Horror movies have long made use of our deep, hidden fears and the existential dread a lot of us feel when watching our latest thrill seeking horror movies. Many horror films have delved into urban legends to stoke our deepest fears. From the slasher gore of films like “Scream” to bone-chilling terror of films like “The Grudge”. Urban legends are nightmare fuel.
The tale of the Candyman starts in 1985. Clive Barker, creator of the “Hellraiser” series, originally created the character for a short story “The Forbidden”, which first introduced the gruesome Candyman to the horror genre.
In 1992 the short-story would get it’s first film adaptation. In this rendition, the protagonist Helen Lyle (Virginia Madsen) is a skeptic. The story goes that Daniel Robitaille, an African-American painter, was brutally murdered after he was discovered to be in an interracial affair. His absolutely brutal and unjust death is said to have unleashed a murderous and grotesque spirit that would appear if his name is said five time in a mirror. Her skepticism leads Helen to test the legend, and a series of brutal murders begin to take place.
A new Candyman rises
However, recently an updated adaptation of the original from Oscar winning Jordan Peele and Nia Di Costa as director. In this retelling Yahya Abdul-Mateen II takes over the role of Candyman, playing the baby Anthony from the 1992 adaptation, but now a grown man. Don’t miss the cameo by original Candyman Tony Todd near the film’s end.
But is it a true story?
While Candyman is not based on a true story, that doesn’t mean it shies away from hard truths. The film dives head-on into tackling real world issues such racial discrimination and the legacy of violence and neglect towards Black communities from law enforcement.
The real story?
Nia Di Costa, the film’s director made intentional efforts to shine a light on institutional problems. The film references the 1987 case of Ruthie McCoy. Ruthie was an African-American women who suffered from mental health problems. Only in her 20’s she was in and out of mental health hospitals. When she was moved from the hospital to public housing ABLA public housing. These public housing flats were originally intended to be built in affluent white neighborhoods, but not surprisingly the city council refused and shifted the housing to inner-city Black communities. The flats fell into disrepair and crime soared. The setting for The Candyman, Cabrini-Greene is only 15 minutes away.
McCoy was said to have called law enforcement one evening and complained that someone was trying to break into her home through the medicine cabinet. She was completely ignored by dispatchers until her neighbours called, concerned about loud noises coming from McCoy’s apartment. She had been killed by intruders before the police arrived.
It was only years later that it would be found that law enforcement had been negligent in their response to McCoy. Di Costa references her name twice in the film.
The main character in the film, Anthony, dies after being forced into the role of Candyman. In a scene that echoes so many real-world examples of egregious violence towards Black communities by law enforcement, Anthony is brutally gunned down while otherwise unarmed because he exposed the Candyman hook hand. The officers themselves would face no consequences.
The parallels to real world mistreatment of Black communities and families such as that of George Floyd’s is unsubtle.