The original Candyman, released in 1992, was a trippy horror delight—a fun and nasty thriller that was willing to remain dark and disturbing from its first frame until its last. The killer concept was birthed from the mind of nutball Clive Barker, and director Bernard Rose did his ideas justice. As a fan of the original, I never did watch the sequels. They looked awful.
Nearly 30 years later, the horror gem has gotten a direct sequel—ignoring the poorly received films that came after—that presents a story directly tied to the original’s ending. It’s very much like the new sequel Halloween got a few years ago from director David Gordon Green, and the results are pretty good, by horror-sequel standards.
Director Nia DaCosta (this is her second feature after the very good Little Woods)—who co-wrote the screenplay with, among others, Jordan Peele (Get Out, Us)—goes for something quietly sinister. Peele also produced the film, and this Candyman fits comfortably next to his stylized, deep horror offerings.
The action returns to Chicago’s former Cabrini-Green, now a gentrified Chicago neighborhood, where Anthony McCoy (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II) is struggling as an artist. The story of the Candyman, and the mental collapse of Helen Lyle (the character played by Virginia Madsen in the original; she makes a voice cameo here) leads him to investigate. While poking around, he meets William Burke (Colman Domingo), a friendly man from the neighborhood, and immediately helps him with his laundry. (It’s a little odd how he just up and helps the guy. Just go with it.)
William tells him the story of Sherman Fields (Michael Hargrove), a homeless man wrongly suspected of giving candy with razor blades to kids. He was murdered by the police, and it’s believed that Sherman’s ghost began haunting and killing residents of Cabrini-Green. Sherman had a harmless hook for a hand, but legend has it that the hook got sharper after his death, and he joined forces with Daniel Robitaille (Tony Todd, both here and in the original). In other words, there might be more than one Candyman carving people up.
After hearing the story and getting stung by a bee (because those play a big part in Candyman lore), Anthony starts to go through strange physical and mental changes—while friends of his are murdered, Candyman-style.
The killing scenes are where DaCosta truly excels: They are genuinely scary. She stages one through a window (no further details; I don’t want to ruin it) that got the hairs on the back of my neck not only standing up, but trying to disembark and head for the parking lot. This is DaCosta’s first legit take on horror, and it’s fair to say she’s already an expert. A good portion of this film’s 91-minute running time is major freak-out territory.
Something rich is being explored here, but it seems like DaCosta and Peele either ran out of ideas, or they wanted to save something for the films that will surely follow. Just as things appear to really be getting started, the film stops. What looks like a fantastic opening salvo to the final act actually turns out to be the ending. When the closing credits pop up on the screen, it’s almost as shocking as some of the film’s kills.
I re-watched the original film, and the new Candyman is almost as good as the original—but not quite. Watching Anthony McCoy deteriorate is disconcerting, but Helen Lyle’s tragic ending still stands as the franchise’s high point. Helen got a super raw deal, as does Anthony. Let’s just say the Candyman movies don’t do happy endings.
The church-hymn vibe of Philip Glass’ stellar original soundtrack is replaced by something a little more understated from Robert Aiki Aubrey Lowe. This is one of the year’s best scores, giving the film a pulsing, somber underbelly that really ties things together.
With this, a franchise is reborn. Peele furthers his reputation as the modern purveyor of horror with heart and soul, and DaCosta proves she has it in her to scare the living piss out of you.
Candyman is playing at theaters across the valley.