As the Black Lives Matter movement marches across the globe to protest the murder of Black Americans at the hands of the police, activists are taking systemic racism to task.
One of the targets of their revolution includes Hollywood, which, historically speaking, is infamous for its whitewashing. The horror genre in particular negatively represents Black characters (if they’re even represented at all).
With its “racism as horror” allegory, is Bernard Rose’s Candyman (1992) ahead of its time, or is it of its time?
If you don’t know what to watch next, Candyman is available to stream on Netflix. The supernatural slasher stars Virginia Madsen as well as Tony Todd.
It appears on Bravo’s “100 Scariest Movie Moments,” Bloody Disgusting and UGO’s top slasher lists, Filmsite’s “Greatest Scariest Moments and Scenes” and “Greatest Film Plot Twists, Film Spoilers, and Surprise Endings,” and Retrocrush’s “100 Greatest Horror Movie Performances.”
Set in Chicago, Helen Lyle (Madsen) is a semiotics graduate student researching urban myths who hears a local story from the Cabrini-Green housing project about Daniel Robitaille, “the Candyman” (Todd).
According to legend, the Candyman can be summoned by saying his name in a mirror five times, before killing you with his hook hand. After putting the vengeful spirit’s existence to the test, Helen finds herself fighting for her life.
Candyman predates Jordan Peele’s Get Out (2017) by about twenty-five years, and Get Out is one of the greatest releases of its decade. Its racial commentary is as stirring as its scares are hair-raising.
Perhaps what’s so horrifying about it is the ways in which it relates to the contemporary American experience, and its realism to all who survive the horrors of racism.
And this is all due to the filmmaker’s script. In addition to intersecting Helen between misogynistic gaslighting and violence, Rose mythologizes his narrative with a story within the story about the Candyman’s origin.
White-on-black brutality has never truly stayed dead, and it is only a word away.
But, in many ways, you can still tell this was written by a white man. Candyman puts forward a number of toxic stereotypes about Black people, such as a superstitious lean and a hive-mind mentality which paints them as a sub-intelligent, quasi-barbaric horde.
Whether or not this was the director’s intention is irrelevant – what is relevant, is the outcome.
At least the reboot (produced by none other than Peele himself, and directed by Nia DaCosta) is sure to correct some of the picture’s more damning faults. Regardless, Candyman is still a classic for any fan of the genre (when viewed critically).
Indeed, where a lesser horror film would have patted itself on the back simply for making its monster Black (without lending a second thought to the larger implications), Candyman goes so far as to textualize those racial ramifications through a mainstream generic lens.