Not exactly a sequel. Not really a remake.

Technically, “Candyman” (MGM/Universal), the 2021 installment to the franchise (now available on Blu-ray+DVD+Digital Code), which launched almost 30 years, is more of an update, especially as it contains a multitude of references to the original.

A few factors elevate “Candyman” beyond just your average horror/slasher pic. First, it’s helmed by rising female director/co-screenwriter Nia DaCosta. The script is woke in the best possible ways, commenting on gentrification and its toll on communities. It offers a powerful explanation for the function of the Candyman myth as a means of survival in desperate times. It even addresses subjects as varied as the art world and mental health.

Additionally, it features gay characters that not only survive the violence, but also provide comic relief while never being the, well, the butt of many jokes. As if that’s not enough, “Candyman” features two out gay actors in supporting roles, one of which is quite prominent.

Set in Chicago, on the grounds of the infamous Cabrini-Green Homes, “Candyman” opens in 1977 where young Billy (Rodney L Jones III) comes face to face with the hook-handed Sherman (Michael Hargrove). Billy survives the encounter, but Sherman doesn’t, as he is killed by police.

More than 40 years later, painter Anthony (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II) and his gallerist girlfriend Brianna (Teyonah Parris) live in the former Cabrini-Green neighborhood on the city’s near north side. They invite Brianna’s gay brother Troy (Nathan Stewart-Jarrett) and his boyfriend Grady (Kyle Kaminsky) to their apartment for dinner and it’s then that Troy tells them the frightening story of Helen Lyle (portrayed in the first “Candyman” by Virginia Madsen) and the Black baby she abducted.

Anthony, looking for artistic inspiration, heads to the abandoned, last remaining buildings in the projects with his camera. While taking pictures he is stung by a bee (a Candyman harbinger). He also meets William (out actor Colman Domingo), the now-adult Billy from the opening scene, who operates the local laundromat/dry cleaners. William tells Anthony about the legend of Candyman.

Finding inspiration in the Candyman story, for a gallery opening Anthony creates a mirrored medicine chest piece inside of which his original and violent paintings can be seen. This leads to the summoning of the vicious slasher Candyman as the body count begins its brutal mounting with the dispensing of obnoxious gallery owner Clive (Brian King) and his intern Jerrica (Miriam Moss).

With each death, including that of a high school student (and her friends) who attended the gallery opening, Anthony’s creative frenzy increases, as does the rotting and disfiguring of his bee-stung hand and forearm. Meanwhile, Brianna, the daughter of an artist whom she witnessed committing suicide when she was a child, is reminded of the fragility of an artist’s ego. Anxious to advance her career, she tries to stay focused, but the murder of unpleasant art critic Finley (Rebecca Spence), with whom Anthony had a run-in, causes her to be suspicious of her man.

Little by little, Anthony and Brianna put all the jagged pieces together. Anthony uncovers the truth about his identity from his mother Anne-Marie (the other Vanessa Williams, who also appeared in the original version) and Brianna makes a last-ditch effort to save him from his fate.

Plentiful bonus features include a previously unseen alternate ending, deleted and extended scenes and much more.

Rating: B


Gregg Shapiro is the author of seven books including the expanded edition of his short story collection How to Whistle (Rattling Good Yarns Press, 2021). An entertainment journalist, whose interviews and reviews run in a variety of regional LGBTQ+ and mainstream publications and websites, Shapiro lives in Fort Lauderdale with his husband Rick and their dog Coco.


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