I was in Harlem,” starts Nia DaCosta, the director of the new imagining of Candyman. She’s trying to recall the first time she watched Bernard Rose’s 1992 original, a horror movie so terrifying it’s still whispered of to this day. And here’s the thing: she can’t. “I was in the fifth or sixth grade, and I just remember Candyman being a part of life,” she muses. “Like legend, lore. We didn’t dare say his name in the mirror. For me, Candyman felt so real. It felt like he could totally exist in the projects by my house.”
For leading man Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, it’s the same. “Man, I remember images of Candyman but I don’t remember sitting down to watch the movie,” he says. “He lived in my imagination, in the retelling of Candyman. I grew up with Candyman not being a figure from television or movies, but with the possibility of him being a real threat within the house. The dread of Candyman was palpable.”
Is there a theme here? It seems so. “I wasn’t allowed to watch the movie, but I remember seeing the image of Candyman,” shudders female lead Teyonah Parris. “We knew we were not supposed to say ‘Candyman’ in the mirror five times. My brothers and I would taunt each other with that. The legend of Candyman was definitely a part of my childhood.”
All in their early thirties, DaCosta, Abdul-Mateen, and Parris were nippers when the original Candyman came out, and it’s fitting that it reached them by word of mouth. Rose’s film, based on Clive Barker’s short story The Forbidden in Volume V of the Books Of Blood (1985), is, after all, about the power of myth. In it, student Helen Lyle (Virginia Madsen) decides to write a thesis about local legends and visits the Cabrini-Green housing project on Chicago’s North Side (or, in Barker’s story, the fictional Spector Street Estate in Liverpool), where a hook-handed killer is rumored to appear if you dare say his name five times in front of a mirror. “Our crimes will be written on a thousand walls… told and retold by our faithful believers,” purrs Candyman (Tony Todd) when he duly manifests. He is a terrifyingly seductive killer, powered by urban legend as surely as Freddy Krueger is fuelled by fear and bad dreams in A Nightmare On Elm Street. He is, to pinch a line from The Forbidden, “immortal in gossip and graffiti.”
To remake (or to offer a “spiritual sequel” to) such an iconic horror movie would normally be considered foolish: genre fans didn’t exactly dance with glee when it was announced that the likes of The Fog, Poltergeist and The Wicker Man were getting reboots, and their worst fears were, if anything, not bleak enough. But with Candyman, there is only anticipation. Call it the ‘Jordan Peele Effect’, for it’s the man who gave us Get Out and Us who is behind the new Candyman, not only co-writing (with Win Rosenfeld and DaCosta) but producing – Monkeypaw Productions, the company he founded in 2012, is Candyman’s new home. But with Peele’s seal of quality comes its own pressures…
Taking The Myth
“The original was a landmark film for black representation in the horror genre,” said Peele in a statement released after the new Candyman was announced, in November 2018. “Alongside Night Of The Living Dead, Candyman was a major inspiration for me as a filmmaker. We are honored to bring the next chapter in the Candyman canon to life.”
DaCosta draws in a breath. “There are expectations around Jordan: what kind of movie is he going to make, and what cultural impact is it going to have? I never usually think about that when I’m making TV or a film. So I was like, ‘Oh wow’.”
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