The supernatural killer with a hook for a hand, first played by Tony Todd in the movie of the same name 1992, returns in “Candyman,” now playing in theatres, reframed by co-producer and co-writer Jordan Peele for a new generation.
In this “spiritual sequel,” “Watchmen’s” Yahya Abdul-Mateen II plays artist Anthony McCoy, a visual artist who grew up in Chicago’s Cabrini-Green neighborhood. Almost three decades ago, Candyman, a vengeful spirit with a hook for a hand, summoned by anyone brave enough to repeat his name five times into a mirror, terrorized the area.
The towers Anthony and his family lived in are gone, torn down in the name of gentrification. Anthony and his partner, gallery director Brianna Cartwright (Teyonah Parris), take their place among the trendy millennials who now live in Cabrini-Green’s luxury lofts.
Anthony’s painting career isn’t going great guns, so when a long-time area resident William Burke (Colman Domingo) tells him of the urban myth (or is it true?) of Candyman.
“Candyman ain’t a he,” says William. “Candyman’s the whole damn hive. Samuel Evans, run down during the white housing riots of the ’50s. William Bell, lynched in the ’20s. But the first one, where it all began, the story of Daniel Robitaille. He made a good living touring the country making portraits for wealthy families. Mostly white. And they loved it. But you know how it goes. They love what we make, but not us. They beat him, tortured him. They cut off his arm and jammed a meat hook in the stump. But a story like that. Pain like that. Lasts forever. That’s Candyman. Candyman is how we deal with the fact that these things happen. That they’re still happening.”
Anthony finds inspiration in the story but as he delves into Candyman’s macabre world, he unwittingly opens a passage to supernatural terror and violence that transforms his body, mind and exposes his own personal connection to the legend.
“Candyman” is a horror film, but it’s interested in more than making the hairs on the back of your neck stand up. Most great horror isn’t simply about the scares. “Frankenstein,” for example, is enriched by ideas of science and technology run amok, “The Wolf Man” examines the polarities of good and evil in all of us and “Invasion of the Body Snatchers” has compelling things to say about mass hysteria. “Candyman” is a scary, timely reinterpretation of a classic horror movie character that brings the story into ripped-from-the-headlines context.
A study of trauma in the Black community, “Candyman” expands the scope of the original to suggest that the Candyman isn’t singular. In the new film William says, “Candyman’s the whole damn hive,” representing all Black men who have been lost to race-based violence.
The theme is front and center but director (and co-writer) Nia DaCosta doesn’t shy away from the body horror—Anthony’s transformation includes some memorable fingernail horror and more—or the Candyman’s violence. The kills are suitably bloody, often shot in interesting ways, like through the mirror of a make-up compact dropped on the floor. It’s brutally elegant and never forgets to add a helping of horror with its story.
“Candyman” is a movie that succeeds on two levels, as a comment on the echoes of historical racism that can be heard today and as a horror film that’ll scare the pants off of you.