Urban Legend Candyman turned out to be the main attraction for Jordan Peele. This legend accompanies his teenage years until he finally decides to make a film from his point of view
Released in the fall of 1992, Urban Legend Candyman, Bernard Rose’s Candyman was a pivotal moment in the history of the horror genre.
For the first time, a major American horror film features a black man as the titular character and its main antagonist.
He is a movie “monster” unlike anything in Western pop culture before.
Jordan Peele was 13 years old at the time. “I was a horror fan as a kid, but we didn’t have Black Freddy Krueger or Black Jason Voorhees,” said Jordan Peele. “So when Candyman came along, it felt very brave and cathartic. And that’s scary. While there are plenty of examples of black people in horror films, this one felt really bad to me.”
Based on the short story “The Forbidden” by Clive Barker, the 1992 film follows a white graduate student, Helen Lyle (Virginia Madsen), who is researching her thesis on urban legends. He was drawn to the myths that have endured in Chicago’s famous Cabrini-Green housing development.
Around Cabrini-Green, people believe, if you mention Candyman’s name in the mirror five times, he will appear, armed with a hook for a hand, and kill you.
As Helen’s research continues, a gruesome death follows her and she uncovers the origin story behind the legend: That a 19th-century black artist, Daniel Robitaille (Tony Todd), fell in love with a young white woman he painted.
For this crime, the white mob hanged him. They cut off his hand, smeared it with honey and released a swarm of bees at him before burning him alive. His ashes were scattered in what was then the location of the Cabrini-Green development. His ghost has been terrorizing the citizens ever since.
At a time when the film was enjoying cult popularity, Peele and his close friend (and now production partner) Ian Cooper, grew up together on Manhattan’s Upper West Side. Over the years, they will return again and again.
“By the time he was in sophomore high school, Jordan had amassed a sizable VHS collection (ordered alphabetically and by genre) that took up all of the bookshelf space in his bedroom,” says Ian Cooper.
“We will save and collect our money, buy films within our means. Almost every formative film that has had a significant impact on me, I watch, often for the first time, while sitting on Jordan’s bed.”
They often watch Candyman. “We loved the film,” Cooper said. “In Tony Todd’s portrayal of the Candyman, we see a commanding, enthralling, complex, romantic, dynamic, and terrifying villain embodied gleefully by a performer of color.
We would pronounce the lines verbatim, obsess over the small characters, and generally scrutinize every detail. This kind of textual analysis was the cornerstone of our friendship and remains the common ground on which we play and create every day we work together.”
However, for all its admirable qualities, the 1992 film was also problematic, even for its time. Among its flaws are the unanswered questions of why a black man who had been a victim of white violence is now terrorizing the black community, and why a white woman is at the center of this story.
“The original film explored the legend of the Candyman through Helen’s perspective,” says Peele. “But it was to me like a film for blacks. A film for me. So, I wanted to make a film that looked at this ghost story from a black perspective.
For those who want to watch, first check the trailer