Three decades after Bernard Rose’s groundbreaking supernatural horror film, Candyman, became a cult classic, Jordan Peele unleashes a fresh take on the blood-chilling urban legend.
Eager to reintroduce Candyman to a new audience, co-writer and producer Jordan Peele (Get Out) tasked director Nia DaCosta to revisit the original Chicago housing project of Cabrini-Green, where locals still tell ghost stories about a supernatural killer with a hook for a hand, easily summoned by those daring to repeat his name five times into a mirror.
If DaCosta is pragmatic, then when STACK meets with the director, she’s superstitious enough to admit she would never say Candyman’s name five times in a mirror. “No. Never. And never will!” she laughs.
Not easily spooked, DaCosta nevertheless became uneasy while prepping for this new iteration of Candyman, while in pre-production at a house in Los Angeles.
“We suddenly heard this sound and looked outside and all the windows were open and we saw this huge swarm of bees which appeared out of nowhere. Just huge. I’d never seen a swarm of bees that big before and we were rushing around closing all the windows and freaking out. We just kind of looked at each other, like that was f–ing creepy. After that, we kept finding dead bees all around the house,” recalls the director.
An unabashed horror fan, DaCosta loved the original 1992 film – based on Clive Barker’s short story, The Forbidden.
“We definitely revisited the original while prepping. Mostly I watched it with friends because I was interested to see how people would react to it now, because I think it’s very different from what we remember. It’s a very strange, idiosyncratic film,” she says.
The new film is set a decade after the Cabrini towers were torn down and sees a visual artist named Anthony (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II) and his art gallery partner (Teyonah Parris) 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) exposes him to the horrific true story behind Candyman. Anxious to maintain his status in the Chicago art world, he begins to explore these macabre details in his studio as fresh inspiration for paintings, unknowingly opening a door to a complex past that unravels his own sanity and unleashes a terrifying wave of violence that sets him on a collision course with destiny.
Reflecting the current state of race relations in the US, DaCosta says, “The film is really about how storytelling is used around these horrific events to either help process or campaign or to create a martyr out of people who end up leaving us too soon through these terrible acts of racial violence.
“It also has many facets, like how does storytelling operate around culture to the point of getting us to a character like Candyman? And then, of course, he’s real and he does help people! I really care a lot about those things and want to portray them in the right way. I’m also a huge fan of the original Candyman, so it was really about coming to it as somebody who is a part of a community that these things deeply affect.”
Peele was just 13 when Candyman became a pivotal moment in the history of the horror genre, casting a black man as its titular character and main antagonist; a movie “monster” unlike any that had existed in Western pop culture before.
“I was a horror fan as a kid, but we didn’t have a black Freddy Krueger or a black Jason Voorhees,” recalls Peele, who co-wrote the screenplay with DaCosta. “So when Candyman came along, it felt very daring and cathartic and also terrifying. Even though there are many examples of black people in horror movies, this one felt particularly badass for me.”
With DaCosta now set to direct the highly anticipated MCU film, The Marvels – a sequel to Captain Marvel – she still felt the pressure to live up to Peele’s belief in her.
“At first I just thought, ‘Cool, I’m going to make a movie with Jordan Peele. This is so fun and I love Candyman.’ But then, of course, it was, oh, studio, the canon of Jordan Peele, and that whole thing where ‘People on the internet really care about this character.’ But you have to push it out and do what you can from your point of view and as a fan of the story,” she says.
• Candyman is in cinemas (where open) on August 26