Not the 2021 Jordan Peele re-imagining, yet; popping up on Netflix UK as a primer, this is the 1993 Bernard Rose version of the horror property that spawned several sequels. Peele is a hot property post his Oscar-winning Get Out, but the reaction to his Twilight Zone revamp suggested that there were limits to his mercurial rise. But Candyman is a good choice for an upgrade; set in black projects of Chicago, it’s the creation of two white creatives, Rose and original author Clive Barker, and was based on a short story called The Forbidden, originally set in Liverpool.
Instead, we’re relocated to the Cabrini Green housing projects in Chicago, where a spirit haunts the unfortunates who live in the dingy high-rises. Candyman has a hook for a hand and trails a path of bees; why he’s not called bee-man or hook-man isn’t clear, although there’s a brief scene in which children’s sweets are shown with razor-blades embedded inside that isn’t fully explained; is this a trap for children or Candyman? Helen Lyle (Virginia Madsen) is an academic with an interest in urban legends, and sets out to find out, only to incur the ire of the titular monster.
Is Candyman such a monster? We’re told, in a breathless origins story that’s not shown at all, he was an innocent black man who was tortured and killed by a white man for getting his daughter pregnant. But Rose’s film firmly confirms Candyman (Tony Todd) as a baddie; all you have to do is stand in front of a mirror and say his name five times to summon his vengeful spirit. But at least he’s an original baddie; part of the allure of Rose’s vision is that most of his film takes place in daylight and in modern settings. The ghetto graffiti gives Rose’s film an unusual pop-art feel, and the choral Phillip Glass soundtrack is choice.
Helen Lyle’s discovery that her own gentrified condo was once part of the Cabrini Green ghetto is a resonant variation on the Indian burial ground cliche, and one presumes that urban betrayal is where Peele will take this material. Barker’s interest in infidelity is well explored via late plot twists, and Rose brings his usual sense of visual flair to a simple, effective chiller. But actually, it’s the underused Madsen who really excels here; she hits the right notes for a woman on the brink of insanity, and helps make Candyman one of the smarter, more cerebral horror films on the block.