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Who Can Make Social Commentary Using Horror? The 'Candyman' (Well, Jordan Peele) Can

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

He has a hook for a hand. He's covered in bees, and we first met him in 1992.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "CANDYMAN")

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #1: (As character) It's just a story...

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #2: (As character) Candyman.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #3: (As character) Candyman.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #1: (As character) ...Just a ghost story.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #4: (As character) Candyman. (Screaming).

CORNISH: "Candyman" became a classic horror movie, and its Black supernatural killer left a huge impact on Jordan Peele, who has now co-written and co-produced a sequel.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "CANDYMAN")

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #5: (As character) And the legend is...

UNIDENTIFIED ACTORS: (As characters) If we say his name five times...

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #5: (As character) ...While looking in the mirror, we can summon him.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #6: (As character) Summon the Candyman.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #7: (As character) Hell no.

CORNISH: The new movie has the same name but a bit of a different focus. Pop Culture Happy Hour host Aisha Harris has seen the new film, which comes out today.

Aisha, welcome back.

AISHA HARRIS, BYLINE: Hello. Thanks for having me.

CORNISH: All right. This has been called the spiritual sequel to the 1992 movie "Candyman." Just remind us the basic plot of the original film.

HARRIS: So the original film is about a white grad student played by Virginia Madsen. Her character name is Helen Lyle. And she becomes obsessed with this urban myth about Candyman. Now, Candyman is haunting the Cabrini-Green housing projects in Chicago. And the basic lore of his story is that he was a man who was lynched during the time of slavery Antebellum South, and he is a serial killer.

CORNISH: I've seen the 1992 film. It is very scary.

HARRIS: (Laughter).

CORNISH: I understand this version, though, is set in a fancy new apartment that's actually built where the former public housing project was.

HARRIS: There is a ton of discussion about gentrification and the ramifications of that. And it stars Yahya Abdul-Mateen II as Anthony. He's playing this painter who, along with his girlfriend Brianna - played by Teyonah Parris - they move into one of these, you know, luxury apartment buildings near where the Cabrini-Green housing projects used to be. In real life, as in the movie, the Cabrini-Green housing projects no longer exist. They've been torn down. And so there's this discussion and this - you know, these dynamics about the fact that gentrification isn't just about white gentrification, per se, that Black millennials, Black upwardly mobile millennials are also moving into these areas. There's some interesting things that are happening here that were maybe touched on in the first movie, but because it's 2019, it all feels very, very present.

CORNISH: Right. Instead of having this kind of white protagonist, you have these kind of upwardly mobile Black characters kind of occupying the same space and not. Does this "Candyman" land its social commentary?

HARRIS: Yes and no. I think that because it's set sort of in the art world, there are some interesting conversations about what it means to use art to depict Black trauma. There are several moments where characters are explaining gentrification, and you have to wonder, who is this for? Anyone under the age of 45, 50 understands to some extent what gentrification is. So the question is, like, what are we trying to say here and who is this for?

CORNISH: Does it work as a thriller? Does it work as horror? Is it fun?

HARRIS: So Nia DaCosta, she's the director, and she is doing such interesting work here, visually. There are several death sequences that I think are really, really well shot and inventively shot. And so I think as a visual, the - this movie really works for me. And I think it was at times, genuinely, a little spooky. I mean, it works as a thriller in certain moments, in part because Nia DaCosta's filmmaking and her eye for making these things happen in interesting ways is so sharp.

CORNISH: That is NPR's Aisha Harris, co-host of Pop Culture Happy hour.

Thanks so much for playing around with us.

HARRIS: Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "SAY MY NAME")

DESTINY'S CHILD: (Singing) Say my name, say my name. If no one is around you, say, baby, I love you... Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.