Candyman is Relevant as Ever… We Need the Sequel

With the new Jordan Peele-produced Candyman sequel delayed (yet again) into 2021, I figured it would be a good time to dive into the original film.

Released in 1992, this groundbreaking horror film still holds up today. It’s as relevant as ever, and its planned sequel is, for the reasons below, more than necessary.

Helen meets Candyman.
Helen meets Candyman (image credits: PolyGram Filmed Entertainment)

The Legend

If you haven’t seen Candyman yet, please do so. Immediately. I’ll be the first to admit: I’d heard great things about the film, but never got around to actually seeing it until shortly after the 2021 sequel was announced. My first reaction while watching? Why did it take so long for me to see this?

On its surface, it may seem like your typical 90’s slasher. The film follows white grad-student Helen, who is researching the local Chicago legend of “Candyman.” It’s similar to the familiar Bloody Mary legends we all grew up with: say his name five times in a mirror, and the Candyman spirit will appear behind you… complete with a hook as an arm–out for blood.

Candyman has a lot of depth below the surface level of its plot.
Candyman has a lot of depth below the surface level of its plot (image credits: PolyGram Filmed Entertainment)

Candyman’s Subtext

Below the surface level of the plot, there’s actually a lot of depth to Candyman.

The film is based on the Clive Barker short story “The Forbidden,” though it replaces the story’s Liverpool setting with Chicago’s Cabrini-Green’s public housing development. In doing so, the film was able to act as an effective social commentary on the very real themes of race and class in America.

A lot of the film’s horror was more psychological than in-your-face jumpscares and gore. The type of psychological horror it appealed to? The white middle-class’ racial fears. Acknowledging and attempting to commentate on this uncomfortable reality brought with it some expected controversy, though.

Tony Todd plays as the titular Candyman.
Tony Todd plays as the titular Candyman (image credits: PolyGram Filmed Entertainment)

Controversies

At the time of the film’s release, there were concerns about its depictions of race. The film used racial stereotypes and myths to set up and drive home the effective subtext of the middle class’ black fears. In addition, and retrospectively most significant, the titular villain was played by actor Tony Todd, becoming the first black killer portrayed in a horror film.

“It was one of the few movies that explored any aspect of the black experience in the horror genre in the ’90s,” said Jordan Peele, producer of upcoming Candyman sequel. “It was an iconic example to me of representation in the genre and a movie that inspired me.”

Since its release, it’s become a historic and culturally important film. Even at its time of release, the NAACP gave its blessings to release it, to which Todd later stated: “They wanted to see an advance script. They were just afraid that the image of a black boogeyman would be offensive, but they didn’t know what kind of film we were making. That’s a very intelligent film.”Though problematic stereotypes were used, they were included to add horror through the uncomfortable reality of race relations in America.

The film at large consistently diverts viewer expectations, and strays from over-the-top gore or tropes of the genre. Instead, it plays on this uncomfortable and frightening reality that is, perhaps most horrifying of all, still relevant as ever. A sequel couldn’t be timelier.

Candyman has a planned 2021 sequel.
Candyman has a planned 2021 sequel (image credits: PolyGram Filmed Entertainment)

Planned 2021 Sequel

Since a sequel couldn’t come at a better time, it is more important than ever to do it right. For that, this sequel will be made with a team of all black creators.

Director Nia DaCosta told Empire: “There is definitely a sense of taking ownership, and telling a Black story about Black people… and for this experience to be through the Black lens.”

This is, of course, the lens that the story needs to be told through. As we eagerly await this sequel, the anticipation only mounts knowing that the inspirational historical significance and subtext is being brought to the forefront.

By Ben Goldman

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