In horror, there are far more stories of unrelenting evil than there are tales of vengeance. Look at the pantheon of horror elite and you’ve got Michael Myers, Freddy Krueger, Leatherface, and Pennywise. There are plenty more, for sure, but pop culture has latched onto this set of four and the question is always: why? Maybe it’s because they fascinate or offer catharsis through violence. Whatever the reason, I’ve always found it odd that we take these characters of horror and push them to the front, rather than the victims, unless they become Scream Queens. Look at Jason Voorhees, a truly tragic character, who’s become nothing more than a grinder to be tossed meat. Now he’s idolized for the murder he reeks upon humanity, rather than any real examination over why he feels like he needed to conquer death in the first place. Enter Candyman, a character created by author Clive Barker for his short story “The Forbidden” and made famous in the 1992 Bernard Rose-directed film featuring Tony Todd in the titular role and Virginia Madsen as Helen Lyle. Rose introduced the racial component to the character which would become the backbone of its cultural significance, but it’s writer/director Nia DaCosta (Little Woods) in her spiritual sequel of the same name who would recontextualize the idea from a spirit of vengeance into one of justice. Perhaps now, more so than ever, people will say his name with reverence and respect and not as a childish challenge to call forth a specter who brings with him your most painful death.
If you’re interested in my spoiler-free thoughts on DaCosta’s Candyman, I recommend checking out the theatrical review. Moving forward, there will be specific details of the film discussed.
Anthony McCoy (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II) is an up-and-coming Chicago artist who’s struggled to create something as inspired or provocative as his last major project. Upon learning about the local legend of the boogeyman known as Candyman, Anthony heads to the neighborhood of Cabrini-Green to see if inspiration might strike. He receives that and more as Anthony finds himself slowly transforming, becoming a vessel for a pain that goes back generations and desires retribution.
First, the bonus features.
If you dug this movie, then you’re going to delight in the more than one-hour of bonus features. There’s no commentary track, which frustrates as I’d love to hear some of DaCosta’s thoughts on specific moments in the film, but the bonus features are so varied in their substance that there’s still much to learn and explore. There’s an alternate ending offering an opportunity to see what happens to Teyonah Parris’s Brianna Cartwright in the aftermath of Cabrini-Green, as well as three deleted and extended scenes that offer a tad bit more information on the characters. Of the three, there’s an extended interaction between Anthony and the obnoxious art critic Finley Stephens (Rebecca Spence) that adds a little more cultural evisceration before her literal one and an extended segment of young Brianna when her father commits suicide. That’s the scene, almost more than any other, which I wanted explored more via commentary or discussion on the bonus features, but it is left largely alone. It’s a significant trauma that’s introduced as part of Brianna’s character yet isn’t explored beyond the flashback. There’s a moment in the wonderful 20-minute featurette, “Candyman: The Impact of Black Horror,” where a panelist suggests that, given the age at which this event occurs, Brianna has stored it as emotional trauma that (a) she’s never unpacked and (b) leads her to try to find solutions for loved-ones at the expense of herself. It’s a fascinating idea based in real-world psychology, but there’s little more than inference to be gleaned from the text. That said, if the exploration of trauma within DaCosta’s Candyman is what causes the film to linger with you as it does with me, “The Impact of Black Horror” will generate a great deal of starting points to examine your own notions of how you think people respond to horror films and why the shift toward vigilante justice in the narrative is important.
The other six featurettes are a breakdown of several significant pieces of the films that break out elements of the story, approach to the body horror elements, score, puppetry, and DaCosta’s approach. Forgive the phrasing, but it really is a candyland of information which builds upon what astute viewers gleaned from an initial watch. DaCosta came to Candyman with a specific intent and her lens, a transfer from the White filmmaker perspective to a distinctly Black one, that neither glorifies the violence of the film nor villainizes Candyman himself. In fact, the best part of the film, from my perspective, is how DaCosta shifts Candyman, as originally presented in Rose’s film, into a defender of Cabrini-Green and its people. Specifically, the innocent Black lives that comprise it. This is made plain when Anthony, transformed into the latest form of Candyman, executes the police officers who were called to help Brianna and ended up using their authority to manipulate the situation and threaten her with jail time if she didn’t comply. Especially when one considers how often this happens in the real world where people of authority, especially White individuals in positions of power, levy their power and judgement upon minorities with a misplaced entitlement. These featurettes in combination explore this transition thematically and technically, highlighting just how evocative and thoughtful Candyman is from page to screen.
For me, the weakness of the film is how it builds off of the original by making Anthony the same boy who was meant to be sacrificed in the original film. This film implies, via Colman Domingo’s William Burke, that he’s now meant to be a vessel for Candyman, a new inheritor of the legacy. In this case, it seems like an ironic punishment as Anthony makes his fame by interpreting the pain of his people into art. Anthony feels joy and awe when he hears his name on television, offering accolades for his recent Candyman-themed pieces. I would understand this if Anthony had been stung after this moment, the puncture growing infected as Anthony refuses treatment in favor of constantly picking at the festering wound whose resulting deterioration spreads up his arm. Except he’s stung before he even meets Burke, implying that he was being prepared as a vessel well before meeting Candyman’s trauma-created devotee. There’s a richness to the ideas present, so many which complement the directorial choices that make the film often seem otherworldly, but their lack of concrete connection weaken the ideas beyond their singularity. This translates late to fantastic ideas in individual moments that don’t often work as a collective. Despite this, the statement of reclamation at the end is bold and exciting, inciting a desire for more.
DaCosta’s Candyman is a challenging artistic recontextualization of a beloved horror icon that I hope continues on this path forever more. Her vision offers an opportunity to look at how generational trauma, unresolved, unaddressed, unsatisfied in any manner, can not only tear down a people, but keep them down. It speaks a lot about the history of America that we can create such a boogeyman and have it seem commonplace, while, in the same breath, those who adore the character might try to defend this country as a place without systemic racial issues. You cannot believe in one without the other and it’s a painful truth that too many are unwilling to acknowledge. The cycle of pain cannot end until all recognize how they are hurt by and how they benefit from it continuing. Horror has almost always been a genre which allowed society to explore the things it fears. Perhaps what it is feared now is not looking in the mirror and saying his name five times, but having to look yourself in the mirror and acknowledge your own roll. It’s a big swing for a popular horror icon and one, based on his words in the featurette “Say My Name,” which original Candyman actor Tony Todd wishes were entirely unnecessary. Can’t say I disagree.
Candyman Special Features:
- Alternate Ending (2:39)
- Three (3) Deleted and Extended Scenes (6:01)
- Say My Name: Filmmakers and cast discuss how the horror at the center of Candyman is both timely and timeless, which is a tragedy in and of itself. (6:46)
- Body Horror: We explore director Nia DaCosta’s influences in the subgenre of body horror, and what Anthony’s physical transformation means to the story. (6:23)
- The Filmmaker’s Eye: Nia DaCosta: Take a closer look at director Nia DaCosta, and how her singular voice and perspective were perfect to tell this story. (4:49)
- Painting Chaos: Filmmakers reveal how Anthony’s artwork evolves throughout the film and how they strived for authenticity in recreating Chicago’s vibrant art scene. (7:18)
- The Art of Robert Aiki Aubrey Lowe: Composer Robert Aiki Aubrey Lowe reveals some of the unconventional methodology he used to create the unique and haunting soundscapes sounds of the film. (4:54)
- Terror in the Shadows: A behind-the-scenes look at how the analogue shadow puppetry scenes were created and an unpacking of why this ancient artistic medium was the most conceptually relevant for depicting the legends’ cycle of violence. (4:10)
- Candyman: The Impact of Black Horror: A roundtable discussion moderated by Colman Domingo about the nuanced relationship Black Americans have with Candyman, the horror genre and the overall idea of monsters and victims. (20:25)
Available on digital November 2nd, 2021.
Available on 4K UHD, Blu-ray, and DVD November 16th, 2021.
For more information, head to the official Candyman website.
If you want to learn how you can assist in making a change to your neighborhood, head to the Social Impact Initiative page of the Candyman website for various available resources.