Candyman has been gone for a long time. Almost 30 years ago, the ghostly urban legend became a modern day myth in the original 1992 film from Bernard Rose and Clive Barker—cutting up inner-city Chicago one bad game of “Bloody Mary” at a time. Yet it’s been more than two decades since he last appeared in one of that classic’s lesser sequels, and for some, that might be reason enough to finally utter the words “Candyman” five times into a mirror. If you’ve watched the new Candyman trailer though, you know that would be a deadly mistake. Indeed, the hook-handed killer never really left us.
At least that is the crux of director Nia DaCosta and producer/co-writer Jordan Peele’s reimagining. In a world where urban communities’ legacies are at risk of erasure from relentless developers, the forgotten atrocities of the past can still come back in painful and violent ways. The filmmakers suggested as much when they introduced the film at a press event yesterday.
“Gentrification in our film is what helped us reimagine the story, because Cabrini-Green is gone,” DaCosta says to a group of outlets, including Den of Geek. She is referring to a public housing project developed by the Chicago Housing Authority in the mid-20th century, beginning in 1942. Despite promising affordable homes for lower income families and residents, the Cabrini-Green community was left to deteriorate in the Near North Side of Chicago, largely abandoned by the city before finally being demolished between 1995 and 2011. The original Candyman was filmed and set in a neighborhood on death’s door in ’92—and Candyman (2020) promises to explore its afterlife.
“What we do in our film is talk about the ghosts that are left behind because of gentrification,” DaCosta continues. “In the original film, they’re already talking about the new buildings that are built, and the way that apartments are built, and moving between mirrors and apartments—how crime was able to happen because of how poorly those buildings were made versus the high-rises they made for the middle class.”
But even as neighborhoods’ aesthetics change, its roots do not. And it’s this foundation that made Candyman such an important touchstone in both Peele and DaCosta’s lives.
“My connection with Candyman is pretty simple,” Peele says at the beginning of the presentation. “It was one of the few movies that explored any aspect of the black experience in the horror genre in the ‘90s when I was growing up in that moment. So it was a real perfect example, an iconic example, of representation in the genre, and a movie that inspired me.”
It had much the same effect on DaCosta, who recalls growing up around projects similar to the ones depicted in Candyman and being scared to death by both what the film represented and Tony Todd’s iconic depiction of a vengeful ghost who was lynched a hundred years ago.
Says DaCosta, “The first thing I remember about Candyman is being scared to say his name in the bathroom of my middle school, which was right next to the projects… So that’s really what I wanted to bring back, the idea that he is omnipresent inside of a neighborhood and that he can haunt a neighborhood. Then Tony Todd also being that dude. That was huge for us to have a black anti-hero villain, just a black person in general who at least made it to the end of the film in horror. It was really, really important.”
It still leaves a hell of an impression, and one that turned out to be a mutual ice-breaker between Peele and DaCosta when they first met. Peele of course had seen DaCosta’s harrowing debut film, Little Woods, but upon meeting her, he found a kindred spirit who geeked out over the likes of David Cronenberg, Barker, and Rose. Candyman’s legend lived on. But while their film is under Peele’s Monkeypaw banner, DaCosta promises a different experience than what viewers might be used to after Get Out and Us.
“I really love gore,” DaCosta says. “What’s fun about working with Jordan is our horror settings are different. Jordan’s really brilliant at not showing everything, and my instinct is to do the exact opposite.” She then adds with a cryptic smile, “There’s a good amount of things you just don’t want to see that I make you look at.”
Judging from the trailer, with its ominous suggestion that Yahya Abdul-Mateen II’s protagonist, Anthony McCoy, is possessed by the spirit of the original Candyman, she may succeed. DaCosta and Peele remain tight lipped about what role Todd has in the actual film, although he is alleged to appear, just as they are a bit vague on how much of Phillip Glass’ nightmarishly melodic Candyman score will be in the new film (DaCosta promises there is “a nod” and perhaps something more). However, both are keen on preserving the iconography of one of horror’s greatest monsters.
And at least in the trailer, they’ve fully sunk their hooks into that legacy and appear ready to pass it on to the next generation.