Skip the Candyman Remake, Watch His House on Netflix for a Socially Just (But Not Woke) Halloween Movie
How can I say this without sounding racist? The Candyman “remake” blows.
Yes, blows because I grew up in the ‘90s on films like the original when we used words like blow to describe things we didn’t like. We also called things gay to describe them as lame, retarded to mean they were dumb, and girly to mean less than.
So I can understand the desire or even the need to retell a story from an era when we kids would describe someone as being a crackhead for making a questionable life choice (and when the War on Drugs meant that real-life crackheads in inner-city black ghettos got away with far less than we white kids in the Midwestern suburbs, who ventured out only for the ocassional rave, where we’d dabble in the supposedly more acceptable meth, or more rarely, the more respectable non-crack cocaine (also coincidentally referred to using the word “blow”)).
But if you’re going to do a new take on an already successful (and might I add brilliant) horror film, at least get someone with established talent to make it. Mastermind Jordan Peele was apparently too busy to direct though his name has been associated with the screenplay, perhaps raising some viewers’ standards based on their experiences with his directional debut Get Out and the followup Us. Though I’d argue he was in fact too busy to be writing this film as well, considering how the storytelling came out. I’d guess he semi-oversaw (fun fact: I learned the word oversee has a racist history in the deep south as it was used for slave owners so maybe let’s go with “mentored”) the other two less experienced writers rather than doing much actual writing. And a lot of the Amazon reviews suggest disappointment on the part of the viewership, but some come off as a bit ignorant, commenting more on the fact that there’s a race message than the quality of the storytelling. As Erna so bluntly put it, “How many ways can they say 'White people bad' before we simply stop giving them our money.” Jaime Harman says “Come on man! Stop race baiting and continuing the divide in this county.”
Except that even among the 4.5 overall rating of 5, Us had quite a few bad Amazon reviews as well. I’d chalk this up to a lot of them expecting a simpler and more traditional horror slasher blockbuster, as some of them seemed confused by the original tour de force.
In terms of Candyman (I’ve written it twice now, let’s be careful here…) I wasn’t as bothered by the “white people bad” since I understand that a people that’s been routinely and systematically kept down by a society that enslaved and segregated them has the right to an occasional roasting of the opposite race. (Opposite race? That sounds almost as bad as opposite sex. But you know what I mean. I’m trying to edit my writing less and put more out, so we’ll go with it.)
But there was a certain heavy-handedness to the writing of the sequel when trying to handle race and gentrification issues (with the exception of the line “They love what we make but not us,” though even this feels like something I’ve read in an academic article rather than what I’d expect from a drama, or I mean a horror film, which I forgot for a second this was supposed to be. It wasn’t even scary.)
With Peele being tied up in other projects, they ended up going with Nia DaCosta, who directed a Ke$ha reality TV series if that’s any indication of what we’re dealing with here. Which is surprising since while the original film focused on the experience of a woman (one thing that likely helped me identify with it), here we only saw a woman’s perspective as an add-on to the man’s. In the original, Helen was accused of being insane and was committed (something women for centuries have dealt with, being viewed as “hysterical” due to their possession of a uterus), she was gaslit (actually gaslit rather than the modern internet definition) by her conniving professor husband, getting a mansplaining from his pompous professorial colleague while in the same conversation being ickily referred to as “my most beautiful graduate student,” feared for her safety (though not too much to stop her from getting answers), was beaten by a man, was sexually street harassed, was cheated on and left for a younger model of woman, so many of the issues women specifically deal with in American society. Some people said the original was racist, and it does continue the trope of a black man rape-ily pursuing a white woman (also described in the documentary 13th). But it doesn’t make the mistake that so many of the trolls responding to a poster of her own experience of street harassment did, of saying white women are racist for simply calling out what they experience as harassment (cue the old “they’re just saying hi” - nevermind only to women they view as sexual opportunities, as opposed to men, and in a space where they have no specific business to talk to you). The film acknowledged complexity. Had fully developed characters. Unforgettable performances. A Philip Glass soundtrack. In fact the only great performance in the new sequel was that of Vanessa Williams (playing Anne Marie), who also appears in the original.
While Candyman (third time…) was supposed to be released in 2020, a horror film that actually made its 2020 release was His House, which is on Netflix as of Halloween 2021. My first thought upon seeing the trailer start was “Oh more black people horror movies” as if this film would somehow follow on the American trend of Black Lives Matter and films like Peele’s and DeCosta’s. But it’s actually British (and before you think I just like British shit, Monty Python is an idiot). It follows the story of Bol and Rial, refugees from the devastating and long-ongoing Sudanese genocide. They come by boat to England for a new life but their daughter perishes along the way and they’re left, just the two of them, to start a new life in what Bol refers to as a “strange country.” It realistically depicts culture shock and the range of responses to people encountering someone different from them.
Although not necessarily terrifying, the film manages to include some cool depictions of ghouls at once inspired by and divergent from classic special effects monsters. I also took notes from some of the sound editing for my own short horror film. It manages to be more than a modern day horror flick, containing an entire narrative about starting over that personally resonated with me as a digital nomad but also someone who’s long striven to make a better life for myself after coming out of darkness, and bringing this theme to the forefront in a way that feels real is the film’s greatest achievement. You feel happy for Bol when he receives a care box from a local church, and at one point I paused the film to look up writing to political prisoners through Amnesty International, something I’d been meaning to do for a while. Whereas this film actually inspired me to want to help people and take action again, Candyman (nobody ever got past four) simply made me say “Okay, interesting, I basically know this stuff by now, but I guess it’s cool to see someone else’s take” (paraphrasing myself here). I was surprised the film hadn’t had much going on up until the end, it seemed, and the ending was a bit interesting but as someone active with BLM for years it merely reminded me of how much different my experience as a white woman could be from a black woman in some scenarios as opposed to teaching me this. While this isn’t without value, I guess like Amazon viewer Andrew W. Gerling, who said “Completely ruined a great horror franchise by making it about a topic that it is currently politically popular,” and as a writer and aspiring film person myself, maybe some part of me resents having to give someone a pass as an artist simply because they’re tapping into the zeitgeist in a hit-you-over-the-head-with-it way rather than trying to be original (as original as Peele was in his films). Simply being anti-racist doesn’t make a horror film good. I shouldn’t have to say that but it’s true. William Gibson said that any writing that exists simply to prove a social-good point is bad writing (also paraphrasing), which when I heard this in the ‘00s I remember feeling slightly annoyed by, wishing that the desire to make the world a better place were enough to create good art. But Ca-... uh, I mean, this film is a prime example of that.
TLDR: Watch the original Candyman and His House tonight, and you’ll have plenty to share at the woke cocktail party when everyone else is talking about the new sequel.
P.S.: Shit, I said it five times. Hope I don’t get haunted by woke haters wanting to cancel me for my desire to see more nuanced social-issue horror filmmaking even in 2021. Maybe in the end I come off a bit like the other middle aged white lady critic in the film itself. Except I’d never invite the artist to my penthouse after someone summoned an entity who killed for him in front of his own art exhibit. That’s right up there with “Don’t go back in the house,” am I right?