I’m still gutted that we’re not going to get to see Nia DaCosta’s Candyman sequel. Really, truly, it was probably the film that I was most looking forward to this year – the trailer looks awesome, and Yahya Abdul-Mahteen III blew me away in Watchmen. Add in Tony Todd already onboard to reprise his iconic role, and I was chomping at the bit to get to this movie – well, I would have been, but my mouth was full of bees.
Anyway. Just because that movie has been pushed back, doesn’t mean that I’m going to leave this a Candyman-free Halloween season this year. No, let’s talk about the original – and just why it’s one of the best horror films of the nineties.
Firstly and most foremostly, I think that 1993’s Candyman movie is truly, at its heart, a haunted house story. We tend to treat haunted houses as ancient places, filled with an old evil, but Candyman takes that setting and shifts it to a modern Brooklyn housing project. As much as it is haunted by the titular villain, it’s haunted by the failures of the community around it to support the people who live there – there’s no doubt that this is as much a social horror as it is one of supernatural proportions, an investigation of the fear of black men and the way that America pathologizes black suffering. Full disclosure: I’m a white British person, and am not highly qualified to talk on these subjects, but go read something of the great analyses by people who actually are.
Instantly, tapping in to deeper themes of racial divide give Candyman more weight than most of the throwaway slashers of the nineties. But, arguably, it’s the setting of Cabrini Green in a more immediate sense that helps shift it out of classic haunted house tropes – instead of haughty classical portraits of old family members lining the walls, Candyman is depicted in graffiti’d walls. Candyman exists not when people believe in him, but when people don’t – it’s doubt that brings him to the forefront, not faith. This movie inverts so many tropes into something that feels genuinely fresh, even today, and commits with just as much energy to the details of making sure that it works in a completely fresh setting.
Beyond that, though, the reason this film has endured as long as it has is because of Tony Todd. Black men have rarely had the best run in terms of being taken seriously in horror, but Tony Todd turned both this and his iconic turns in the Final Destination franchise into a full-blown (and brilliant) career. And, as I’ve written before, when it comes to horror villainy, Candyman is a cut above the rest: he doesn’t hide in dreams or in shadows, he doesn’t try to blend in. He is subversive, attractive, confident and proud – Tony Todd brings just an astounding about of charisma and presence to this role, and, to this day, it’s probably one of the stone-cold best performances across the genre as a whole. He doesn’t even physically really turn up on camera until about halfway through the movie, but when you think of this film, you’re thinking of him.
The originally Candyman is an indulgently brilliant film. The social commentary is solid, the performances are great, the subversion of the genre is brilliant, and Tony Todd is hypnotically excellent. Even though we’re not getting the new take that I wanted so badly this year, indulge yourself in the classic original. You won’t regret it. Just, uh, don’t look in any mirrors anytime soon, okay?
By Louise MacGregor
(header image via Vanity Fair)