‘…reasonably slick and well made, Candyman’s 2021 incarnation feels like marginal notes…’

Dare you say his name five times? Well, maybe the fifth film will be the charm, because summoning the spirit of the supernatural serial killer seems to be a tough ask. No-one is hotter in the horror cinema world right now than Jordan Peele, on the back of hits Get Out and Us, but even he seems to have struggled to find a clear through-line here. Is this a sequel, a reboot, or a riff on the urban legend of Candyman? Ninety minutes later, you’ll still be wondering…

With a script co-written by Peel, Nia DaCosta’s film at least picks a direction and goes for it. We’re still deep in the Chicago projects, the Cabrini-Green housing project featured in Bernard Rose’s original film, and there’s a few remarks on gentrification that resemble those provided the social context first time around. Visual artist Anthony McCoy (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II) taps into the legend, but is Candyman real, or just a collective hallucination? Or could McCoy himself be the Candyman; is Candyman just a costume that gets worn by mortal individuals, like Santa Claus? McCoy’s art feeds on the myth, but when people start turning up dead in and around the art-gallery where McCoy’s work is exhibited, the artist begins to fear for his sanity….

Dacosta has got plenty of ideas to play with, but making a visceral horror movie isn’t one of them. There’s only a couple of set-pieces, one involving girls in a public toilet, and none of them lead to quite the expected blood-letting, or any dramatic tension. But there’s a lot of chat about art and legends, perhaps too much; like another wannabe horror revival, Suspiria, Candyman seems to rely far too much on advancing the subtext rather than the text, and the results fall flat. It’s cool to take a black character that was created by two white men and change the details, but somehow Candyman never looks like sticking the landing with any flair.

Cameos from Virginia Madsen and Tony Todd also play against type here; Madsen’s voice is heard on tapes McCoy plays, and Todd turns up in the final scene for a cameo. Neither appearance satisfies; Peele has a big idea, tying the Candyman mythos into issues concerning police brutality, but Dacosta seems more preoccupied with animated Babadook-style cut-scenes rather than creating a visceral story which grabs you by the throat.

Reasonably slick and well made, Candyman’s 2021 incarnation feels like marginal notes; the ideas are there, but the development is sorely lacking. The sense of dream logic in the first film simply isn’t here; the post-modern approach (aren’t we all Candyman? wasn’t Candyman inside us all along?) doesn’t go for much when the main character is largely off-screen, unthreatening and less interesting with every confusing detail of his story that gets revealed. Even starting the film with Sammy Davis Jr singing the Candyman song just feels like one more cultural reference that’s slavish rather than knowing.



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    • Yes. It’s all about the “soul” of the story when it comes to adapting books or rebooting films. Case in point: The Dark Tower. Talk about off the rails and missing the “internal organs” of what made the King book work so well.

      However, The Shining (the Kubrick one), which detracted greatly from the text and disappointed me at first, grew over the years. Now it’s definitive and the other shots taken with it disappointed me, even though they were closer the the “soul” of it all.

      • Sometimes that “soul” is not transferable of course and a great director can bring it to the screen with a different sensitivity. Since I often add a “Book into Film” section to films I review I’ve become quite interested in how and why the screen versions so often differ.

        • Yes. I’ve reviewed quite a few books turned to films. One of the boondoggles was Damnation Alley. A real boondoggle! Now, even though it differed from the book, Kubrick did get the “soul” with The Shining. I didn’t see it at the time, but have over the years.

  1. I don’t understand how this particular horror franchise has stuck around, especially with only 5 movies. Freddy, Jason, even Pinhead, they all had double digits for movies, but poor old candyman only has five.

    • I guess the black element makes it ripe for remaking, but I’m not such that bringing in police brutality was a great fit here.

      • I agree: the policy brutality angle and turning the Candyman into a “social warrior” was a great marketing tool — on the “hot button” surface. However, from the comments on the IMDb, the film is offensive to many and the “preachy” aspects diminished the entertainment cache the franchise brought to the table. Vulture and Polygon summed that perspective on the work pretty well, I felt. I know Rotten Tomatoes skews to the positive, but after Travolta’s Gotti rating-manipulation snafu with that platform. . . .

        Everyone keep saying “box office hit,” but $73 million against $25 — when you add in the P&A costs, which usually matches or doubles the budget — this isn’t the box office rally that was projected.

        • I’m so fed up with films debuting with roughly twenty millions and hailed as hits. P and A cost may be lower, but these films are making a fraction of what would be expected. They could have been pretty creative with Candyman and people would have lapped it up, but the lack of scares or suspense went against it. Although not as painfully long or overblown, it reminded me of Suspiria, too much noodling with subtext, while failing at telling the basic story.

            • It’s like reading reviews rather than watching films; all very well generating social-political context, but horror movies need scares!

              • Yes. There’s a time to “think” with a movie. But a horror film: I want to be shocked, not bludgeon with a message. Please, not a thinking man’s Halloween. No, a socially engineered Freddy Kruger is not a better Freddy Kruger.

          • “Hits” go back to the ’70s, when you got a guy like Burt Reynolds and made a film for a million five (major studio budget back then) and it cleans up several times over. A film like Hustle was made for 3 mil and cleared 10. Burt spoke of White Lightning, that made back its budget over one weekend/week just in the South — the market it was intended for. The rest was “gravy,” as he put: other words. Profit. No studio wants — but gets it more often than not — The Last Action Hero, which takes over 10 years to turn profitability via cable and video. Studios need the profit at the box office out of the gate. That’s why Burt, Newman, and McQueen became what they became.

            • Totally, I think most films take 5 to 7 years to recoup. But today, films are being feted as hits for making fairly paltry sums, or to create a ‘good news’ story. I can’t think of a single major release that opened with more than half of what might have been expected. So these results may be positive given that cinema were mainly closed for a year. But until the pandemic is sorted, I can’t see cinema being a profitable business. And let’s bear in mind that percentages are much more shared than they used to be, so no-one is winning big….

              • Yes. But 5 to 7 years. . . How do studios float those books for so long and keep the shingle swingin’ is an accounting shell game for sure. But point taken: those days of a film breaking even within a week are long over.

    • And The Tallman of Phantasm. Well, Coscarelli screwed that up, didn’t he. Angus Scrimm deserved a Kruger-Englund stardom of franchise with decent films — not the likes of everything after P2.

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