Written by: Alfredo Septién, Turi Meyer, Clive Barker (characters)
Directed by: Turi Meyer
Starring: Donna D'Errico, Tony Todd, and Jsu Garcia
Reviewed by: Brett Gallman (@brettgallman)
"Join me in death."
As the new millennium was set to dawn, it was obvious that the horror genre was feeling the loss of Freddy and Jason, the iconic pillars that had helped to define the previous decade. A void was left, waiting for new icons to fill it, only that never quite happened: instead, most newcomers fizzled out (Pinhead), some of the old guard remained too obscure (The Tall Man, Leatherface), and others never had a chance (Dr. Giggles, god love him). Sure, Scream was a defining hit for this generation, but Ghostface was a costume more than a character, leaving a couple other familiar faces to claim—or reclaim—the throne when Michael Myers and Chucky returned, retooled for a new era.
However, if one newcomer was especially poised to make a stronger claim, it was Candyman. Introduced in one of the decade’s best films, he returned in a respectable sequel that proved the viability of more outings. All that was missing was a third film to cement his place in the pantheon, setting him up to be a pivotal icon as the genre lurched into a new century. Instead, Candyman: Day of the Dead happened. As ruinous as sequels come, Candyman’s third outing completely whiffed on everything that made the character special: the gothic splendor, the compelling intersection of urban legends and grim reality, the psychological terror being haunted by the sins of others. But if you ever want to see one where Candyman wants to bone his great-great granddaughter, Day of the Dead is for you.
That granddaughter is Caroline McKeever (Donna D'Errico), last seen as a young child at the end of the previous film (meaning this one takes place sometime in the 2020s, despite being 90s as all hell). Now, she’s all grown up and owns a Los Angeles art gallery where her newest event highlights the work of her ancestor, whose legacy her partner (Mark Adair-Rios) wants to exploit by invoking the sordid legend of the Candyman. To prove the legend isn’t true, she says Candyman’s name five times at the show, unwittingly summoning him from beyond the grave, where he claims the lives of those around Caroline in an attempt to take back the love that was ripped from him upon his death. It’s kind of a dick movie, all things considered: Caroline just wanted to honor Daniel Robitaille’s humanity, only to find that her dear great-grandad really just likes killing folks from the beyond when he’s not lusting after her.
I’m not sure how anyone involved with this one never stopped to consider the bizarre implications of Candyman’s quest this time out. Sure, he haunted his descendant in the previous film, but he wasn’t lusting after her like he does here. So, pretty much right off the bat, this one’s off-kilter, which would maybe be fine if the film either acknowledged it or if this was just one of many truly strange decisions. Instead, this is the most basic Candyman movie, one that could have easily substituted any generic boogeyman and turned out the same. Production values have plummeted, damning the film to unfolding in nondescript L.A. locations, none of them swelling with the gothic portent of the previous locations. The primitive CGI has only become more of an eyesore in the past two decades, and the practical gore doesn’t impress much more. There’s plenty of it, to be sure, none of it executed with the grace or grand guignol style of this film’s predecessors. It doesn’t help that none of it registers because it’s perpetrated against a slew of underdeveloped cliches who are ushered into the movie only to be swiftly ushered right back out.
Put bluntly: we’re in basic-ass slasher movie territory here, something that feels so very beneath Candyman. Farewell to the Flesh came close enough, but it at least had some tact and some pretense of investing further in the franchise mythos. Where Bill Condon at least showed some reverence, Turi Meyer shows a thudding indifference, coaxing performances that are unremarkable at best and downright cringe-inducing at worst. D’Errico seems a little lost in trying to recall the glassy-eyed, star-struck turns of her predecessors and reads more as vapid and in-over-her head. It doesn’t help that the camera constantly leers at her often scantily-clad body, reducing her to the fetish object Candyman apparently considers her to be. Long gone is the profound, introspective journey of Helen Lyle, replaced here by a woman who’s seduced by her great-great grandfather.
She also does some other things, like fall for the guy who’s framed for Candyman’s murders because he was hired to pose as the killer and interrupt Caroline’s art show. He’s played by Jsu Garcia, making him the only person in history to be framed by Candyman and Freddy Krueger. Hell of a C.V., in my opinion. In all seriousness, it’s always nice when Garcia pops up in anything, and he’s one of the few people bringing any kind of conviction or screen presence here. One of the others, of course, is Tony Todd, who brings more dignity to this movie than it deserves, and it responds by trying to bring him down with it at every turn. Not only is he saddled with that awful, incestuous motivation, but the film brings him out of the shadows far too often, forcing him to repeat his iconic lines. By increasing his screen time, Day of the Dead paradoxically diminishes its boogeyman’s presence, turning him into a cut-rate slasher who recites his greatest hits whenever the script tugs on his pull-string.
Glimmers of a more interesting movie do try to escape from time to time, like when a Candyman cult appears out of nowhere. It’s a revelation that doesn’t exactly work because we already know they haven’t summoned Candyman, nor are they controlling him, a notion the film itself doesn’t even entertain when it quickly dispatches them. You’re left wondering why it even bothered, but you can also see the intrigue of the premise. It’s too bad another sequel didn’t try to explore the notion going forward, if only to try and wash the taste of this one out of our mouths. While Day of the Dead isn’t the biggest fall from grace for a horror icon (Pinhead says “hello,” further reminding us that maybe we shouldn’t do Clive Barker shit without Clive Barker involved), it’s in the conversation of most disappointing sequels, especially since it killed the franchise for over 20 years and denied Candyman the chance to carry the horror icon torch into the new century. He nearly returned five years later, with Barker in tow and set to terrorize a snowbound girls boarding school until the project fell apart due to rights issues. That description alone is more evocative than anything Day of the Dead has to offer, especially none of those girls was another distant Candyman relative having to worry about having weird ghost sex with their great-grandfather.
And while it’s nice to think that Nia DaCosta’s latest sequel might wipe this one away, we can’t be too sure: after all, it takes place in 2019, placing it before the events of this film. So for all we know, this one will forever be the “last” Candyman tale, forever trapping the icon in the amber of the decade where he showed his greatest potential. Now that I think of it, I guess I have something in common with Candyman because I didn’t live up to the potential I showed in the 90s either.
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