Man in the Mirror
Total Film|September 2020
A reimagining of one of the scariest – and most politically charged – genre movies ever made, the new Cand yman is horror for the Black Lives Matter era. Director Nia DaCosta and stars Yahya Abdul-Mateen II and Teyonah Parris discuss terrors new and old, imagined and all too real…
JAMIE GRAHAM

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’.”

Continue reading your story on the app

Continue reading your story in the magazine

MORE STORIES FROM TOTAL FILMView All

The Avenger - PROMISING YOUNG WOMAN

Emerald Fennell’s twist on the revenge thriller is a provocative stunner.

2 mins read
Total Film
January 2021

Chris Evans IS HEADING FOR INFINITY…

The first time I saw the suit I thought, ‘This could be the suit I die in,’” Chris Evans told us from the set of Captain America: The First Avenger. A decade on, it’s safe to say Evans owned that suit. And he will soon own another suit, as worn by another American (and fleetingly Spanish) hero.

2 mins read
Total Film
January 2021

WONDER WOMAN 1984 12A

back in time NO MORE WAITING FOR GADOT…

4 mins read
Total Film
January 2021

WHAT LIES BENEATH

Ralph Fiennes and Carey Mulligan dug deep to portray real-life treasure hunters uncovering Sutton Hoo in The Dig. They tell Total Film how the right hat, emotional connection and being buried alive made a period drama a personal matter...

10+ mins read
Total Film
January 2021

west end boys

RUSSELL T. DAVIES HEADS BACK TO THE ’80S – AND THE AIDS CRISIS…

4 mins read
Total Film
January 2021

The WITCHING HOUR

It’s the twist no one saw coming – turning the MCU into a sitcom and asking Dick Van Dyke to help tell Marvel’s most ambitious story to date. The cast and crew of WandaVision tell us what to expect from Phase 4’s new chapter…

7 mins read
Total Film
January 2021

A Big Plus

DISNEY I At the recent Investor Day, the Mouse House dropped the motherlode. TF unpacks all the details we can physically cram in…

5 mins read
Total Film
January 2021

STAR WARS BOOKS

American epic space-opera media franchise, centered on a film series

2 mins read
Total Film
January 2021

'YOU HAVE TO DO THINGS WRONG SOMETIMES TO KNOW HOW TO DO THINGS RIGHT' - ROSAMUND PIKE

From Bond girl to Gone Girl, Rosamund Pike likes to confound expectations with diverse roles championing strong women. But as she heads into black comedy with festival favourite I Care A Lot, she tells Total Film that she likes a challenge...

10+ mins read
Total Film
January 2021

Fast & Furious 9

The turbocharged franchise revs up its next huge installment...

9 mins read
Total Film
January 2021
RELATED STORIES

DYNAMIC UNIBODY DUO

Father-Son Restos Build Memories

5 mins read
Drive!
May 2020