Content Warning: This list includes mentions of racism and police brutality.
Though it’s become one of the most well-regarded horror franchises of the past 30 years, the original candy man wasn’t attracting the same buzz as its spiritual sequel of the same name. The 1992 movie centered on the vengeful spirit of a 19th-century Black painter (lynched for loving a white woman) being resurrected by a grad student investigating the psychology of urban folklore, proving too complex for most audiences. On the one hand, its strong themes of racism and prejudice were too cerebral for a simple slasher movie, but on the other hand, its excessive gore made it too grisly for the intellectual elite.
candy man (2021) has taken the foundation of its predecessor and, without ignoring its other two sequels, built upon its mythology by introducing additional themes of police brutality and gentrification, all the while maximizing its inherent sophistication in a thoughtful and provocative reimagining that is full of innovation and reverence for its iconic source material.
10 Adding To The Candyman Mythology
The tale that William Burke tells a spellbound Anthony McCoy about a hook-handed neighborhood character named Sherman Fields not only creates a shared mythology, but it also adds to Candyman’s backstory. The ending credits, told by shadow puppets, broaden the legend to incorporate the many different kinds of oppression and degradation that have canonized the hive since Daniel Robitaille’s death.
By expanding the world-building of the franchise, any of the Candymen can return at any point, or it can continue to focus on newly created characters as necessary to future plots.
9 Playing With The Concept Of A “Legend”
The first Candyman was a local urban legend boogeyman, rather than a hero of folklore. William Burke explains that while it was used to frighten people away from Cabrini-Green, it originated from the death of Daniel Robitaille, whose only crime was loving a white woman as a person of color.
Like Anthony McCoy two decades later, Helen Lyle investigated the Candyman legend and was blamed for Candyman’s horrific crimes. It didn’t matter that she was a victim herself if the people of Cabrini-Green thought otherwise. She became a supernatural antagonist (and as gentrification occurred, an embodiment of its most sinister aspects), making the legend a malleable storytelling form able to absorb the psychological trauma of its creators.
8 Amending The Curse
The original movie positioned the Candyman character as a tragic figure caught up in the indefatigable cycle of violence. Whoever summoned him would be the direct focus of his wrath, and he would punish them and anyone who tried to help them. After all, “what’s blood for, if not for shedding?”
The new movie positions the character as a monster that haunts white people in spaces that have been historically Black. The white people hear the legend, don’t respect it, and get killed. It repositions the narrative in a way that can have new resonance in modern times, making candy man (2021) a satisfying sequel to the 1992 original.
7 Making Candyman A Local Hero
With the intent to weaponize Candyman’s mythos, William Burke kidnaps Anthony McCoy. He hopes to generate a tragic tale of oppression and chaos by reporting a crime for which McCoy will most certainly match the description, making him the victim of the sort of hate crime that made the spirits of Daniel Robitaille and Sherman Fields so relentless.
Burke is killed before he can see the fruits of his maniacal labor, but Brianna is able to see his grand design fulfilled when she invokes McCoy (as the new incarnation of Candyman) after he’s killed by police gunfire. He slaughters the officers not just out of revenge, but to protect her, while the voice of Daniel Robitaille instructs her to “Tell Everyone”. This turns the Candyman figure into a local hero of sorts against police brutality.
6 Including Police Brutality
The character of Candyman has always been entitled to some amount of sympathy, no matter his homicidal nature, due to the parameters of his demise. From Daniel Robitaille to Sherman Fields, Candymen, in general, are killed in horrific fashion despite being innocent of their crimes, with the most modern interpretation casting a particularly unblinking eye on the part police brutality plays in the slayings of Black people.
Both Fields and McCoy are killed by police for simply “matching the description” of an assailant (read, “Black male”), and their reflexive, knee-jerk killing is brought on by the increased body count of white people in the area surrounding Cabrini-Green.
5 Representation Of The Perils Of Systemic Racism
There are moments in the movie that feature slayings by the Candyman that seem to have no bearing on the overall plot, especially since the affected characters never interact with the main protagonists, such as the high school girls killed in the bathroom sequence. On closer inspection, they indicate a community of people who have heard of important moments in Black history but don’t see them as relevant until they have been personally affected by them.
The original legend of Candyman could have died in the fire with Daniel Robitaille, but the passage of time since his appearance in the original movie to its spiritual sequel indicates the ramifications of ignoring systemic racism. That ignorance leads to continued systemic racism, and while William Burke inspiring a “fear of the ghetto” can’t curb its effects, it can prevent gentrification.
4 Sophisticated Cinematography
From the very opening credits, where the production company logos are turned backward to resemble how they’d appear in a mirror, to the upside-down view of the skyline of Chicago seen looming in a churning fog, candy man sets a precedent for being a finely shot movie full of unexpected visual innovation.
While the movie seldom has the sense of sepia-soaked urban decay that made the original so striking, it has other ways of making itself stand out in the franchise. One unforgettable moment occurs when viewers are treated to a gruesome kill scene in the art critic’s apartment that is will defy other genre movies to top it.
3 Moving Beyond Romance
In the original movie, there is palpable chemistry between Daniel Robitaille and Helen Kyle. This is evidenced by his mellifluous voice coming to her in dream-like sequences that evoke images of other tragically romantic villains like The Phantom of the Opera entreating Christine to join him in the bowels of the Paris Opera House. Lyle summons Robitaille, it’s true, but she also bears a striking resemblance to the woman he died for, making him as much obsessed with her as she with him.
There is much more of a sense of seduction to the cat-and-mouse game of terror that Candyman and Helen play, especially with the way he hypnotizes her while purring, “Be my victim.” It’s both a command and an invitation, and the latest incarnation of the movie treads away from this sort of exchange so that it’s no longer “always Helen”.
2 Modern Socio-Political Update
With the continued rise of the Black Lives Matter socio-political movement in response to the unnecessary use of force involved in the killings of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and many other people of color, Candyman represents the horrors of police brutality as endured by Black people throughout American history.
Beginning with the unjust slaying of Daniel Robitaille in the 19th century, continuing through the Jim Crowe era, and settling in the modern-day, the new movie comes to encapsulate not just police brutality, but also the effects of gentrification in traditionally Black neighborhoods. When Candyman’s legend is known, his presence has power, curbing the efficacy of police brutality and the merciless march of gentrification.
The original movie didn’t feature any LGBTQ+ characters (that viewers are aware of) but here, a gay couple (which includes Brianna’s brother) subverts expected tropes and allows the main focus of the movie to remain on the collective oppression of Black Americans while still being inclusive with another element of diversity.
Troy doesn’t die, and neither does his partner Grady, steering clear of violence being intrinsically connected to gay character narratives. They’re both a part of the plot, as opposed to afterthoughts, and their interactions with the other characters feel fully fleshed out instead of forced.
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