What Is Candyman? Jordan Peele Declares Him The Patron Saint Of Urban Legends
Horror movies appeal to the thrill-seekers and the escapist in all of us. It’s fun to be scared when the danger isn’t real. Candyman flips that 180 degrees and shows that this kind of systemic, inherent evil not only exists but thrives in our world. We are to blame for the violence, hate, and brutality seen every day. Tony Todd’s sympathetic monster in 1992’s Candyman captivated an audience because of what the story had to say about the creation of fear. Although saying his name did result in a ton of blood and some pretty gory deaths, Candyman was always less about the evil in the manmade killer than the evil in humans. Jordan Peele and Nia DaCosta have taken that same premise a step further. They are peeling the layers back on the surface story and showing us the creation of an urban legend.
The original Candyman told the story of a free African American artist who fell in love with one of his subjects, a wealthy daughter of a plantation owner. When the young woman became pregnant, the rich white townsfolk attacked him, cut off his hand, covered him in honey, and hung him. Out of that horrific event, a legend rose and terrified the Chicago housing project known as Cabrini-Green. Now that same area has been gentrified, but the violence and the legend remain.
In the present day, a decade after the last of the Cabrini towers were torn down, visual artist Anthony McCoy (Emmy winner Yahya Abdul-Mateen II; Watchmen, Us) and his partner, gallery director Brianna Cartwright (Teyonah Parris; If Beale Street Could Talk, WandaVision), move into a luxury loft condo in Cabrini, now gentrified beyond recognition and inhabited by upwardly mobile millennials.
With Anthony’s painting career on the brink of stalling, a chance encounter with a Cabrini-Green old-timer (COLMAN DOMINGO; Zola, Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom) exposes Anthony to the horrific true story behind Candyman. Anxious to maintain his status in the Chicago art world and spurred on by his white art dealer, Anthony begins to explore these macabre details in his studio as fresh inspiration for paintings, unknowingly opening the door to a complex past that unravels his own sanity and unleashes a terrifying wave of violence that puts him on a collision course with destiny.
Oral history and word-of-mouth storytelling have long been sources of cultural preservation and sometimes confusion. What happens when those stories are tainted by corruption and crippling paranoia? Candyman was created, not born, and as his legend grows, so does his power. Academics have long debated whether urban legends need to be rooted at least somewhat in reality or if they must be strictly fantastical. Urban legends are often just embellished truths which any good liar will tell you makes it more successful. Grounding a legend in cultural significance and plausible facts allows the legend to grow. Everyone has heard the story of poisoning by rat excrement on the pop can or the rampant razer blade inclusion in Halloween candy that likely helped inspire this new telling of Clive Barker’s short story The Forbidden.
Since 1958 there have only been 200 cases of candy tampering. Most famously, a father poisoned his four-year-old son, with cyanide and a Minnesota man put needles into candy bars. Only one person was injured and did not require medical attention. Any child of the ’80s can tell you, though, that their parents inspected every piece of candy, and some hospitals offered X-Ray services to check for contaminants. Legends are important for what they say about the society that formed and nurtured them. The moral of the story is what is essential. In the case of 2021’s Candyman, police brutality and unchecked racism are that moral imperative. No one should have to live in fear of being attacked, misunderstood, or mistreated. Violence begets violence, and the result is Candyman. He should horrify us all.
Although not a sequel to the original movie series, this is a kindred spirit of 1992’s that modernizes the killer. Candyman, the urban legend of this reboot, is an extension of that myth but told through the lens of racism. It is elevated horror that is accessible to everyone while conveying truths that are often hard to hear. Candyman will be released only in theaters Friday and promises everything we loved about the first with a modern twist. Say his name five times if you dare and unleash his power. Candyman, Candyman, Candyman, Candyman, Candym…………
As the Managing Editor for Signal Horizon, I love watching and writing about genre entertainment. I grew up with old-school slashers, but my real passion is television and all things weird and ambiguous. My work can be found here and Travel Weird, where I am the Editor in Chief.