When the now infamous Cabrini Green housing project was first conceived, the word “project” did not have the same pejorative connotation it has today. In fact, it was never intended to become the crime riddled section of my beloved city of Chicago that the municipal government seemingly forgot. Instead, it was supposed to provide affordable housing for working class of all races, and there were even stipulations as to the ethnic make-up of the area. It is an easy enough area to find today, and any trip along the Brown Line between the Loop and the northern neighborhoods will take you past what remains. When I was at Loyola University Chicago, the evidently cheaply made, painfully functional edifice of the familiar high rises were still standing. They were haunting. And therein lay part of the problem: eventually, with the era of post-World War II white flight, urban deterioration in the 1960s and 1970s, and a government increasingly spending money elsewhere, the once “model” homes fell into the kind of disrepair that would give rise to the kind of myth you see in today’s film Candyman. Like the scar on the fabric of Chicago that is Cabrini Green, the film is not something upon which you want to linger.
Candyman situates the viewer right away in the Windy City, and if you did not know where Cabrini Green was before this movie, the opening credits give you an interesting perspective of some of the city’s most iconic buildings. It then takes us to the housing project at the height of its occupation. A young boy totes his laundry to be cleaned when he encounters a strange man with a hook for a hand passing out candy. This is Sherman Fields (Michael Hargrove), and he is wanted in connection to a series of gruesome murders. When the boy screams in coming face-to-face with this terrifying figure, the police hear his cries, burst in, and immediately shoot Sherman presumably dead. Fast forward to modern times, and up-and-coming artist Anthony McCoy (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II) is living in what is now the newly gentrified Cabrini Green with his girlfriend, Brianna Cartwright (Teyonah Parris). They are entertaining her brother Troy (Nathan Stewart-Jarrett) and his partner Grady Greenberg (Kyle Kaminsky) with a dinner party. As the evening moves into the drinks phase, Troy begins to describe the tale of a graduate student named Helen Lyle (Virginia Madsen), who supposedly went on a murder spree in this area during the 1990s. She had been driven seemingly crazy by rumors of the Candyman legend. For whatever reason, this inspires Anthony to begin looking into the story, including wandering into the fenced off areas of the old projects. Two ominous events happen: first, he is bit by a bee; secondly, he meets William Burke (Colman Domingo). William had been the young boy who had the run-in with Sherman, and William reveals more of the events surrounding the Candyman, including how you say his name five times to summon him. This begins to bleed into Anthony’s art, and soon he is opening a new exhibit in with Brianna’s help. The images he presents are meant to evince the shock of the murders, as well as the desperate setting in which they took place. He is also trying to get people to say Candyman five times, even putting a mirror in the exhibit, which is one of the necessary tools for the summoning. Anthony does not believe anything will come of it, until people start dying. Also, the wound from the bee sting gets progressively worse, and he appears to be going insane. His paintings become darker, and he is increasingly withdrawn from Brianna. He also has visions of the killings when they occur. In his mind, they are Sherman Fields taking these hideous actions, but Anthony sees Sherman in the mirror whenever he looks. When an art critic named Finley Stephens (Rebecca Spence) is killed by the Candyman in her apartment when Anthony dares her to say the name the requisite number of times, the jolt alienates Anthony and Brianna. Anthony seems resigned to his fate, and wanders the derelict buildings of Cabrini Green. Brianna, though, finds a pen from William’s laundromat and goes there looking for answers. She is captured by William and forced to watch as he saws off Anthony’s withering forearm and replaces it with a hook. According to William, the projects need Candyman, like an avenging spirit for all the wrong done to the people who lived in such squalor. Brianna manages to escape, but is separated from Anthony when the police arrive and murder him in a similar fashion to Sherman. As she sits in the back of a squad car, she uses the car mirror to trick the cop into summoning Candyman, who is now fully Anthony. She uses this to get away, and looks on as he dispatches the rest of the police sent to her location. When the swarm of bees around Anthony’s face clears, it reveals the visage of Daniel Robitaille (Tony Todd), the original Candyman, who instructs her to “tell everyone.” And roll credits.
I do not want to talk about Candyman. There are too many layers to it that I found objectionable, and they are all themes that I have previously discussed. My objections are informed by my Faith. Hence, please feel free to use that as subtext when thinking about what I have written to this point. Instead, I am going to take this as an opportunity to inform you about the Catholic saint after whom this housing project is named. St. Frances Xavier Cabrini was born in Italy in 1850. From early on in her life, there were a few things that spoke to her: a desire to educate others; devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus; a yearning for missionary work; and a wish to join a religious order. When this last part was not fulfilled owing to supposedly poor health, she decided to help found a new order called the Missionary Sisters of the Sacred Heart of Jesus. Though she initially wanted to go to China, in 1889 Pope Leo XIII sent her and sisters to join the millions of Italian immigrants going to the United States. In New York, her order help revolutionize Catholic education, soon spreading their schools and orphanages all over the country. They provided education to everyone, regardless of cost, and were in many respects the model for public schooling today. She died in Chicago in 1917, still doing what she felt called to do. If you want to address the ills of poverty, you do so by teaching people instead of going on a murder spree as in the film.
I saw Candyman more out of duty than anything else. I am not familiar with the 1992 version having not seen it. I also do not care about how many times I have written the title word. I do not believe in participating in superstitions, which is a firm tenet of the Catholic Church. This is one made up in order to make a movie, but there are others that are thought of as real. Such things, much like this film, should not be indulged. Avoid it all and your soul will be better off for it.