Creepy new ‘Candyman’ movie indicts gentrification as the real horror

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Who can take a sunrise and sprinkle it with … dread?

All seems well in the initial moments of “Candyman,” the modern-day remake of the 1992 horror classic, which opens with the sweet sounds of Sammy Davis Jr.’s classic “The Candy Man.”

But then the song — and the film itself — slowly becomes a spooky nightmare. 

“We love doing stuff like that,” producer and “Candyman” co-writer Win Rosenfeld told The Post. Twisting an otherwise innocent pop song has become a signature of his production company, Monkeypaw, which he runs with Jordan Peele. The team did the same kind of creepy remix of Luniz’s “I Got 5 On It” in the trailer for the company’s breakout hit “Get Out.”

The team’s new “Candyman” is a decidedly contemporary tale. Referred to by the filmmakers as a “spiritual sequel” to the original — actor Tony Todd returns to play the eponymous killer character — it features a diverse cast (including black leads and a gay couple) and deals with issues of class and gentrification in the real-life neighborhood of Chicago’s Cabrini-Green.

Tony Todd (right) played the titular villain in 1992’s “Candyman,” while Sherman Fields (left) takes up the hook in the new flick.

After the most recent film in the franchise, 1999’s “Candyman: Day of the Dead,” bombed at the box office (it holds a 10% fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes), Peele resurrected the series, backed by his proven horror track record, including the box office successes of “Get Out” and “Us.” 

“We like to play with stories that are mythical and magical, but in a grounded way,” said Rosenfeld, noting that the themes in “Candyman” were ripe for him and Peele to mine.

Win Rosenfeld standing next to a poster for "Candyman."
Win Rosenfeld produced and co-wrote the new film.
Getty Images for Universal Pictu

While the 1992 original was loosely based around the idea of gentrification around the Cabrini-Green area — Chicago’s most notorious housing project, since torn down — the new version (directed by New York City native Nia DaCosta) intimately explores the idea of the transformation of a Chicago neighborhood through the eyes of its conflicted main character, Anthony McCoy, a visual artist who was formerly a resident of the projects.

McCoy, played by the Emmy-winning “Watchmen” breakout star Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, is a conflicted soul. Now living in a swank loft built where the Cabrini-Green projects once stood, he haplessly summons the murderous Candyman while mining for artistic inspiration.

“Artists and culture makers are always the first wave of a changing neighborhood as they can afford the less expensive rent, and then developers move in,” said Rosenfeld of the inspiration behind McCoy. “Our movie embodies the idea of a black man from a lower income neighborhood who now lives with a wealthy woman with family money. So there can be a lot of complexity.” 

Yahya Abdul-Mateen II as Anthony McCoy in "Candyman."
Yahya Abdul-Mateen II plays Anthony McCoy, an artist who grew up in Chicago’s housing projects.
© 2020 Universal Pictures and MGM Pictures. All Rights Reserved. CANDYMAN TM MGM. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

Rosenfeld, whose credits also include producing Peele’s “Twilight Zone” remake as well as the 2018 Oscar favorite “BlacKkKlansman,” notes that since 1992, issues of gentrification in Chicago and elsewhere have only been exacerbated. Natives of New York, Rosenfeld, Peele and fellow producer Ian Cooper all met while students at Manhattan’s Calhoun School and saw firsthand how a neighborhood can change.

Director Nia DaCosta (left) works with lead actor Yahya Abdul-Mateen II.
Director Nia DaCosta (left) works with lead actor Yahya Abdul-Mateen II.
© 2020 Universal Pictures and MGM Pictures. All Rights Reserved.

“I think most movies oversimplify the idea of gentrification,” Cooper, who grew up in SoHo and Red Hook, told The Post.

Adding layers to the complexity is the explosion of social justice movements in the past two years, a prescient topic as the film was originally set to be released in what would have been the midst of the George Floyd protests in June 2020 — until the COVID-19 pandemic delayed its release for more than a year.

“It was uncanny that this film that [director] Nia DaCosta crafted, which speaks to the unending cycle of violence in America against black bodies, was being mirrored in reality,” said Cooper. “I’m relieved it’s not being released at a moment of national inflammation. At least there’s been a beat since then.’’

Here’s how the modern-day “Candyman” stacks up against the 1992 original.

Split of actresses Virginia Madsen (from the original "Candyman") and Teyonah Parris.
Virginia Madsen (left) starred in 1992’s “Candyman.” The update features actress Teyonah Parris (right).

A shift in perspective

1992: Protagonists are a white woman (Virginia Madsen) and her husband (Xander Berkeley). 

2021: The film is told from the perspective of a black couple, played by Yahya Abdul Mateen II and Teyonah Parris.

Scary soundtrack

1992: The original film was uniquely scored by Philip Glass. “It was a really incredible, repetitive and circular soundtrack,” noted producer Ian Cooper.

2021: To match the uniqueness of Glass, the filmmakers recruited the New York-based composer and sound artist Robert A.A. Lowe (a k a Lichens) to concoct an equally inventive score. “He’s not so dissimilar to Glass in that scoring films isn’t the main thing he does.”

Callback cast

1992: Veteran actress Vanessa Williams co-stars, her second-ever film role.

2021: 29 years later, Williams returns after a career which has recently seen her in recurring roles in “Days of Our Lives” and “The L Word: Generation Q.”

Windy City locales

1992: While the original film took place in Chicago, the bulk of production took place in Los Angeles.

2021: The film is as authentically Chicago as a deep dish pizza. “We shot our entire movie there,” said Cooper.

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