When I saw the original Candyman 30 or 200 years ago, even at a young age, I knew it was one of the dumbest things I’d ever seen. It still is.
I mean, here you have this nosy-ass, white grad student (Virginia Madsen) showing up in the Chicago projects, investigating an urban legend about this Black, bee-covered boogeyman (Tony Todd) who apparently only kills other Black people. (In the ‘90s, Black-on-Black crime was even rampant in horror movies.) She summons the somabitch by saying his name five times in the mirror. Not only does he go on a rampage — ol’ boy castrates kids! — Candyman (who now has a baby hostage) also wants the white girl to be his main squeeze. The movie ends with — spoiler alert! — both Candyman and the white girl dying in a bonfire, with the white girl eventually seen as a heroine for saving both the baby and the hood.
All throughout this obviously-directed-by-a-white-guy spectacle, I kept yelling “Get the entire fuck outta here!” in my head. Adapted from a Clive Barker short story and allegedly inspired by a horrific 1987 murder that John Malkovich tried to make into a movie, I found Candyman to be that most hideous and insidious of scary movies: one that insulted my intelligence and my race. I wasn’t the only one who felt that way; filmmakers Reginald Hudlin and Carl Franklin made it known they were both offended by the flick’s existence. Even Madsen admitted, “I don’t think Spike Lee will like this film.” (It also beget two dumb-ass sequels, where white women once again had to take down this big, bad negro.)
I should’ve known something was up when former Obama impersonator-turned-Get Out director Jordan Peele, a man who’s made it his mission to tell racially-charged spooky stories on the big and small screen, decided to produce a Candyman movie. I thought it was gonna be yet another redonkulous remake of an old slasher favorite. But it appears he and director Nia DaCosta (Little Woods) have joined forces to — as they used to say at the beginning of every Quantum Leap episode — put right what once went wrong. They basically turn the goofy gorefest into the racial-injustice parable it should’ve been in the first damn place.
Finally hitting theaters after several pandemic-halted release dates, this Candyman returns to the Cabrini-Green area in Chicago where the original was mostly based – now a gentrified, hipster haven. That’s where we meet artist Anthony McCoy (Aquaman nemesis Yahya-Abdul Mateen II) and his art gallery-director girlfriend Brianna (Chi-Raq hellraiser Teyonah Parris). Struggling to find something to paint next, he hears the story of the white girl who was burned alive. This gets him in investigative mode, taking pictures inside the area’s boarded-up row houses and interviewing a laundromat owner (Zola psycho pimp Colman Domingo) who tells him about a candyman he saw as a kid, a slow-witted, one-armed man who gave candy to kids and got murdered by the police.
Not only does this dumbass do the whole say-his-name thing, slowly turning him into a possessed fella with decaying skin brought on by a bee sting, McCoy incites other (mainly white) stupidos to do it when he turns the practice into a reflective art piece, ensuring that the Candyman will invisibly but certainly bring the pain.
Both Peele and DaCosta (who co-wrote the script with producer Win Rosenfeld) make a big, ambitious swing with this sequel/reboot/whatever, addressing the myriad issues — gentrification, police brutality, mental illness, plain ol’ systemic racism — that are currently destroying Black folk more than a mythical serial killer ever could. They also use Domingo’s character to sound off on the various, real-life Chicagoans of color who’ve been cruelly victimized and/or wiped out throughout history. He later insinuates that Candyman is more than a pissed-off, 19th-century artist who was murdered for loving a white girl. He’s a swarming, sinister ball of vengeful, Black rage.
Of course, Candyman 2.0 has a small batch of Easter eggs, in-jokes (it’s definitely not a coincidence that the first white guy who gets it is named Clive) and cameos from returning characters. There are also brief bits of humor, mostly involving the superstitious, fight-or-flight behavior Black people exhibit whenever something strange is afoot.
DaCosta actually does something that the original didn’t bother to do: make Chicago look like the fascinating land of architecture — particularly residential architecture —it’s always been. Working with Love, Simon cinematographer John Gulserian, she comes up with interior shots (often in corridors and hallways) that are both foreboding and visually impressive.
As I mentioned before, a lot is crammed in its 91-minute time frame, with some flaws — exposition-dump scenes, over-the-top supporting characters (wait until you met Brianna’s gay brother!), a bonkers, let’s-wrap-it-up-quickly finale — sticking out. It’s still far more clever, engaging and — dare I say it — Blacker than the offensive original. In fact, this Candyman reminded me more of J.D.’s Revenge, the hilariously entertaining, Blaxploitation thriller (and one of my late mother’s favorite films) where Cooley High’s Glynn Turman is a law student possessed by a murdered 1940s gangster looking for vengeance. Until someone makes a long-overdue redo of that one, this will suffice.
“Candyman” is in theaters Friday.