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‘Candyman,’ Spiritual Sequels, and Horror’s Next Step

Because the Candyman can, and will, scare the living hell out of us in 2020.
By  · Published on November 28th, 2018

Growing up in the early 1990s, my generation just missed the big horror villain boom of the ’80s. Sure, their impact was still lingering, like the thrill I got when a friend smuggled a VHS of Halloween 6 on to the elementary school playground to the life-size Freddy Krueger cut-out I avoided in the mom and pop rental shops. But for the most part, the iconic horror baddies that defined a generation would peter out by the eve of the ’90s.

And then came Candyman. Based on a short story by Clive Barker and directed by Bernard Rose, it gave rise to a whole new villain that felt far more real than any that came before. Not only was Candyman entrenched in the United States’ own dark history of racism and slavery, but it came with an air of believability. Ask any child of the ‘90s and I guarantee, at least once, they said “Candyman” in the mirror five times, just on the off chance that it may summon our favorite trench coat full of bees in a subversion of the classic “Bloody Mary” game. But Candyman is about to have a whole new level of relevancy, and we have Jordan Peele to thank.

Rumors first spread in September that Peele was attached to a Candyman redux, but now news has broken that Monkeypaw Productions, Peele’s studio, along with Win Rosenfeld (BlacKkKlansman) and MGM will produce a “spiritual sequel” to Candyman in 2020. Peele is co-writing the script with the director of the film, Nia DaCosta. After making a splash with her debut feature, Little Woods, starring Tessa Thompson, Candyman will be DaCosta’s sophomore effort, which may be surprising considering Little Woods is a far cry from horror. But that’s exactly why DaCosta is the right choice.

She won’t be beleaguered by treading in well-worn footprints, but rather is being chosen because of her earnest approach to stories about crumbling communities. And while the original Candyman is set in Chicago’s dangerous Cabrini-Green housing projects, this new film will feature a different kind of community in crisis.

“The film, a ‘spiritual sequel’ to the original, returns to the neighborhood where the legend began: the now-gentrified section of Chicago where the Cabrini-Green housing projects once stood.”

I mean, could there be a more perfect idea? Despite Tony Todd’s towering frame as the iconic hook-handed killer, Candyman has never been cut from the same cloth of the Jasons and Michael Myerses of the world. That’s because Candyman has always been a story rooted in tragedy: America’s violent history of racism, and our own complicity in it. And what better way to frame that story than with a housing crisis that is happening in cities all across the country, as communities of color are uprooted by rising rent that benefit economically advantaged, and predominantly white, families. I think it’s a safe assumption that Candyman is going to kill a bunch of hipsters.

But then, much like Jordan Peele conjured the phrase “social thriller” for Get Out, here we have him describing this new Candyman as a “spiritual sequel”. While the phrase historically are for films that are tangentially related to a previous work, in Peele’s definition, this is possibly the classiest way of describing films like The Force Awakens that we’ve typically called “requels” or the “reboot/remake/sequels”. And coupled with what we’ve just seen with Halloween and how 2019 will find a resurgence for Leprechaun, Killer Klowns from Outer Space, and Critters I think this is exactly where horror is headed.

If 2018 is remembered for anything positive, it’s the popular revitalization of the horror genre, most notably at the box office. Studio heads are clearly taking notice of this trend. They are looking back through their library of films to see what was once popular that can be made so again, and nothing was more popular than these iconic horror villains.

Much like how the Universal Monsters continue to have a fluctuation of popularity every 20 or so years, and maybe even bolstered by The Dark Universe’s unfortunate failure, I see a new renaissance on the horizon for our favorite slashers. Fans who were inspired as children are now in the position to make the movies they wanted to see, and with 2018’s acceptance of intelligent horror, we could potentially see series best installments of classic franchises in the coming decade.

Nevermore possible than now is that Freddy Krueger origin story, Jason Voorhees in the snow, or hell: why not a return of Horace Pinker, tackling the private prison industrial complex? We’re fortunate that the rest of the world finally caught up to what we’ve been saying all along: these stories deserve intelligence, respect, and most importantly intention.

Like with Candyman’s urban legend origin, our modern movie monsters act as proxies for the cautionary tales of yesteryear. But by just throwing a cavalcade of nameless horny teens at a machete-wielding golem, we miss the point of horror’s inherent power to affect and change. With Nia DaCosta and Jordan Peele, placing Candyman in the heart of our nations race-focused housing crisis, not only will people actually see what gentrification does to a community, but with the emphasis of horror, feel compelled to be part of the housing solution.

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Jacob Trussell is a writer based in New York City. His editorial work has been featured on the BBC, NPR, Rue Morgue Magazine, Film School Rejects, and One Perfect Shot. He's also the author of 'The Binge Watcher's Guide to The Twilight Zone' (Riverdale Avenue Books). Available to host your next spooky public access show. Find him on Twitter here: @JE_TRUSSELL (He/Him)