Candyman Is a Sharp Deconstruction of Political Horror Movies
Horror filmmaking has always been political, but Candyman takes it to a new level: It’s a political horror film about politics in horror films. It’s also a devilishly sharp piece of meta-genre filmmaking, and one of the better movies I’ve seen this year.
To fully appreciate Candyman (2021), it helps to have seen Candyman (1992), which is based on “The Forbidden,” a Clive Barker short story from the 1980s.
Barker’s story was about a young woman researching graffiti in British public housing blocks for a graduate thesis. Along the way, she discovers an urban myth about a bee-infested ghost of a man with a hook for a hand—the Candyman—who seduces and kills victims whenever his cultural memory starts to fade. Yet even as she relates stories of garish housing project murders to her fellow academics, often over trendy wine and food, they disbelieve her, thinking none of it could have happened, since they’d never heard about any such thing. Barker’s story was a wry evisceration of the British class system, in which the divide between the self-satisfied haves of the university system and the have-nots of public housing is literalized by a monster whose murderous power comes from people not noticing him.
The 1992 film by Bernard Rose took Barker’s story and moved it to the slum towers of gentrifying Chicago, adding racial conflict to the mix. Now the titular Candyman was the son of a slave—a black artist who in the 1800s fell in love with a white woman. In return, a white mob slathered him with honey, tortured him with bee stings, then cut off his arm and replaced it with a hook. He lived on as a vengeful spirit who haunted the city’s dilapidated Cabrini-Green housing project.
On the surface, Rose’s film looked like a throwaway slasher flick, the sort of thing bored suburban teens of the MTV era might sneak out to watch at a shopping mall movie theater on a lazy Saturday afternoon. But watch it again today, and it’s clear it was something more—an atmospheric and surprisingly d
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