Candyman – classic cult film gets new remake
Oscar® winner Jordan Peele unleashes a fresh take on the blood-chilling urban legend: Candyman. Filmmaker Nia DaCosta (Little Woods, upcoming Captain Marvel 2) directs this contemporary incarnation of the cult classic.
For as long as residents can remember, the housing projects of Chicago’s Cabrini-Green neighborhood were terrorized by a word-of-mouth ghost story about a supernatural killer with a hook for a hand, easily summoned by those daring to repeat his name five times into a mirror. In present day, a decade after the last of the Cabrini towers were torn down, visual artist Anthony McCoy (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II; HBO’s Watchmen, Us) and his partner, gallery director Brianna Cartwright (Teyonah Parris; If Beale Street Could Talk, The Photograph), move into a luxury loft condo in Cabrini, now gentrified beyond recognition and inhabited by upwardly mobile millennials.
With Anthony’s painting career on the brink of stalling, a chance encounter with a Cabrini-Green old-timer (Colman Domingo; HBO’s Euphoria, Assassination Nation) exposes Anthony to the tragically horrific nature of the true story behind Candyman. Anxious to maintain his status in the Chicago art world, Anthony begins to explore these macabre details in his studio as fresh grist for paintings, unknowingly opening a door to a complex past that unravels his own sanity and unleashes a terrifying wave of violence that puts him on a collision course with destiny.
Available August 27 from Universal Pictures.
Released in the fall of 1992, Bernard Rose’s Candyman was a pivotal moment in the history of the horror genre. For the first time, a major American horror film cast a Black man as its titular character and main antagonist. He was a movie “monster” unlike any that had existed in Western pop culture before. Jordan Peele was 13 at the time. “I was a horror fan as a kid, but we didn’t have a Black Freddy Krueger or a Black Jason Voorhees,” Jordan Peele says. “So, when Candyman came along, it felt very daring and cathartic. And it was terrifying. Even though there are many examples of Black people in horror movies, this one felt particularly badass for me.”
Based on the short story “The Forbidden” by Clive Barker, the 1992 film follows a white graduate student, Helen Lyle (Virginia Madsen), who is researching her thesis on urban legends. She’s interested in a myth that has endured in Chicago’s infamous Cabrini-Green housing development.
Around Cabrini-Green, people believe, if you say Candyman’s name into a mirror five times, he will appear, armed with a hook for a hand, and kill you. As Helen’s research continues, gruesome deaths follow in her wake and she uncovers the origin story behind the legend: That a Black 19th century artist, Daniel Robitaille (Tony Todd), fell in love with a young white woman whom he was painting. For this crime, a white mob lynched him. They cut off his hand, smeared him with honey and unleashed a swarm of bees on him before burning him alive. His ashes were spread in what was
then the site of the Cabrini-Green development. His specter had terrorized the residents ever since.
At the time the film was enjoying its cult popularity, Peele and his close friend (and now producing partner) Ian Cooper, were growing up together on Manhattan’s Upper West Side. Over the years, they would return to it again and again.
“By the time he was a sophomore in high school, Jordan had amassed a sizable VHS collection (alphabetized and organized by genre) that consumed all bookshelf space in his bedroom,” Ian Cooper says. “We would save and pool our money, buying films as we could afford them. Nearly every formative film of significant influence for me I watched, often for the first time, while sitting on Jordan’s bed.”
They watched Candyman a lot. “We adored that film,” Cooper says. “In Tony Todd’s portrayal of Candyman, we were witness to a commanding, alluring, complex, romantic, dynamic and terrifying villain gleefully embodied by a performer of color. We would recite lines verbatim, obsess over minor characters, and generally scrutinize every detail. This kind of close-textual analysis became the bedrock of our friendship and it remains the common ground on which we play and create every day we work together.”
For all its admirable qualities, though, the 1992 film was also problematic, even for its time. Chief among its shortcomings were the unanswered question of why a Black man who had been the victim of white violence was now terrorizing a Black community, and why a white woman was at the center of this story. “The original film explored the legend of Candyman through Helen’s perspective,” Peele says. “But that movie struck me like a Black film. A movie for me. So, I wanted to make a movie that looked at this ghost story from a Black perspective.
About the Author
Bryen Dunn is a freelance journalist with a focus on travel, lifestyle, entertainment and hospitality. He has an extensive portfolio of celebrity interviews with musicians, actors and other public personalities. He enjoys discovering delicious eats, tasting spirited treats, and being mesmerized by musical beats.