My ex-wife and I went to see Candyman years ago at the movie theatre, I believe on opening night. I had read a few Clive Barker anthologies and heard that he had written a manuscript that this new feature was based on. Clive Barker was a warped horror writer from across the pond who was responsible for nineties horror delicacies such as Hellraiser and Nightbreed. Both of these films were a welcome departure at the time from the slasher deluged marketplace that was the late to mid nineties. Michael Meyers, Jason and then Freddy had ruled the silver screen for about ten to 15 years at this point, and Barker’s material arrived just in time to re-invigorate the horror genre. When I learned that Candyman’s subject matter involved a ghostly boogieman of color who had been tortured to death because of an ill advised affair with a white woman…I was appropriately spooked and intrigued.
The movie I watched in 1994 did titillate my imagination to some degree as Tony Todd’s eerie performance as the titular entity still reverberates in my mental horror rolodex…but I guess it fell short of my expectations due to the fact that I never watched it again…nor did I even consider viewing its subsequent chapters. I think at the time it came off to me as what has become known as “SLAVE PORN”, the cheap exploitation of certain tropes involving the subjugation and suffering of black people during the time period of the Transatlantic Slave Trade or Jim Crow America. The spectral entity of Candyman was interesting to me but not distinctive enough to separate it from the other slew of supernatural nightstalkers that were overcrowding the screens. I dismissed the movie and kept it pushing.
Fast forward about thirty years to me sitting in the cineplex sucking my teeth after viewing a trailer for the inevitable remake of Candyman. My initial reaction was disgust and ennui. The fact that Jordan Peele was involved did nothing to alter my lack of energy. Yes, I get it. He is one of the new standard bearers for Black Hollywood. “GET OUT” and “US” were nifty pop horror confections that tapped into the racial anxiety of Black America. Jordan Peele would take the flawed remains of the earlier Candyman flick and refract its stronger elements through his new kaeleidescopic lens for a POST BLACK LIVES MATTER audience. It was the perfect storm. An absolute no brainer. I didn’t care for the trailer and was not planning on seeing it…but then after reading the NY Times Review and being coerced by my son to give it a chance… I found myself in the dark again with a bag full of buttered pop corn and a large coke, fully laid back in a leather recliner waiting to be transported. I was not disappointed.
Candyman is not “SLAVE PORN”. It is an interesting horror mythos that follows the constant American persecution and unfavorable depiction of the Black male that has been propagated throughout history. Candyman, this monstrous symbol of corporeal punishment and our ability to suffer beyond the grave, is a rare example of a haunting manifested by rampant racism and the literal slander designed to imprison black folks in a stereotype. Candyman, the resulting entity, is a by-product of hatred, cultural abuse and an unnatural viral fear that is disseminated through the spoken word and the magic of storytelling. Based on these foundations, the film-maker Nia Da Costa establishes a sleek and soulful framework for an awe inspiring urban ghost story that transcends time and suggests that the villification of the African American Male since his enslavement in this country has created a supernatural tulpa from beyond the grave. I will not reveal the inventive way that Da Costa makes this idea appealing again and even more chilling than it’s first iteration…but takes full advantage of the social commentary elements that were also present in the first movie albeit dormant.
YA YA Abdul Mateen is an epic performer and once again demands “all eyes on me” as he takes the screen. The brother is a bomburst of talent and energy that explodes off the screen…his immersion into the background of Candyman is palpable and tragic. This journey is later ruined for me by a clumsy and contrived plot point that was unneccesary…but through no fault of Mateen. The other high point of this movie is Colman Domingo. Every ghost story needs a narrator that “sells” the myth. Domingo bodies this performance with a laid back O.G gusto. His lines are delivered with melodic and haunting tones…his eyes sparkle with a hint of sinister and crazy, while also being completely captivating. Domingo also falls victim to the unfortunate ending of this otherwise competent and well directed reboot. These actors and the story deserved a better ending/resolution but I thoroughly enjoyed the new analogy of Candyman. The correlation between this horror movie bad guy and the fear of the black male in American society is deep as hell and in and of itself , a completely different nightmare altogether.