The original Candyman (1992), was a trippy horror delight, a fun and nasty thriller that was willing to go the distance and 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 that nasty brute justice. As a fan of the original, I never did watch the sequels. They looked awful.
Nearly 30 years later, the original terror gem gets a direct sequel, ignoring the poorly received franchise films that came after the original, and getting on with a story directly tied to the original’s ending made three decades ago. 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 rather than grandiose. Peele also produced the film, and this one fits in comfortably next to his recent stylized, deep horror offerings.
The action returns to Chicago’s former Cabrini Greens, 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) leads him to investigate. He meets William Burke, a friendly neighborhood man (Colman Domingo), while poking around 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 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 hook got sharper after death and he joined forces with Daniel Robitaille (Tony Todd…in the original and here as well). So, 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 as friends of his are murdered Candyman style.
The killing scenes are where DaCosta truly excels in that they are genuinely scary to take in. She stages one through a window (no further details…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 an expert already. A good portion of this film’s (albeit short) running time is major freak-out territory.
Something rich is being explored here, but it almost seems like DaCosta and Peele either run out of ideas or want 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 “Candyman” closing credit pops up on the screen, it’s almost as shocking as some of the film’s kills.
After re-watching the original film as research for this one, it’s fair to say the new Candyman is almost as good as the original, but not quite. Watching Mateen II deteriorate is disconcerting, but Helen Lyle’s tragic ending still stands as a franchise high point. Helen got a super raw deal, as does Mateen II. Let’s just say the Candyman movies don’t consider a happy ending something of importance.
The church hymn vibe of Philip Glass’s 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 the movie together.
And with this, a franchise is reborn. Peele furthers himself as the modern purveyor of horror with heart and soul, and DaCosta proves that she has it in her to scare the living piss out of you.