewing experience.
It is very easy to see why Candyman frightened a generation. Especially a generation of children at the time of its release. Despite my only gripe with the film, I really enjoyed Candyman. I loved how it was eerie but did not leave me scared after the credits rolled. I did not have to sleep with the lights on that night. However, while writing this I did hear a noise in my crawl space that the dog even barked at, so maybe I’m not over it. Alas, it absolutely held up for a 2021 viewer. There was some gore, but I had enough lead up to it that I could just look away. Given how gory even the PG-13 movies are now, Candyman is tame. Watching OG Candyman undoubtedly gave me more anticipation for its sequel. There is no doubt in my mind that I’ll be entertained.