Original ‘Candyman’ Held a Mirror Up to a Divided Chicago

“They will say that I have shed innocent blood, but what is the use of blood if not to shed? With my hook as a hand, I’m going to split you from the groin to the throat. – “Candyman” opening warning.

When one thinks of the 1992 cult horror classic “Candyman,” one instantly recalls the infamous urban legend from the movie that says if you face the mirror and say “Candyman” five times, a ghost with hooked hands” will appear behind you, breathing down your neck,” and gut you like a freshly caught fish — and while there are indeed some gruesome moments in Bernard Rose’s deliciously spooky cooler, there’s more to “Candyman” than a simple shock and gore.

With the direct sequel “Candyman,” co-produced and co-written by Jordan Peele and directed by Nia DaCosta, lurking just around the corner (or maybe it’s right behind you!), I revisited the original for the first time in years and recalled how a film set in a supernatural world also managed to incorporate insightful and timely social and political commentary on early 1990s Chicago. (“Candyman” is based on Clive Barker’s short story ‘The Forbidden’, which was set in Liverpool and explored class warfare in the British class system, but writer-director Rose moved the tale to Chicago and brought to light themes similar.)

By the time “Candyman” was released in 1992, we had been indoctrinated by a steady diet of 1970s and 1980s horror movies involving virtually all-white actors, either suburban or rural, e.g., “Halloween ” and “Friday”. the 13theand “Nightmare on Elm Street”. Then came “Candyman,” largely set in the Cabrini-Green housing projects, one of the worst social housing failures in 20e America of the Century – a gang-controlled, crime-ridden, woefully neglected and run-down high-rise apartment complex located just a few blocks but millions of miles from Lincoln Park and the Gold Coast. (Just two months after the release of “Candyman,” Cabrini-Green made national headlines after 7-year-old Dantrell Davis was shot and killed by a sniper’s stray bullet while on his way at school with his mother.)

Before “Candyman” turns into a horror story, it’s the story of the rift between the people of Chicago who lead drastically different lives, due to the circumstances of their social class and the luck of the draw. spell. Time and time again, we see aerial shots of Chicago as we move from neighborhood to neighborhood, while a choir straight out of “The Omen” amplifies the feeling that something awful is about to happen. produce.

Chicago native Virginia Madsen is genuine and empathetic as Helen Lyle, a graduate student at the University of Illinois at Chicago who, along with her classmate and best friend Bernadette (Kasi Lemmons, Wonderful) is working on a thesis on how the people of Cabrini-Green believe in the Candyman legend as a coping/defense mechanism against the real violence that permeates the projects.

Graduate student Helen (Virginia Madsen) runs into trouble when her research takes her to Cabrini-Green.

In the film, Helen lives with her teacher husband Trevor (Xander Berkeley) in a North Side condo complex called Lincoln Village (which is actually the Carl Sandburg Village). As Helen explains to Bernadette, “My apartment was built as a housing project…but once it was finished, the city realized that there was no barrier between this place and the Gold Coast, [so they] sold the condominium land. Evidence of the cheap original construction, Helen takes Bernadette to the bathroom and removes the mirror – which provides a direct view of the adjoining apartment, just like in Cabrini-Green, where the Candyman supposedly hides behind every mirror , waiting to be summoned.

After Helen and Bernadette make the trip to Cabrini-Green, where they are harassed by gang members and suspected of being cops, their safe and scholarly research in a library suddenly becomes real and they are stunned. by the ubiquitous graffiti, the horrible living conditions. , the possibility of violence everywhere. (At one point, Helen is confronted and brutally beaten by a gang leader who says he is the real Candyman.) Meanwhile, we hear the origin story of the Candyman legend from a condescending teacher who finds it all very amusing as he recounts how a Daniel Robitaille, a well-known black portrait painter in the late 1800s, fell in love and fathered a child with a white woman, prompting his father to send a mob of lynching after Robitaille – a mob that cut off his right hand, smeared it with honey and unleashed a thousand bees that stinged him to death.


A gang leader in Cabrini-Green (Terrence Riggins) confronts Helen (Virginia Madsen) and says he’s the real Candyman.

That’s a LOT to unpack in a horror movie – and indeed, we don’t even see Tony Todd give his iconic Candyman portrayal until 40 minutes into the film. From this point, “Candyman” becomes more of a standard horror movie, though it’s a sleek, well-shot, and suitably crude affair with fantastic practical effects, a beautifully haunting score by Philip Glass, and an ending from hell. The Chicago we see here is dark and gray and ominous; when Helen stands on the Randolph Street Bridge with the Chicago River swirling below, we wonder if she’ll jump just to escape the madness of seeing and hearing the Candyman even as she’s suspected of multiple murders, because come on, it can’t really be a hooked-handed ghost of the 19e century creating such carnage, right?