"Tell Everyone" - Candyman
This is a film I’ve both looked forward to and simultaneously, kind of dreaded.
I’ve long been a fan of the original from way back in 1992, and re-watched it and its two sequels in preparing for this movie’s release. I hadn’t seen Farewell to the Flesh (1995) or Day of the Dead (1999) in about 20 years and I was pleasantly surprised at how well they’d stood the test of time.
My problem was with Jordan Peele. I’ve seen Us (2019) which for the most part, I liked. It was a suspenseful, taut horror which quickly unravelled when director Peele clumsily tried to explain away the events of the film, which in my mind, would’ve been more effectively left as a mystery. Later on, I saw one of Peele’s reimagined Twilight Zone episodes which we were covering for the Resonance Rewind show. The Twilight Zone is my all-time favourite show (the original, which ran from 1959 – 1964) and what we were covering was a reimagining of one of my favourite episodes of my favourite show, Nightmare at 20,000 Feet. What I saw bore very little resemblance to the original, and instead became a tale of a white passenger harassing passengers of various ethnic backgrounds because he’s heard a mysterious podcast that the plane won’t reach its destination. A sci-fi story about a nervous passenger seeing a gremlin on the wing, destroying the engine had been abandoned in favour of an agenda.
This review may well cost me some readers and some followers on social media, because although my intention is to cover the film giving an honest opinion – it’s impossible to do that without touching upon producer Peele’s race agenda because it’s so prevalent. But that’s not exactly why the film didn’t work for me, though the constant hammering of the message is indeed a factor.
Candyman is the one horror movie character that doesn’t need to be updated and reimagined with a Black Lives Matter branding. It’s already there. Candyman is the ORIGINAL horror film BLM character, dating back before the phrase was coined. His backstory, as related in the first film and repeated in the second and third is horrifying and tragic.
Candyman is a vengeful spirit, who is summoned by looking in a mirror and saying “candyman” five times. He will appear and skewer you with the hook he has for a hand. Basically, a spin on the Bloody Mary story. His origins as told in the films are that he was Daniel Robitaille (Tony Todd) the well-schooled, cultured son of an ex-slave. He was an in-demand artist, who painted the wealthy and made a good living doing so. It all came to a bad end when Robitaille fell in love with the daughter of one of his rich clients and she became pregnant. The enraged father hired some thugs who chased Robitaille down, beat him savagely, sawed off his right hand and rammed a hook into the stump. Then they stripped him, covered him with honeycombs from nearby hives so he was stung to death.
With a backstory like that, Candyman can be relevant at any time, and in the films, he has become an urban legend in the Cabrini Green area of Chicago, where the film is set. Cabrini Green being a run-down ghetto.
THAT'S the story that should've been told here, as a metaphor, it would've worked fine. Tell that origin story in full detail from his father's last days as a slave, to Robitaille's death at the hands of the mob. As he dies, (with Robitaille being played by a younger actor obviously) cut to a mother, telling her child the story as Tony Todd now as the Candyman looking on, as a vague, fading shadow in a mirror. He turns to the camera and says "tell everyone". You've just fleshed out the character with a harrowing story that echoes the BLM movement and their righteous rage.
What the 2021 version gives us is a direct sequel to the first film. Disregarding the second and third. Okay, so that has also happened in the Halloween franchise so nothing new for horror fans to complain about. We can handle that.
Peele co-wrote this with director Nia DaCosta and Win Rosenfeld, and together they’ve created a means of keeping the Candyman urban myth relevant which is ingeniously inventive, but also completely needless. Drawing very heavily on the events of the first film and in particular some of the characters, is a good move to ensure continuity. But then, typically it all falls apart by the heavy-handed agenda that Peele is promoting, that actually weakens the Candyman character by diluting it.
The Candyman of this film isn’t Daniel Robitaille, we have a brand new Candyman in the form of Sherman Fields (Michael Hargrove) who wore a long coat with a fur collar, like Robitaille, and had a hook for a hand. In the late seventies, he used to hand out candy to the kids (I don’t think I’d have accepted candy from a stranger with a hook for a hand as a kid, personally) but one day – one of the sweets had a razor blade in it and the police began hunting for Fields as a suspect.
Long story short – one day, they catch up to him and beat him to death. In the aftermath of the tragic and needless death of George Floyd at the hands of the police, this killing of a black man by white cops in a horror film has the subtlety and sensitivity of a sledgehammer. The swarm of bees which killed Robitaille is, according to the dialogue, replaced by a “swarm” of white cops. A few days later, more candy with razor blades inside appeared, thus proving that Fields was killed unnecessarily. He was innocent.
Our central character this time is an artist named Anthony McCoy (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, who begins delving into the urban legends of (get this) not only Fields, but Robitaille and others, and gets sucked into the legend in the now upmarket, redeveloped Cabrini Green. So, there isn’t just ONE Candyman. Confusingly, Candyman is whoever person of colour has been persecuted, prosecuted and/or executed by white people and over the years there have been a few of them. This, as I said, dilutes the power and nobility of the original. I’m assuming that as Candyman has to have a long overcoat with a fur collar and a hook for a right hand, all those who assumed the mantle already had those items in their wardrobe.
There ARE some good sequences, for example, Candyman is only visible in a mirror or reflective surface. While we can see the victims being slashed, we can only see Candyman actually doing the slashing in a reflection like a window, mirror or similar surface, and this IS effective.
Even as the film ends, the credits are shown over shadow puppet depictions of the events that led some of the other Candymen to become vengeance spirits – and they’re all at the hands of white people.
Ultimately, the reimagining and retooling of the character doesn’t work. Not even a late cameo by Tony Todd saves the day. The relentless messaging soon wears thin and the film becomes tedious as a horror icon is clearly being messed with to promote Peele’s well documented outrage.
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