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Candyman is a Worthy Update of the ’90s Horror Icon

Dare to Say His Name.

Canydman (2021) Review

The Ringer wrote a piece in 2018 about how “before there was Get Out, there was Candyman,” in tribute to the ghost/slasher film from 1992 that starred Tony Todd, and went on to spawn multiple sequels. Candyman, which got his start in a short story by Clive Barker a few years earlier, was a hook-handed killer who arrived with killing on his mind whenever anyone said his name out loud five times. 

Three years after that article, there’s an update of Candyman, somewhere between a sequel and remake, which is co-written and co-produced by Get Out’s writer/director, Jordan Peele, one that retcons the other sequels out of existence. 

The revisionist history, at least from those who either haven’t seen the original Candyman or don’t remember it, will undoubtedly view Candyman as a “woke” version of a beloved classic, with even a hint of box office disappointment likely to encourage cackling of the “go woke, go broke” variety. 

But really, the Peele approach to the film is very much in keeping with what the franchise was always about. It’s not as though race and racism didn’t come up in the 1993 Candyman; that movie depicted the Candyman as from the 1800s and the son of a slave and was strictly in the tradition of Boyz N the Hood, and other early 1990s films that arrived against the backdrop of the Rodney King beating and subsequent L.A. riots. 

Image: Universal

As for the new Candyman, it’s decent, albeit somewhat all over the place, and it doesn’t have a satirical bite even close to that of Peele’s Get Out

The new film was directed by Nia DeCosta, who directed Little Woods, and has a Marvel film set for next year (The Marvels) on deck. DeCosta, Peele, and Win Rosenfeld co-wrote the screenplay, with production taking place in Chicago in 2019, pre-pandemic. The release date has been pushed back a few times, but it finally arrives in theaters Friday.

Candyman is set in Chicago’s famed Cabrini Green area — the setting of the original movie — which was long a notorious housing project, but has since been turned into condos. Anthony (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II), an artist, lives there with his girlfriend (Teyonah Parris), who runs an art gallery. After meeting a Cabrini Green lifer (Colman Domingo), Anthony decides to use his art to commentate on the Candyman legend, with predictably bloody results. 

That the famed ghost (played once again by Tony Todd) is haunting the gentrifiers of his old stomping grounds is one of the film’s best ideas, and it gets in a lot of digs at the modern art world. This stuff is hit-or-miss, but “don’t mix curation with who you’re fucking” is such a tremendous line that I’m surprised it’s never been used in a movie about the art world before. 

Candyman 2021
Image: Universal

I also give the film credit for building a subplot out of the annual fear-mongering about razor blades in Halloween candy- something that has never been real, a single time. 

 The actors are a strength of the film, with Abdul-Mateen, best known for the HBO Watchmen series, an engaging leading man. Colman Domingo continues a fine recent run of roles that includes the Euphoria special episode; he’s reunited here with Parris, with whom he co-starred in Barry Jenkins’  If Beale Street Could Talk. Rebecca Spence, the co-star of another great Chicago movie, Stephen Cone’s Princess Cyd, has a memorable role as an art critic. 

It’s not exactly groundbreaking, and it doesn’t tie all of its themes together, but Candyman is a decent update of the Candyman mythos into the Black Lives Matter era. 

Written By

Stephen Silver is a journalist and film critic based in the Philadelphia area. He is the co-founder of the Philadelphia Film Critics Circle and a Rotten Tomatoes-listed critic since 2008, and his work has appeared in New York Press, Philly Voice, The Jewish Telegraphic Agency, Tablet, The Times of Israel, and RogerEbert.com. In 2009, he became the first American journalist to interview both a sitting FCC chairman and a sitting host of "Jeopardy" on the same day.

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