This really should not need to be said, but the following post contains SPOILERS for Candyman — both the 1992 original film and the 2021 sequel.
The whole mythology of Candyman is built around saying the title character’s name. Repeat it five times in front of a mirror and he materializes, hook in hand (or hook as hand, really) to slay his victims. But the final scenes of Nia DaCosta’s new Candyman may leave you repeating another phrase:
Those final scenes draw upon the original Candyman film directed by Bernard Rose (itself inspired by a Clive Barker story called “The Forbidden”) so it helps to have seen or rewatched the original film before you dive into the new one. If not, here are the basics you need to know.
The first Candyman is about a grad student named Helen Lyle (Virginia Madsen) who’s researching a thesis on urban legends. From one of the custodians who works at her school, she hears about the Candyman, a murderer who supposedly stalks the residents of Chicago’s Cabrini-Green housing project. She eventually learns the origin of this figure: He is the son of a freed slave from the late 1800s who painted portraits for white families. When he fell in love with and impregnated one of his white subjects, a mob brutally murdered him by cutting off his arm, smearing him with honeycomb, and letting bees sting him to death.
While investigating the legend, Helen gets attacked by a man claiming to be Candyman. Soon after, the man is arrested, but Helen begins seeing visions of the “real” Candyman (played by Tony Todd). She blacks out and then awakens in pools of blood with no memory of how she got there or what violence has occurred. Later, Candyman claims that Helen’s actions have made people lose faith in his legend, and thus he’s returned to kill more people to perpetuate his story.
Candyman — or perhaps an increasingly unhinged Helen suffering from some kind of disassociative breakdown, it’s left somewhat ambiguous — kidnaps a baby from Cabrini-Green. He tells Helen that he will spare the child if Helen willingly gives herself over to him. (Based on paintings we see, Helen bears a resemblance to the woman who Candyman loved and impregnated.) Eventually, Helen manages to destroy Candyman in a bonfire and save the baby from immolation, at the expense of her own life.
That’s the version of the story in 1992’s Candyman. A slightly different interpretation of Helen’s story is how 2021’s Candyman begins, told by Troy (Nathan Stewart-Jarrett). In his tale, Helen didn’t meet the Candyman. In fact, Troy never even says the word “Candyman.” Instead, he claims that Helen was researching urban legends in Cabrini-Green when she “just snaps” and “goes on a rampage.” Instead of saving the baby from the fire, she supposedly tried to use the baby as a “sacrificial offering.” The crowd freed the kid right before Helen “walks right into the fire” and burns to death.
In essence, by the start of the 2021 Candyman, Helen’s legend has replaced the Candyman’s. And that’s largely how the new film interprets the concept of the character. A few scenes later, the movie’s protagonist — a talented young painter named Anthony (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II) — begins his own investigation into Cabrini urban legends, inspired by Troy’s story about Helen. He encounters a laundromat owner named William Burke (Colman Domingo), who first introduces Anthony to the concept of Candyman. Burke says Candyman “ain’t a he. Candyman’s the whole damn hive.” As he tells it, there’s a lengthy history of Candymen — Black men wrongfully killed in racially-motivated murders — of which the Tony Todd character (named Daniel Robitaille) was just the first.
“They’re all real,” Burke insists. “Candyman is how we deal with the fact that these things happened. That they’re still happening.”
Like Helen before him, the more Anthony investigates the Candyman myth the more he becomes obsessed with it, and perhaps even possessed by it. He gets stung by a bee near Cabrini-Green, and the wound never heals. Soon his whole arm is swollen and bruised. (He only gets it checked by a doctor once the wounds have spread up his entire torso, which is one of the more confusing aspects of the plot.) Then Anthony’s mother (Vanessa Williams, reprising her role from the original Candyman) reveals the truth that will probably be obvious to most people who remember the original film: Anthony is the baby that Helen rescued from Candyman (or tried to sacrifice to Candyman) in the first film.
That’s one twist. Then there’s another, when Burke kidnaps Anthony’s girlfriend Brianna (Teyonah Parris) and reveals that he wants Anthony to become a new Candyman. He saws off Anthony’s hand and sticks a hook in the stump. He also calls the police and hopes they will come and murder Anthony when they see him dressed like the Candyman. But why would Burke — who claims to have had an encounter with yet another Candyman as a child — want to turn Anthony into a slasher villain? That’s where things begin to get confusing.
If you rewatch the 2021 movie, you’ll see that Burke appears to recognize Anthony by name from their very first meeting near Cabrini-Green. It seems — although it’s not made explicit — that he manipulated Anthony in order to use him as a pawn to reclaim his neighborhood from the people who’ve moved in and gentrified it. “They tore down our homes so they could move back in. We need Candyman,” Burke says right before he cuts off Anthony’s arm.
By the time the police arrive, Brianna has escaped and killed Burke, and Anthony has collapsed. Instead of helping him, though, the cops immediately shoot and kill Anthony while he lies in Brianna’s arms. When the police try to force Brianna to lie to back up their false story that they acted in self-defense, she intentionally summons Candyman by looking in the cop car’s rearview mirror and saying his name five times.
Candyman appears — he looks like Anthony at first — and kills the cops and unlocks the police car. As he walks around the car, his reflection appears to change into the faces of all the other versions of Candyman we’ve seen and heard about throughout the film. When Brianna finally catches up to him, a swarm of bees has engulfed the Candyman’s face and he somehow glides towards her with his feet floating a few inches off the ground. The bees dissipate, revealing the face of Tony Todd (he looks about the age he did in the original film, or maybe even a little bit younger). He declares “Tell everyone.” And that’s the end of the movie.
The credits roll immediately after the de-aged Tony Todd’s appearance, so a lot is left to the viewer’s interpretation. Was Anthony always fated to become the new Candyman? Are all these Candymen figures reincarnations of the same guy? If Helen became the new Candyman, why isn’t she shown among all the others at the end? Did Burke actually plan the whole thing? It’s unclear. One thing that is clear is that while Candyman killed a bit more indiscriminately in the original film — his victims were mostly the Black residents of the Cabrini-Green projects — here he seems to focus almost entirely on white targets, and acts as a kind of avenger of racial injustice. (At the end of the film he spares Brianna, the person who said his name — usually a big no-no in Candyman — and instead kills the cops who murdered Anthony.)
The ending suggests, as Burke believed, that the Candyman is the personification of all these horrific crimes. What happens next will largely be determined by the financial success or failure of this Candyman. So if you want to get more concrete explanations about that final act, you may want to see the movie a couple extra times. It might clear some things up, and it’ll pad the film’s box office totals.
Candyman is now playing in theaters. As of this writing, the original Candyman is available on Peacock.
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