You don't need to have seen 1992's Candyman to enjoy Nia DaCosta's new take on the franchise; in fact, it might confuse you even more. And you definitely don't need to see its sequels, which are actively bad. But if you must know, we watched the bad movies, so you don't have to.
So don't say "Candyman" 5 times in a mirror; just check out this quick rundown of what you may have missed.
The original Candyman follows grad student Helen Lyle (Virginia Madsen), who is doing her thesis on urban legends, when she hears about the Candyman of Cabrini Green. The housing project on the North Side of Chicago happens to be the exact same building where Helen and her professor-husband Trevor (Xander Berkeley), so she becomes obsessed with the murders and violence attributed to the Candyman.
The Candyman was the son of a freed slave– an artist and a gentleman by the name of Daniel Robataille (Tony Todd). Hired by a wealthy Chicago family to paint a portrait of their daughter, the two committed the worst crime: they fell in love. A child was conceived. An angry mob turned against Robataille, dragging him into a field, cutting off his hand, replacing it with a hook, and then slathering his body with honey. The bees turned on Robataille and killed him. And now, if you speak his name five times in a mirror, he will appear and kill you.
Helen becomes convinced the legend of the Candyman is being used to cover up the general horrors of living in Cabrini Green, including a recent murder. She is scoffed at by her academic peers, including one specific professor named Purcell, who is a complete asshole to her. As she continues her investigation, she begins to believe in the legend itself. Finally saying his name in a mirror, he appears, not as a vengeful spirit but a romantic seducer. More Dracula or Phantom of the Opera wants Helen to believe in him and give herself to him willingly. He gains power from peoples' belief in him, and he has a cult of followers who have built multiple shrines to him throughout the housing project, including graffiti dedicated to him.
To convince Helen to give herself over to him, Candyman begins murdering people around her. Helen is framed for some of the crimes, including murdering her research partner and kidnapping an infant boy. Committed to an insane asylum, Helen is revisited by the Candyman, who tells her he will release the child if she gives herself to him. Candyman murders her psychiatrist, and Helen escapes returning home to find her husband has shacked up with one of his grad students, with whom he has been cheating on Helen.
Helen returns to Cabrini Green, where Candyman's cult has built a bonfire to sacrifice the child. Helen saves the baby, but the crowd ignites the bonfire. Candyman burns to death as Helen rejects and kicks him back; she crawls out of the fire, incinerated herself but swaddling the baby unharmed. She dies having saved the child, her face and hair burned beyond recognition.
Her husband sits in the bathroom while his new girlfriend makes dinner. He looks in the mirror and… it's Helen! Burned beyond recognition, she's come for revenge and takes revenge on her cheating husband, setting up his new girl as the suspect. We're left with several questions: was Helen might be responsible for all of the murders all along? Is she perhaps an incarnation of Robataille's dead lover all those years ago? Or is this all a fable about racial violence towards the Black community dressed in slasher-tropes with a more romantic take on the villain?
Candyman: Farewell to the Flesh (1995)
This sequel moves the action to New Orleans in the week before Mardi Gras. Surprise! It's that asshole professor, Purcell, who has just published a book on the Candyman myth. The book has a reflective cover, so he says Candyman's name five times at a book reading event and then is brutally murdered in the bathroom! Yes! Candyman is back, baby!
And then most of the movie is incoherent dreck. This film expands on the legend of Candyman and his origin, reminding us that his father had been a slave in New Orleans and Daniel Robataille had grown up there. Candyman is being blamed for a series of murders, especially by a radio DJ named Kingfisher, who narrates the movie like he's Wolfman Jack in American Graffiti, except with the worst accent.
The movie centers around the wealthy Tarrant family, whose patriarch was murdered several years before. Brother Ethan believes the Candyman killed him, while sister Annie (Kelly Rowan) is a skeptic. The students at the school where she teaches believe, though, leading her to question everything and digging into her family's history. It turns out her family was the ones responsible for Robataille's death, and after it, his mother raised their unborn daughter as white. Candyman's power was tied to a mirror they owned, and the hunt is on for the artifact, which turns out to be in the old slave quarters on their family's old plantation estate. (Ugh, gross on so many levels).
Oh, also? Annie summons Candyman, and he's trying to seduce her the same way as in the first movie, and so lots of murders are happening and… wait a minute. So, Annie is Candyman's great^4 granddaughter, and this movie is about how he wants to seduce her? WT actual F?
The important thing here is that this sequel changes the Candyman myth slightly and moves it away from the Cabrini Green housing project, which is an important setting and plot point in the remake. It's partially why producer Jordan Peele and writer/director Nia DaCosta ignored this Candyman sequel also because it suuuuuuuucks.
Believe it or not, future Oscar-winner Bill Condon (Gods and Monsters, Kinsey, Dreamgirls, Chicago) directed this, which is surprising until you remember Condon also directed two of the Twilights and the live-action Beauty and the Beast and… there it is. Makes sense.
You can watch Candyman: Farewell to the Flesh for free if you have Amazon Prime or on Pluto TV free with ads, and I wouldn't recommend spending a cent more on it.
Candyman: Day of the Dead (1999)
Please don't watch this movie. There's a reason Tony Todd himself has disavowed it. But the scene changes this time to Los Angeles because when you're trying to crap out a cheap sequel, you set it in LA and use local extras to be in your movie. Seriously, this looks like it was shot for Cinemax. Also? It's also about as horny as one of those Cinemax after-dark movies. While the other films have been romantic and even slightly erotic, this just dumps all pretense and goes total T&A and blood and guts.
The story revolves around Caroline, another Daniel Robataille great^5 granddaughter, who tells her family's story to a local artist who uses it as inspiration for an art show. And then murders start happening. Caroline also summons Candyman, and then he wants to bone her, too, because seriously, this is getting gross with how Candyman wants to seduce his (somehow always blonde) offspring.
The other points of the plot are completely inconsequential and have no bearing on anything. They're just window dressing for sex and bloody murder. At least Tony Todd is watchable, but there is nothing else redeeming about this movie at all. The only thing of interest is the connection to the art show, which is a plot point in the DaCosta Candyman. But I sincerely hope for her sake that is an inadvertent homage because otherwise, it means she at some point had to sit through this garbage.
If you absolutely must, you can watch this horror on Hulu.