“Little Woods” director Nia DaCosta’s lackluster “soul sequel” to Bernard Rose’s seminal Gothic masterpiece “Candyman” (1992) qualifies as an anemic allegory about the evils of racial oppression and urban gentrification. Basically, DaCosta and scenarists Jordan Peel & Win Rosenfeld have forged a horror movie in the crucible of critical race theory.

Specifically, critical race theory (CRT) argues white supremacy has subjugated minorities of color throughout America’s history. Sadly, this superbly lensed and hauntingly scored chiller qualifies as far more topical than it is terrifying.

The choice of the notorious Cabrini-Green Housing Project in Chicago as a setting qualifies as a damning enough indictment of white supremacy. Unfortunately, little about this introspective, R-rated, 91-minute movie will give you the shivers. Mind you, I’ve seen the new “Candyma n” four times in theaters, and nobody has howled in horror.

Since its late August debut, this $25 million Universal release has virtually doubled its budget at the box office. Now, no matter how smart and sophisticated the new “Candyman” (*** OUT OF ****) is, the filmmakers forgot the essence of any industrial strength horror movie: buckets of blood & gore.

Neither will your blood run cold nor dread paralyze you at the sight of the new Candyman. Horror movies prime audiences to anticipate the worst and then resort to hysterics when mayhem ensues. Sadly, legendary ghoul that the title character is, DaCosta’s Candyman is barely seen slashing and gashing his victims. Inexplicably, DaCosta keeps this fiendish golem on a tight leash until the show-stopping finale.

Candyman appears to be more of an eponymous guest than an eponymous ghoul. Emphasizing the social, racial, and political context, the filmmakers have changed Candyman from being merely a monster to mostly a martyr. Earlier, “Don’t Breathe 2” rehabbed the original film’s wicked villain as a hero, too.

Similarly, DaCosta and company have reformed Candyman. They use Candyman’s backstory to reveal how institutional white racism bred this boogeyman. The description of the beating the first Candyman suffered at the hands of whites in the 1890s sounded a lot like what happened to Emmett Till.

The new “Candyman” draws on its legendary predecessor. The big difference between DaCosta’s film and Rose’s original is the protagonist. An African American artist has replaced the white female graduate student.

A gifted painter, Anthony McCoy (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II of “Aquaman”) endures a fate similar to the artist in Oscar Wilde’s classic novel “The Portrait of Dorian Gray.” Searching for something refreshing to inspire him, McCoy visits Cabrini-Green. While he is snapping photos of the infamous Chicago public housing project, he is stung by a bee.

This is the first hint McCoy will evolve into Candyman. McCoy chats with long-time Cabrini resident William Burke (Colman Domingo of “Assassination Nation”) who was alive when the ghoul with a right hook haunted the neighborhood. Burke regales McCoy with stories about Candyman and reviles the Chicago Police Department’s presence in the hood. Primarily, Burke tells McCoy about his initial encounter with Candyman. Burke met the boogeyman when he was a youngster washing his laundry.

He heard a piece of candy hit the floor. Moments later a lanky black man with a crooked smile emerged from a huge crack in the wall. He had a prosthetic split-hook for his right hand instead of Candyman’s pirate hook. Suddenly, blue-clad CPD policemen burst into the laundry room.

Although we don’t see it on-screen, the police killed Candyman. Later, McCoy learns if anybody utters Candyman’s name five times in front of a mirror, the maniac with the hook will materialize and eviscerate the individual. Using this premise, Anthony paints some experimental pictures and uses them in conjunction with a standard bathroom cabinet mirror that folds out to reveal those paintings behind it.

Art promoter Clive Privler (Brian King of “Widows”) exhibits McCoy’s “Say My Name” artwork, but he doesn’t want McCoy bothering snooty white art critic Finley Stephens (Rebecca Spence of “Man of Steel”). Clive fears Stephens will trash McCoy’s work as well as his art gallery for promoting the “Say My Name” display. After the show, Clive and his girlfriend Jerrica Cooper (newcomer Miriam Moss) decide to summon Candyman.

Just about everybody who summons Candyman is slain. Whites are the primary target, but black teens in a room summon him and face the same dire fate.

Indeed, Candyman kills, but he is depicted as more of a hands-off guy. When he strikes the first time, we see the deed not the doer. Afterward, all we see is his shadow on the wall. We see the slashed and gashed victims, but not the sadistic ghoul.

That’s a cheat! Later, during the girl’s lavatory massacre, we are treated to blood, dying, and death, but we never see Candyman carrying out those savage acts. If you look closely at the compact mirror on the floor in the girl’s restroom scene, you’ll catch the merest glimpse of Candyman.

This new Candyman projects little of Tony Todd’s majesty and menace. The original Candyman benefited from Todd’s daunting presence and towering height. Actually, all you’ll see here is one of his legs levitating. Tony Todd oozed evil in the original and its two sequels.

Comparatively, Yahya Abdul-Mateen II is far less hideous. Even when he does go postal on the cops in Cabrini-Green in the last scene, Abdul-Mateen II never generates any of Todd’s homicidal zeal. Ultimately, Candyman emerges as a symbol of racism and white supremacy.

Not only does DaCosta and company treat the first film with reverence, but they also have developed the character of Anthony McCoy’s obsessed artist. As it turns out, Anthony learns he was the baby Candyman wanted to sacrifice in the bonfire in the original film.

Remember, Helen Lyle saved baby Anthony and returned him to his mother. Ultimately, despite its charismatic cast, top tier production values, Robert Aiki Aubrey Lowe’s edgy orchestral score and atmospheric shadow puppet shows, “Candyman” never sinks his hook into you with the devastating horror of the first film.


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