Most horror films only care about how many buckets of blood are used to depict endless gore or how high the body count can get. This approach can leave viewers shocked but rarely awed.
That’s why both the original “Candyman” in 1992 and this new offering in the franchise are a cut above the rest. This production is more rooted in intelligent storytelling and hypnotic imagery than depending on worn-out horror clichés and over-used terror tropes.
It all starts with giving the new film a smart connection to the past. The new version of “Candyman” is a continuation of the story established in the original film. That film remains such a haunting tale that there was no reason to remake it as so many others have tried to do with classic horror such as “Psycho” or “Texas Chainsaw Massacre.” It is wiser to build on what is already a very strong foundation.
Visual artist Anthony McCoy – played with deep conviction by Yahya Abdul-Mateen – has lost his creative spark. His once gritty paintings have become pedestrian. McCoy decides to go to the nearly abandoned housing projects of Chicago’s Cabrini-Green neighborhood for inspiration. If that name sounds familiar, it is the same location from the original movie.
What Anthony uncovers is the legend of Candyman who has been appearing in the area for countless decades and leaving a pile of bloody bodies in his wake. The more Anthony digs into what many have been dismissed as an urban legend, the more he becomes drawn into the world of evil.
If you saw the original “Candyman,” you know that saying his name five times while looking into a mirror summons the murderous man with the hook for a hand and a swarm of bees for buddies. McCoy doesn’t summon the killer, but there are numerous people who believe the tale is all fictional. They pay the price for their impudence.
McCoy is haunted by Candyman to the point there is an ambiguity in the first half of the film as to whether there is a Candyman or it is a mentally unstable McCoy who has taken on the persona. The reality becomes painfully real as the story progresses.
Nia DaCosta shows a solid visual skill for building terror. She shows no fear by using non-traditional shots such as a killing that is seen through an apartment window from across the street. The most creative visuals are the use of paper shadow puppets to fill in some of the story. It is a clever way to provide flashbacks.
DaCosta’s direction is solid but the story has the DNA of producer Jordan Peele all over it as he was also one of the writers. Peele has established himself as one of the current leading masters of horror with projects like “Get Out” and “Us.” He continues that scary streak with the latest version of “Candyman.”
Not only is this new horror film rich with the kind of imagery that creates lasting nightmares, but it is also equally powerful in the way social issues are used as the foundation. The film makes a serious statement about the state of the world while creating serious scares.
The writers also have wisely used bits and pieces from the 1992 film to give this story a deep history. This includes an image of Virginia Madsen who was at the center of the original film. It is another example of the brilliance of tying the two movies together. It is a bonus for those who loved the first version without taking anything away from those new to the franchise.
The easy route would have been to have this “Candyman” be a remake. But, Peele continuously shows that there are times – such as this one – when embracing the past is the best way to go. If you couple the solid lineage of the film with smart directing and an intelligent script – the result is the new “Candyman” is as smart as it is scary.
3 1/2 stars
Cast: Yahya Abdul-Mateen, Teyonah Parris, Nathan Stewart-Jarrett, Coleman Domingo.
Director: Nia DaCosta
Rated: R for violence, sexual references, language
Running time: 91 minutes.