The latest sequel continuing the trend of being titled the same as the film its following is Candyman – the follow-up to the 1992 horror classic starring the great Tony Todd as the titular boogeyman. Based on the trailer, the new Jordan Peele-produced Candyman appeared to be a remake, but it’s actually a sequel to the original film. However, instead of just being a continuation, Candyman 2021 (which is what it will be referred to from here on out) explores how problematic the original is, while going for real-world horror rather than typical movie horror.

Fans of the original Candyman might be disappointed in this sequel because Candyman 2021 overtly wants to get a message across. It doesn’t want to make you so scared you close your eyes, it wants to make you so scared you open them wide enough to see what’s going on in the world when it comes to the black community. Yes, this is a movie about white supremacy, gentrification and more. While Candyman 1992 fans might be frustrated this new version takes a deliberately political turn, truthfully, the story of Candyman has always been political.

Candyman 1992 was based on a story by prolific writer Clive Barker called The Forbidden which was about class in Liverpool and revolved around an urban legend about a killer wielding a hook known as Candyman. When adapted as a film, writer-director Bernard Rose changed the theme of the movie from class to race and made Candyman black and had him terrorizing a real housing project in Chicago called Cabrini Green. Candyman’s movie backstory is that he fell in love with a white woman and was murdered because of it. Now, he returns and kills whomever summoned him whenever his name is recited five times into a mirror. The pros of the original film is that it proved a black actor could play just as effective a boogeyman as Robert Englund or Doug Bradley. Tony Todd gives a masterfully terrifying performance and audiences can’t seem to forget his chilling voice. Having said that, the cons are that the story is still problematic. Despite being a popular film, many in the black community have taken issue with the fact that Candyman terrorizes members of the black community and they don’t understand why he would. Now, you may think that’s not an issue. After all, white serial killers in movies kill other white people. The issue is Candyman’s origin story is rooted in race. He’s a victim of discrimination, so why would he kill poor black people? 

Candyman 2021 attempts to address the original’s problematic issues but only partially succeeds. While the film’s message is an important one, how it’s delivered is where the film struggles. Politics in horror movies is nothing new. Movies like Night of The Living Dead and The People Under The Stairs are great examples of political horror movies but Candyman 2021 seems more interested in the politics than the horror. The movie revolves around a painter, Anthony, (Yahya Abdul-Matten II) who decides his next subject will be the Cabrini Green projects and Candyman. However, the Candyman this film revolves around is a different Candyman. Instead of Tony Todd’s Daniel Robitaille, the new Candyman is Sherman Fields, a man unjustly murdered by police years prior. The film posits that there are actually many “Candymen,” all victims of violence against black people (which is cleverly depicted in the film’s closing credits using puppets) and their supernatural abilities are born out of black pain and tragedy. The always amazing Colman Domingo plays Billy, a Cabrini Green resident who tells Anthony about Daniel Robitaille, and all the other Candymen that have come since. It’s revealed that Anthony is the son of one of the residents terrorized by Candyman in the original film. In Candyman 1992, Candyman tries to sacrifice Anthony until he’s saved by Virgina Madsen’s character Helen Lyle. While this is an interesting tie into the original, it plays too much with the lore of the first film. In the original, Daniel Robitaille gets his hand chopped off and replaced with a hook, yet Sherman Fields also has a hook for a hand, and wears the same kind of jacket. Having multiple Candyman legends throughout time is an interesting idea but do they have to look the same too? Anthony is stung by a bee early in the film, his wound grows and by the end of the movie, his body has completely deteriorated and he discovers he’s turning into the next Candyman. Billy decides to use this for his masterplan to create a new Candyman legend. The concept of Anthony slowly morphing into Candyman isn’t exactly original and it’s not really even explained how exactly Billy knows Anthony is supposed to be the next Candyman. Billy’s idea is to change the legend and turn Candyman from being a victim of black pain to an avenger – a supernatural figure who protects those who need help instead of killing them. To do this, Billy cuts off Anthony’s hand, gives him a hook and even a similar Candyman jacket. In the end, after Anthony’s girlfriend is erroneously arrested, she’s able to summon Anthony, now Candyman, who kills the police and saves her life. Clearly, director Nia DaCosta is talented and has something important to say but there are too many plot holes and contrivances to get us there.

Candyman 2021’s message is an important one, and while Candyman could be seen as a prescient film right now, perhaps it would have been better if an original story was crafted instead and maybe not even under the guise of a slasher flick. Candyman 2021 is a scary movie because of what it says about the state of the black community vs white supremacy in today’s culture, but it fails at being a scary horror movie. The movie lacks any real scares or true tension-filled moments that made the original so good. While the original film left viewers with horrifying imagery such as the infamous bathroom scene or Todd’s mouth filled with actual bees, Candyman 2021 fails to have any. This may have been on purpose but the scariest scenes in the movie don’t have much to do with horror at all. Sherman Fields’ murder by police is marvelously well directed and horrifyingingly realistic. When the movie attempts actual horror movie moments, it oddly fails to rise above being a generic slasher film. While the original may be problematic, it succeeds as a great horror film. Audiences just have to decide what they want in a horror movie. Do they want to see monsters? Or do they want to see a movie about life’s real monsters? There is no wrong answer as both can be equally terrifying. It all comes down to skillfully applying one to the other. Candyman 2021’s ideas are important and should be heard, but Candyman may have been the wrong vessel in which to bring them to audiences.

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