When I Was Growing Up In Indiana, Candyman Was Very Real
You might be aware that soon there's going to be a new Candyman movie coming out, co-written by Get Out's Jordan Peele, and honestly, I'm not even that mad that one of Hollywood's most exciting new voices is rehashing old properties. Because Candyman is something that, as far as I can tell, is unique in all of cinema: a fictional film whose central thesis can be demonstrably proven, and if that's too Film School for you, let me put it this way -- Candyman came true.
My relationship to the horror genre is similar to my relationship with jazz: I find the vast majority of it boring, but the stuff that I do like I really like. Part of why I don't like horror is that I don't really find a large man with a sharp implement menacing horny teenagers to be compelling -- or even frightening. (See, I witnessed a double homicide with a shotgun before I was old enough to drink, so horror gore's as unshocking to me as finding a raw hogsnout in my Moons Over My Hammy.) I usually don't like jump scares because I don't think evoking an involuntarily biological reaction is an accomplishment in the same way I'm not impressed when I get Pavlovian diarrhea from driving past a Denny's. (See: Moons Over My Hammy.)
I'm being unfairly hard on both horror and Denny's. After all, there are some horror films that I absolutely adore (The VVitch, Jacob's Ladder) and Denny's also serves a societal function (a convenient location to purchase both waffles and PCP). Which brings me to one of my favorite horror films: Candyman. First of all, Candyman is based on a (very different) short story by Clive Barker, an author I admire so much I have a signed photograph of him sitting on the desk I'm writing this article on.
Candyman, besides being a really interesting deconstruction of the role of myth in modernity and metacommentary on horror's role in that, is just a good movie. Actor Tony Todd exudes both menace and a weird dignity as Candyman, and the film has a soundtrack by -- holy shit, Philip Glass? Philip Glass did the soundtrack? The soundtrack was done by Philip Glass? Philip Glass? Who did the soundtrack? Philip Glass did the soundtrack? If this bit makes sense to you I hope your film degree has been more profitable to you than mine has.
One of the central themes about Candyman is that whether or not a story is "true" is irrelevant -- if enough people believe in something, the end result is more or less the same whether the thing is real or not. It's why we still have the TSA even though in a test conducted by the Department of Homeland Security, the TSA failed to confiscate weapons snuck on board 67 out of 70 times, a failure rate of 95% -- the TSA is roughly as effective as fishnet condoms.
But we still have them because it makes us believe that things are safer and prevents panic. Maybe? This article is about movies, not airports. One more example: God. I personally don't think there's a giant (?) invisible (?) man (?) in the sky (?) who sets you on fire forever just because you ate one delicious owl. But whether or not the Christian God actually exists (probably somewhere sitting on His celestial throne and coming up with creative new tortures for me when He learns that I'm raising money to start a foodtruck that serves sustainable artisan owlburgers), the idea of that god is probably the single most influential idea in all of history, ranking just above Communism and "What if instead of us going to get pizza, pizza came to us?"
I'm going somewhere with this, I swear. So Candyman is about a semiotics student researching urban legends for her thesis. After hearing about Candyman, she goes to Cabrini-Green -- one of the most notoriously dangerous housing projects in the country. Once there she encounters a drug dealer who calls himself the Candy Man. He's appropriating the legend of Candyman as a way to instill fear in people, much like how Henry Kissinger sucks the blood of infants so people think he's a vampire and don't suspect the reason for his immorality is actually defiling the Holy Grail. Most importantly for the point I'm trying to make -- which, again, I swear exists -- is that when our main character encounters the actual Candyman in a parking garage, he declares that he must shed innocent blood to perpetuate his legend.
Without the legend, Candyman does not functionally exist -- even if he's real. If people believe in him, he functionally exists -- even if he's not real.
As anyone who knows me even a little won't be surprised by this next part, where I make this about me and then disappoint you. See, Cabrini-Green was a real place, but shortly after Candyman was shot in 1992 Cabrini-Green began to be torn down. Many of the displaced residents found themselves unable to afford rents in what was now known as the River North neighborhood. The neighborhood where Cabrini-Green used to be was now gentrified -- nothing but banjo luthiers as far as the eye can see, the worst crime happening is scalping Mumford & Sons tickets. So these displaced families moved a few miles east to Northwest Indiana -- known locally as the Region -- where the cost of living is significantly lower, with the trade-off being that you have to live in Northwest Indiana.
I'm from Gary, Indiana, most famous for having a nice little song in The Music Man and also being the former murder capital of the country. I was born in 1991, so when I was growing up, some of the people I was around were either from the Cabrini-Green diaspora or their parents were. And growing up, I vividly remember stories of the Candyman. We would scare each other with stories of him around the playground or during sleepovers, daring each other to say "Candyman" in the mirror five times. The Candyman was just something we grew up being afraid of, like Bloody Mary or Baby Blue or the nebulous concept of "the terrorists" or that fucking piano from Super Mario 64. (If you're in my age group you absolutely know what I'm talking about.)
Growing up I was terrified of Candyman. When I had to use the bathroom at night I would make it a point not to even look at the mirror, and not just because of the usual face-related reasons I avoid looking in mirrors. When I first saw the film Candyman in college I was shocked to discover that it wasn't based on the urban legend from Chicagoland, just like I was shocked that that movie JFK actually happened. According to my goddaughter in Indiana, kids are still scaring each other with stories about Candyman just as much as they are with stories of Slenderman. Candyman has woven himself into the mythology of the Region, and I can personally assure you the fear he engenders is very, very real.
The film Candyman is a prophecy which fulfilled itself. He's just one more thing to be afraid of in Northwest Indiana, along with heroin, roving bands of coyotes, crumbling infrastructure, and the universal fear of haunted pianos. Northwest Indiana: the Denny's of America.