Intermittently throughout the summer, we'll be taking an historical tour of the Hollywood blockbuster by examining an older film that is in some way a spiritual precursor to a major new release. This week: the myth of Candyman has been resurrected to remind us all of the nightmarish power of storytelling. It's not the first time the old ghost has been invoked for a sequel, not that the new film has too terribly high of a bar to clear in that regard.

1999's Candyman: Day of the Dead is about as much a missing-the-point sequel to 1995's Candyman: Farewell to the Flesh as Farewell to the Flesh was, in turn, to the 1992 horror classic Candyman. This in theory means that we've burrowed down to a pretty horrible place altogether: a viciously unnecessary sequel squared. In practice, it doesn't quite pan out that way. The thing is, the point of Farewell to the Flesh was pretty useless and bad and dumb, so missing that particular point is probably just as well. Day of the Dead is not, I want to make it clear, a good movie. It is not even a "better" movie than its direct predecessor in any reasonably quantifiable and even halfway objective sense. But it does represent a step up in the single important way: it's not so goddamn dull. "Not nearly trashy enough", I said about Farewell to the Flesh, and Day of the Dead proves me entirely right: it is amply trashy. I don't know if there's enough here to make for an experience that's so bad that it's good, but at least it's so crass that it's watchable.

This is at least partially explained because Candyman: Day of the Dead finds the Candyman franchise - and that really is the word we have to start using at this point, though thankfully this is also the film where that franchise runs out of steam and dies - lurching into the glum world of direct-to-video distribution. In its native United States, at least; it was theatrically released in much of Europe, at least. But whatever happened overseas, the vibe is 100% undiluted DTV schlock, and in the 1990s, DTV schlock had an awfully good chance of meaning softcore porn was on the table. I don't think Day of the Dead gets us quite to that point - it only has one out-and-out pervy scene of wholly unmotivated smut, when the protagonist, Caroline McKeever (Donna D'Errico), has an unnecessarily detailed vision of a woman rubbing a raw honeycomb dripping honey all over her naked boobs shortly before dying horribly of paranormal bee stings - but it's certainly content to grub around in the gutter. There's plenty of gratuitous nudity, and even more gratuitous violence, along with a higher body count than either earlier Candyman film.

This is, of course, all very disreputable, but given the choice between repute and being actually tolerable to sit through 93 minutes of crappy slasher movie mechanics, I mean, that's not really a choice at all. And look, I don't want to downplay that they are crappy mechanics. The estimable strengths of Candyman are pretty far behind us by now: the closest this comes to being a commentary on racial struggle in the U.S. begins and ends with a garishly racist Los Angeles cop named Detective Kraft (Wade Williams). The L.A. Mexican community where the film is mostly set doesn't even really rise to the level of providing a colorful backdrop, let alone having the dense richness of Candyman's Cabrini Green. Nor even Farewell to the Flesh's New Orleans. Writers Al Septien & Turi Meyer (the latter directs as well) give no indication that they wanted to dig into the specificity of this, or any other culture; we have before us a film where one character, after having slightly too strong of a shot of tequila, honest-to-God shouts "ay, chihuahua!" There's no sense of atmosphere, either: the film is very brightly and flatly lit, and Adam Gorgoni's by-the-books '90s thriller score does nothing to dislodge the memories of the draining, hypnotic Philip Glass music of the original.

The real sin is what this does with Tony Todd's Candyman himself. The last movie already transformed him from a kind of avatar of racialised oppression into a pissed-off, vengeance-seeking ghost; Day of the Dead gives the little nudge to turn him into a Freddy Krueger knock-off. The early Freddy, before he became a murderous stand-up comic; I have no specific reason to doubt that Todd has fine comic timing, but I've never seen even a little hint of him demonstrating such a thing, and the Candyman's quips, such as they are, are delivered in a spirit of malice rather than sarcasm. But the point, anyway, is that this film has him literally invade Caroline's nightmares and work those nightmares into gaudy death scenes. It's not cloning Freddy directly, but other than maybe Wishmaster, I can't name a closer copy.

That's a very odd choice that deflates the Candyman of all his particular weight as a figure of myth and horror cinema alike, though in fairness, Farewell to the Flesh had already done much of the deflating. This film finishes off the job that film started, flattening the nerve-rattling expanse of the sound mix to reduce Todd's wonderful voice from an all-surrounding sonic blanket to just a sweetened bass growl. Amping up the bloody murder completes his journey from an embodied rage to just a hook-wielding ghost; and in that vein, Day of the Dead manages to more or less entirely write out the sociological element that made the character so distinctive and tonally complicated in the first place. It's typical of how little this movie cares about such a thing that the entire plot can be built around the Candyman (who came back from being utterly destroyed last time, somehow) attempting to seduce Caroline, his some-number-of-greats-granddaughter, into furthering his reign of terror, and the fact that she's a white blonde lady and he's the avatar of wrathful reaction to centuries of racialised injustice doesn't seem to have ever entered the filmmakers' minds as something worth of treating even as a slight wrinkle.

So what we for sure don't have: thematic resonance, a genuine sense of weight and menacing presence, a story that even pretends that it's trying to do more than cue up a long-ish list of people to be ripped apart by a hook. It's pretty indifferently-made: the whole thing is light much too brightly to be taken seriously as moody horror, perhaps because the priority was making sure that the various topless women could be clearly seen. The acting is, without exception, bad: Todd has certainly never been less invested in playing the part, looking mildly bored as he stands awkwardly while growling his lines, and he's still the best member, by far, of the entire cast. D'Errico's lead performance is shockingly bad, anchored by petulant pouting that serves as a one-size-fits all reaction to pretty much any stimulus that crosses her path, and not the slightest indication that she feels any real sense of danger or anything worse than annoyance. She never gets undressed, or at least not such that it "counts", but it nonetheless feels like a performance given by a porn actor who just needs to grind through the minimum necessary amount of dialogue before getting to the sex scenes.

Granting that this is all quite badly made, Day of the Dead is still actually pretty watchable. Even on his worst day, Tony Todd has screen presence for miles, and while this might be his worst day, it mostly just proves how much he's always worth watching. And there is something grossly appealing about a film from the late 1990s that's so unapologetic about being a lewd, gory exploitation film. This was a period of exceptionally sanitary horror filmmaking, and something so aggressively low-brow and scuzzy feels somehow joyful just by virtue of having actual guts. It's an unredeemably bad successor to Candyman, but that bed had already been shat by this point, and at least this time the people doing the shitting go about it with real verve and pizzazz.

Reviews in this series
Candyman (Rose, 1992)
Candyman: Farewell to the Flesh (Condon, 1995)
Candyman: Day of the Dead (Meyer, 1999)
Candyman (DaCosta, 2021)