“Brennan Went to Film School” is a column that proves that horror has just as much to say about the world as your average Oscar nominee. Probably more, if we’re being honest.
There is a difference between being a perfect sequel and a perfect film. For example, Miss Congeniality 2: Armed and Fabulous isn’t a particularly interesting or funny movie, but it continues the story of the original perfectly, setting the character further along her arc with a story that mirrors elements of the original but isn’t just a flat repetition of them. So I hope I’ve given you enough context to understand what I mean when I say Candyman 3: Day of the Dead is a perfect sequel.
Sure, its direct-to-video cheapness is on full display. Sure, Tony Todd produces for the first time so Candyman gets a hilariously gratuitous sex scene. Sure, the plot features a time jump that would imply the movie is set in 2016 even though everyone is still trotting around in horrible 1999 fashions (actually that part might have been more accurate than we thought at the time).
But all of that pales in comparison to what Day of the Dead elects to do with the themes of the original Candyman. The first film was a lush, gothic story that wasn’t afraid to tackle dark subjects, juxtaposing the violence of Chicago’s notorious failed housing project Cabrini-Green with the historical lynching of a black man who fell in love with a white woman. It blends urban legend with harsh reality and explores the collision of race and violence through the ages in a profoundly affecting way.
Where Candyman 2: Farewell to the Flesh was merely a weak retread of those very same themes, Day of the Dead recontextualizes Candyman into the milieu of modern Los Angeles, a city still rocked by the riots from seven years earlier. Candyman’s renewed reign of terror (ignited by a white lady – of course – who is showing a collection of his paintings at a gallery) begins with the murder of the gallery owner, which a crooked, racist cop blames on a Latino local played by A Nightmare on Elm Street‘s Nick Corri.
This relocation allows the film to explore the way the curse of Candyman might resonate with the history of an entirely different city. The struggles and violence in the communities of Chicago and Los Angeles are similar and yet entirely different, and finds us shifting the focus to California’s Latino population (the entire film takes place around the local celebration of Día de Los Muertos and incorporates elements of brujería).
By expanding the franchise’s focus outside of the specifically African-American struggle, Day of the Dead allows Candyman to push further into its unrelenting exploration of America’s dark past and not-much-better present. Through its depiction of police brutality that unfortunately rings even more true today, the film traces a direct line from Candyman to Rodney King to L.A.’s Zoot Suit Riots of the 1940’s (that’s right, it’s not just an annoying Cherry Poppin’ Daddies song; if you want more information you can check out the 1981 film Zoot Suit by Luis Valdez).
Day of the Dead isn’t just some lame DTV sequel in Candyman drag. It still has the elements we recognize and love (Tony Todd, scary hook murders, things covered in bees) but it considers the themes of the original film and uses them as a tool to dig even deeper under the surface of America’s cityscapes. It didn’t have to do this, but instead of coasting along it decided to add to the conversation, something that all sequels should strive to do.
Sure, it’s not the best movie ever made. Nobody would ever confuse it for this. But as far as horror movie franchises go, it’s an underrated follow-up, a perfect example of the way sequels should be handling their legacies.
Brennan Klein is a writer and podcaster who talks horror movies every chance he gets. And when you’re talking to him about something else, he’s probably thinking about horror movies. On his blog, Popcorn Culture, he is running through reviews of every slasher film of the 1980s, and on his podcast, Scream 101, he and a non-horror nerd co-host tackle horror franchises from tip to tail! He also produces the LGBTQ horror podcast Attack of the Queerwolf!.