Candyman Remake: Looking Back and Forward
By 1992 the slasher sub-genre had worn out its welcome, yet companies still continued to pump out sequel after sequel to any quasi successful franchise. Then there was Candyman, a film based off of a short story by horror icon, Clive Barker. Written and directed by Bernard Rose, a British national, there was something clearly different about this film – it was really good. Not only did it center upon the legend of a sympathetic black villain, but it dealt heavily with the shameful and bloody history of racism in the United States, and its continuation upon the black community. The quality of film and story were undeniable, thus, saving a place for Candyman in the halls of horror royalty. Soon we will have ourselves a new Candyman film, but this is no remake, and is certainly not some cheaply made sequel. By all accounts, judging from the original film, and what we know so far about the upcoming one, this could very well be an important film entry into the horror genre.
Helen is a beautiful, white graduate student working on her thesis on urban legends at a prestigious university in Chicago. She becomes fixated on the legend of Candyman, a looming figure with a hook for a hand who can be summoned after saying his name five times in the mirror. Helen’s research takes her to where the myth originated, an urban housing project named Cabrini-Green, uncovering the tragic story of Candyman’s death, and the terror he reigns over the people residing there. Though the film was written and directed by a British national, it is still an extremely poignant and penetrating essay on both the inherent brutality inflicted upon black America as well as the American class system.
Candyman (1992) took its time introducing its boogeyman, opting to further the narrative by not only firmly setting the foundation of the Candyman legend, but also juxtaposing the two worlds of the Chicago academia elite with the poverty stricken Cabrini-Green. Candyman is finally introduced after Helen doubts his existence to a frightened child who inhabits the housing project. Helen’s doubt reveals the heart of the film. Candyman’s strength comes directly from the fear received from the people of Cabrini-Green, and without it, he cannot exist. Therefore, Candyman is the embodiment of the absolute brutality inflicted upon the not so distant ancestors of black Americans, and to forget it would mean the dissolution of their existence. He is also the continuation of the fears brought about by history as a terrible reminder to never attempt to rise above your station in life or else suffer the same consequence as he.
Visually Stunning and Though Provoking
The visual story Bernard Rose chose to tell was that of class structure and societal distancing, not only by space but also by time. Helen and her friends represent a world that has purposefully pushed the things they wish to not see to the fringes of their own city, making it easier to do the same in their minds. Much like the memory of slavery, the people and area of Cabrini-Green exist, but the invisible barriers meant to keep them far away are continually reinforced and honored. Rose painted this picture by repeating a subtle pattern throughout his film. From the beginning of the film Helen is used as the visual representation of elitism. After a frightening, yet eye opening sequence in the second act where Helen and her friend visit Cabrini-Green for the first time, we cut to a close up of Helen having dinner at a fancy Chicago eatery. The harsh lighting of Cabrini-Green juxtaposed with the soft features of Helen tell us just how far apart these worlds truly are. Another example, later in the second act, after Helen is attacked by a drug dealer claiming to be Candyman, she speaks with a concerned detective about the ordeal. The very next scene takes us directly to a police lineup, otherwise known as an identity parade. All of the men in the lineup are black; a common theme throughout film and reality. We are being told that the single accusatory whisper of a white woman could bring together a collective group of assumed, guilty black men.
It is always interesting to see the optics from an interested outsider’s prospective. Without direct involvement in American culture, there was a certain amount of objectivity afforded to Rose when he wrote and directed the original film. However, there is serious intrigue to seeing Nia DaCosta’s take on Candyman. DaCosta has not, up until now, dipped her toe into the horror genre, however, her producer and co-writer is Jordan Peele, a quickly budding virtuoso of terror. Both DaCosta and Peele are both African American, so this will not be an objective piece and considering we are all subjective by nature, this take on the franchise feels to be more personal. What we can expect is that this story will now be told from an entirely different perspective. Both DaCosta and Peele have experienced racism, and have been labelled as “other” throughout their lives simply by being black. Add in the fact that DaCosta is a woman, and now what we have is a chance to tell this story from an African American perspective, both male and female.
Anothony McCoy, a young, black artist, moves back to the neighborhood he grew up in, Cabrini-Green. However, Cabrini-Green is no longer a housing project. Long destroyed by real estate developers, the area is now completely gentrified, and a haven for young professionals looking for a trendy neighborhood in Chicago without the hefty price tag of Downtown. Anthony is an intriguing character in that he is not new to the franchise. Harkening back to the original film, Candyman kidnapped a baby to use as leverage to convince Helen to join him. That baby was Anthony. We can assume this by the fact that the forever lovely Vanessa Williams will be reprising her role as his mother Anne-Marie McCoy. We also know that Anthony takes an interest in the legend of Candyman, and begins to use him as a muse for his art installations. His work finds admirers within the Chicago art scene, and soon, Candyman is unleashed upon the entire city, and possibly beyond. Of course, all we have to go on is the trailer for the film, and the tidbits of information gathered from numerous articles about the film, but here is a good guess about what the film’s focus will be.
Candyman in Art and the Mirror Motif
With the bit of information we have about the upcoming film, as well as what we know about the original Candyman, one could possibly draw a line from the original to what we might expect from the this spiritual sequel come June (September) 2020. Since the new installment will be shown through the eyes of Cabrini Green’s own Anthony, as opposed to that of a high status white woman in Helen, it can safely be assumed this will be a more personal film in regards to Candyman himself. If Helen was a symbol of class separation, then Anthony could be a symbol of what has been pushed further away, and eventually erased completely from mainstream culture. Assuming Candyman is still a representation of the cycle of the violence, poverty, and imprisonment carried over from slavery, and that Cabrini Green, the very place of Candyman’s death, has been destroyed and replaced by something modern and purposefully not black, you can imagine a narrative surrounding Anthony’s supposed symbolism. The direct relative of the thing that enslaved African Americans is now responsible for trying to eliminate that very fact from our memories.
What can be found in the trailers is what seems to be a higher importance placed upon the mirror theme, or motif. The original film used mirrors as a device to explain the urban legend of Candyman, likening the act to a modern day Bloody Mary. This new film seems to be using it as a device to unleash Candyman onto the world, much like how it was explained in the urban legend of the original film. The mirror theme seems to be used in a traditional sense, as in one’s own reflection and what they see. It is very possible that when the characters within this world jokingly beckon for Candyman to appear, what they are actually facing is their own complicity in the erasure of inconvenient truths. Either they have somehow profited, though indirectly, from the massacre of black Americans, or have sit idly by and did nothing as it did and continues to happen.
Another clue pulled from the trailer is that we witness Anthony seeing the image of Candyman staring back at him in the mirror. Considering DaCosta and Peele claim this is a sequel of sorts, this actually makes a ton of sense. Think of the importance of Helen’s character to the overall history of Candyman and then think about what part Anthony played in the original film. Helen was a modern replacement for the woman Candyman loved when he was alive, so what does that mean for Anthony? We know that Anthony is a struggling artist trying to fit into a world where is he isn’t a natural fit, and by all means not wanted. By taking the legend of Candyman and commercializing him, he is in effect exploiting his culture, and the slaughter of his ancestors to rise above his birth status. So if Anthony sees Candyman in the mirror instead of himself, what do you think it means? Remember, Candyman was also an artist.
Return of the Slasher?
40 years after the advent of slasher films, we get another one, albeit an established title. It is no remake, and from what we can surmise, is no half assed attempt to cash in on a memory. The original Candyman was a carefully crafted film, which is what set it apart from other slashers that came before and after. When it comes to horror films one should never make promises, but like a successful gambler you can lessen your risk by paying attention to the details. So while Candyman (2020) could be a dud, we are willing to bet the farm that it won’t be. The team behind the new film is too talented, and the groundwork set from the original is too rich. If waiting until September to see this film makes you antsy, I would suggest going back and re-watching the original. It won’t help temper your impatience, but it will be a reminder of how good it was.