Fritz Leiber was originally credited with modernizing horror with his watershed effort "The Smoke Ghost," a supernatural embodiment of the malaise of urban life. Moving forward a few decades, British authors took this approach and as a result we see some of the best work of Ramsey Campbell and Clive Barker.

Candyman is one of the greatest urban horror tales out there, articulating the function and evolution of mythology. It all started with Barker's short story "The Forbidden." The tale is about Helen, an anthropology student slumming it in the ghettos, photographing graffiti for her thesis on urban decay. She stumbles across graffiti of the Candyman, a legendary hook-handed killer. Helen's involvement with solving a local murder casts doubt on his existence. To maintain his reality, Candyman must assimilate Helen into his narrative, bringing about Helen's grisly death. Myths work by assimilation. The rumors passed by students in a high school might be utter crap, but they attain a palpable vitality if they are passed around enough. If other stories are told to supplement, the myth perpetuates. It doesn't matter if it's true or not.

In Candyman, Helen commits a transgression of crossing class barriers as she enters a neighborhood she doesn't belong where evil is born in the squalor and neglect of aging housing projects. Helen commits another transgression by bringing attention to the myth of Candyman and questioning it. The denizens of this rotting community avoid talking about it because to question the "why" of the myth is the forbidden thing in the story's title. It keeps the myth safely mysterious and keeps a target off their backs.

The 1992 film Candyman is a masterwork of menace, in part because of the verisimilitude that director Bernard Rose brought to the project by filming it on location in tte Cabrini Green community in Chicago. He paid the local gang members to play as extras in the film and also to avoid making any trouble. This film is responsible for providing Tony Todd with his most iconic role. To top it off, Phillip Glass's bleak, ominous score enhances the film's atmosphere of despair. The plot builds upon the original story, transplanting it from England to the U.S. while mercifully preserving several of Candyman's lines, "I am rumor. It is a blessed condition, believe me. To be whispered about at street corners. To live in people's dreams, but not to have to be." A myth has the benefit of consciousness without the burden of mortality. The film builds by creating Candyman's backstory that is distinctly American and achieves another level of relevance by introducing themes of racial prejudice and interracial relationships. Giving Candyman this background makes him more sympathetic, adding a human quality to the myth.

Candyman (2021), filmed by Nia DeCosta works as an appropriately bleak sequel. It shows how mutable myths can be, how they can get some objective facts right while mixing up others completely. It shows that once the seeds of evil are down by neglect, they can't be rooted out, even by a fresh coat of urban renewal. No one can change what's happened, no matter who takes control of the narrative. I felt a shudder as I saw the elements of the story come together and the final ties that actually make this a true sequel come to light. I don't mind the politics of this story so much because the direction does well with showing us what is wrong with the picture we are seeing instead of verbally slapping us in the face with it.

Barker's short story is entertaining from a story-telling level, but even more so it provides food for thought for how stories function. This is a franchise worth revisiting and not just fodder for endless meaningless sequels (yes, I'm talking about you Scream. Deconstruction of slashers is as cutting edge these days as a farting contest between Eddie Murphy's characters in The Nutty Professor). If the theory of myths work anything like in Barker's story, then Candyman is a boogeyman that will haunt us for generations to come. As Barker wrote, "What worth was a man who could not be haunted?"

Written by Nicholas Montelongo

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