Let’s give Jordan Peele’s ‘Candyman’ remake a chance to intrigue and horrify us
It's one of those films that actually reached out at us from behind the screen with a bloody hook and drags us all into the horror.
by Andrew Keahey
Though there were many films that came before it, there are few Black horror films more revered than the 1992 classic Candyman, starring the frighteningly well-cast Tony Todd. Based on the short story “The Forbidden” by Clive Barker, Candyman is the dark tale of a graduate student doing research on urban legends, when she stumbles into story of the Candyman.
He was the son of a slave who grew up in higher society due to his father’s lucrative industrial invention, eventually becoming an artist of great renown. But he fell prey to a lynch mob, sent after him by the father of his white lover after he fathered a child with her. They cut off the hand he used to paint with, and covered him in honey, resulting in his death after being stung by hundreds of bees. He was then burned, and his ashes scattered around what became a housing project in Chicago known as Cabrini-Green.
The grad student, Helen (Virginia Madsen), proceeds to uncover an urban legend regarding his vengeful spirit, hearing a rumor that you can summon him by saying his name in a mirror five times, which of course she does. Why wouldn’t she? What follows is a carnival of terrors as only Clive Barker can conceive of it. That is to say, disturbing, insanely violent, and oddly beautiful.
Since its release, Candyman has been frightening people young and old alike, be it from viewing the film, or simply hearing the legend around a campfire or at a sleepover. I know that I was one of thousands of children who huddled with my friends around the mirror in a darkened bathroom, chanting his name four times before getting too scared to say it the fatal, final time. There was always that one kid that did end up saying it, and the rest of us would all laugh about it together, but we all knew exactly who to place the blame on if we woke up and found that kid shredded. Hell, I stood in the mirror at one point while in the process of writing this essay, and it still makes me nervous to say his name. That’s the impact of Candyman.
It’s one of those films that actually reaches out at us from behind the screen with a bloody hook and drags us all into the horror. Not only was it breaking ground with its release by bringing a Black slasher into the genre, but it was one of the first to do so while including commentary on race, poverty, and privilege. Granted, Black horror already has that focus, but there hadn’t been a slasher of this caliber, and certainly not one that wasn’t a parody or reimagining, like Blacula or Abby, the Blaxploitation film that heavily borrowed from The Exorcist. Candyman isn’t a perfect film, but most slashers could hardly be considered perfect. This one very much earned its place in history as one of the best.
Well, the rumor mill has been turning swiftly this week, as its been reported that Jordan Peele is in talks to reboot the film with his company Monkey Paw Productions. It’s unclear if Peele himself will direct the production, but his involvement suggests that a newer production will focus on the social aspects of the story, while injecting it with his own brand of unsettling imagery and a focus on high-quality scares.
We’ve seen horror franchises be resurrected before, and to be completely honest, the results are usually pretty unimpressive. Friday the 13th and A Nightmare on Elm Street both received updates that lacked the charm of the originals. So we are right to be wary, and as I found out from the comments on various horror news sites, many people are.
There’s the usual crowd that pops up anytime anything gets a remake, insistent that the new film won’t be able to live up to the original. Then there are the people who hear Jordan Peele’s name, and understand that the new film will engage with racial issues–further pushing the Hollywood elite’s left-leaning agenda–and assume it will skimp out on the horror entirely.
Honestly, we probably don’t need a new Candyman. The original was a beautiful Clive Barker nightmare that scared the hell out of lots of people and featured a killer who wouldn’t just kill you, but would actively destroy your entire life before dragging you into the hell that he has to keep living. But, at the same time, maybe it’s time to bring the legend back for another go.
The rise in socially conscious, carefully crafted horror has been meteoric, and it’s showing at the box office. People still love their hack-n-slash bloodbaths, and their torture porn, but collective minds are opening to the ideas and nuance of well-made horror films in a way that they never have before, to the point where people don’t even know how to classify it. Get Out was nominated for a Golden Globe as a comedy because it made people uncomfortable. They didn’t want to admit that it had the weight that it did, and I feel like that’s how people viewed Candyman. They remember the scares and the bloodshed, but they forget what it had to say about the state of race in America.
In short, we’ll need to see what new details of this project float to the surface as it moves along the pipeline in the future. I’m inclined to believe that a Jordan Peele interpretation will do the original film justice, while shaping the narrative to fit the current state of race in this country. The fear will be there, and so will the message. It just remains to be seen if it can live up to the iconic original. I encourage you to keep an open mind about it, and remember that even if it doesn’t turn out the way we wanted, we can always go back and watch the original.
Whether you’re lamenting or celebrating the news of the reboot, keep in mind the very nature of legend and myth, as they are not set in stone. They are stories flowing from person to person; each mouth and ear shaping the story in new and ever changing ways. The exploration of urban legend and myth is the fuel that drives the plot of Candyman, and now that idea is essentially exploring itself.
The words may change, the faces might shift, and the storyteller isn’t going to cast the same shadow as the ones that came before. That’s what makes stories, folklore, and urban legends incredible. When you’re on the playground, around the campfire, or at a sleepover, parked in front of your best friend’s bathroom mirror, and you tell that story that makes them shake in their boots and keeps them awake at night, it’s your story. It’s your friend-of-a-friend that it happened to, and just like that, you become part of it.
So gather ‘round, and listen to the tale of the hook-handed dead man who comes when you call, told by a talented storyteller who’s not afraid to look in the mirror and say that cursed name again.
Andrew Keahey is a horror enthusiast and writer currently based in Austin, Texas. He’s been watching horror movies since he was far too young, and primarily writes essays, short fiction, and poetry