Re-Fear: Candyman 2: Farewell to the Flesh (1995) by Bill Condon
Review by Courtney Anderson
I saw the original Candyman when I was way too damn young. I couldn’t have been more than 6-years-old. I saw it thanks to my ne’er-do-well older cousins who wanted to watch it to prove that they weren’t scared. I, not wanting to be left out or thought of as a scared baby, watched it, too.
The original Candyman tells the story of Helen Lyle, a woman who is fascinated by folklore and urban legends. She hears the story about a hook-handed murder called Candyman who appears when you call his name five times in a mirror. Helen starts to research this story and discovers a whole bunch of murders that people believe were committed by Candyman.
Helen, of course, doesn’t believe in Candyman. She thinks he’s a myth the community has created to deal with a very ugly past. Unfortunately for her, Helen’s disbelief is what encourages Candyman to appear and start slashing people up with that gnarly hook.
As children, we were shook by the movie. We genuinely believed that Candyman was coming to get us. One of my cousins decided she wanted to chant his name in the bathroom mirror five times, and it led to an actual screaming and crying.
And can anybody blame us? Besides having that bloody hook for a hand, Candyman also has bees pouring out of his body: out of his mouth, his chest cavity, everywhere. The image of Tony Todd’s face half covered in bees and blood was permanently burned into my brain. So, I didn’t watch Candyman again.
I didn’t even realize there was a sequel until I was in college.
Candyman: Farewell to the Flesh was released in March of 1995, about three years after Candyman. I first saw Farewell to the Flesh because of a friend of mine who was super into both films and had found them on Netflix. It had been well over a decade since I’d seen the first one, and the idea of a second film kind of baffled me. So we watched both, and I found new reasons to be traumatized.
Instead of seeing the story of a hook-handed killer that I remembered, I saw a gruesome, thematically confusing tale of a Black man who was lynched by a white society for fathering a baby with a white woman.
Candyman and Farewell to the Flesh tell the story of Daniel Robitaille, the man who would eventually become Candyman. Daniel was the son of a slave who worked on a plantation in New Orleans. Daniel was also a very talented artist who was asked to paint a portrait of a rich white man’s daughter, a woman called Caroline. Daniel and Caroline fall in love, start having an affair and get pregnant.
The pregnancy is discovered, and Daniel is grotesquely murdered by a lynch mob. The mob cuts off his right hand, slathers him in honey, and laughs and jeers as he is stung to death by bees. The Candyman moniker is created when a little boy tastes some of the honey that Daniel’s coated in and exclaims “Candyman!” And the whole mirror thing comes from Caroline’s father using a mirror to taunt Daniel as he’s dying.
In Candyman, we learn that the character Helen Lyle is a reincarnation of Caroline. Candyman shows up to murder everyone she loves, woo her into helping him terrorize their community, and then ultimately kill her, too. Helen joins whatever circle of Hell Candyman lives in during his off-season.
In Farewell to the Flesh, we follow the story of Annie Tarrant, who gets in the Candyman saga when her brother is accused of murdering an author who was writing about the Candyman murders, one of them being Annie’s father. After Annie foolishly summons Candyman and a whole bunch of murders happening during Mardi Gras, we learn that Annie is the descendent of Daniel and Caroline. Annie manages to vanquish Candyman for good. The movie ends with Annie teaching her daughter, who she’s named Caroline, all about Daniel.
Because I have the armor of adulthood to protect me from being afraid, I am finally able to realize that, thematically speaking, Candyman and Farewell to the Flesh kind of confuse me.
My confusion comes from the way they frame Candyman. The film frames him as this horrific demon who sheds innocent blood out of some twisted type of petulance and self-centeredness. Candyman kills because people don’t believe in him and that makes him mad.
But when you consider what happened to Daniel and the way the community tried to pretend like he didn’t exist at all, it’s understandable that he’s pissed the fuck off and wants some revenge. Candyman’s anger is at those who have tried to erase him for centuries after his murder. His presence and violence is to continually remind them of their monstrous history of anti-blackness and murder. So it feels really weird to me that they’d create him as this homicidal haunt who must be destroyed.
Another thing that confuses me is who is tasked with killing Candyman: two white women, one his reincarnated lover, and the other his descendant. These are the two women that he wants to be close to in some way, which makes sense to me. It also makes sense that these are the women who keep uncovering his story and forcing the community to recognize him.
What doesn’t make sense to me is the whole show of Candyman murdering these women and everyone they love. Why make him a monster? Why not restructure these films so that we can get some introspection from this man?
Why does Candyman ultimately not center the Candyman? Both films center the white women who Daniel is portrayed as having some lethal obsession with. It’s like the writers and director worked overtime to make Candyman as horrendous as possible so as to make him is the villain of his own story.
That is goofy to me. You can’t give him a backstory where he is murdered and erased from history only to have him be murdered and erased again. Farewell to the Flesh shows Annie keeping Daniel’s story alive through her daughter, but they do that after showing Annie destroying his mirror and watching his birth home collapse into the river. Either these scenes and the messages they convey are contradictory, or I’m just too dumb to figure out the message.
Candyman and Farewell to the Flesh both strike me as movies that could’ve made for fascinating interrogation of vengeance, racism, and historical erasure, but end up being a mangled White Savior™ stories where the villain is also the victim, one whose story is refurbished as a weapon against him.
I guess my actual problem with both of films is that I don’t know what they’re trying to say. Did this Black man who was brutally murdered become a monster because he was brutally murdered? Is he not entitled to vengeance? Is this an anti-vengeance story? Are they trying to make these two white women “victims” of this Black man's violence while also making them the defender of his story and continuation of his legacy? What the hell is happening??
My experience with the sequel has completely transformed my experience with the original. I’ve gone from having a preoccupation with the horror of Candyman to having a preoccupation with how this character is portrayed, why he’s portrayed that way, and what this portrayal is trying to tell us.
But I suppose that’s what happens when you grow up. Your childhood fears melt away to reveal something even more complicated and even more ugly.
By the way . . . did y’all know there’s a Candyman 3?