Tag Archives: Candyman

25 for 2021

by Hope Madden and George Wolf

Looking back, what will we remember about the 2021 year in film? Musicals, black and white palettes, smoking, ensembles and impressive debuts are the trends we’ll think of first. But more specifically, we’ll remember these 25 favorites:

1. Licorice Pizza

Paul Thomas Anderson’s latest is loose, forgiving, and along for the ride as 15-year-old entrepreneur Gary Valentine (Cooper Hoffman) woos life, Hollywood and, in particular, Alana Kane (Alana Haim), his much older paramour.

Danger edges but never fully punctures the sunshine of youth that brightens every scene of the movie. But that darkness is there, looming like the creepy guy staring at your office window, or the cops who arrest you mistakenly, or the volatile Hollywood producer who may or may not smash your window (or your head) in with a crowbar. (Thank you, Bradley Cooper, by the way, for that brief but unforgettable performance.)

It’s nostalgic. It’s uproarious, dangerous, just-this-side-of-innocent fun. It’s a near-masterpiece.

2. The Power of the Dog

Even if you haven’t read the celebrated source novel by Thomas Savage, director Jane Campion’s adaptation unfolds with enough subtle poetry to convince you that it must be a wonderful read. Onscreen, the Oscar-winning Campion (The Piano) contrasts the vast majesty of the American West (kudos to cinematographer Ari Wegner) with delicate details that shift the nature of love, trust and strength within a family.

Kodi Smit-McFee, Jesse Plemmons, Kirstin Dunst and a particularly brilliant Benedict Cumberbatch bring her story to life. The Power of the Dog finds its own power in what it shows but never truly tells. It’s a film that is hauntingly lyrical and masterfully assembled, with a beauty that lingers like an echo in the Montana wilderness.

3. The Tragedy of Macbeth

Coen brother Joel delivers a vision that’s both decidedly theatrical and profoundly cinematic with his solo directorial effort. Filmed in Bergman-esque black and white to glorious ends, Denzel Washington and Frances McDormand play the Lord and his Lady and this, friends, is a dream team. Two of the most celebrated and talented actors of modern cinema square off, and the veterans give an inconic relationship a depth that tinges the eventual madness with touching grief.

A uniformly brilliant ensemble (kudos in particular to Kathryn Hunter’s inspired turn as the witches) gives this dreamy take on the Bard its life.

Coen’s venture into Shakespeare, though it strips away the humor and quirk you may associate with Coen Brother filmmaking, stands as a strikingly Coen film. And that has never one time been a bad thing.

4. Summer of Soul

According to director Amir “Questlove” Thompson, the first time he saw some of the digitized footage from the 1969 Harlem Cultural Festival concerts, he nearly wept.

You might, too.

From the gospel of Mahalia Jackson to the blues of B.B. King, from the 5th Dimension’s smooth pop to Sly Stone’s psychedelic funk, the musical styles blend gloriously in the summer sun and the goosebump moments mount. But even more impressive than Thompson’s musical direction is the way he frames the entire festival through a deeply effective context of time, place, and population.

5. West Side Story

Right from the opening minutes, Steven Spielberg’s camera seamlessly ebbs and flows along with the street-roaming Sharks and Jets. From one musical set-piece to the next, Spielberg’s touch is smoothly precise, starting wide to capture the breadth of Justin Peck’s homage to Jerome Robbins’s iconic choreography, zooming in for intimacy, and then above the dancers and rumblers for gorgeous aerials set with pristine light and shadow.

It just looks freaking fantastic.

And in bringing his own vision to a classic story, Spielberg gently adds a perspective that makes Tony and Maria’s quest soar with a renewed, more universal vitality.

Just like most everything else in this West Side Story.

Christie Robb’s favorite film of 2021: Luca

Pixar/Disney’s Luca fosters self-acceptance and bravery in kids who were in the process of transitioning back to in-person school.

6. Flee

Like so many other headlines of numbing enormity that we regularly scroll past, stories of the worldwide refugee crisis rarely come with an intimacy that makes the stakes feel palpable. Flee brings an animated face to the discussion, using one man’s incredible story to re-frame the issue with soul-stirring humanity.

Using that man’s actual voice in the conversations with director Jonas Poher Rasmussen adds startling depth to the reenacted memories, and as our childlike comfort with animated scenes clashes with the uncomfortable scenes depicted, Flee‘s bracing resonance only intensifies.

7. Nightmare Alley

What director Guillermo Del Toro brings to this remake of a 1947 noir classic, besides a breathtaking cast and an elegantly gruesome aesthetic, is his gift for humanizing the unseemly. As usual, Del Toro wears his feelings proudly on his sleeve, with unmistakable but organic foreshadowing that ups the ante on the stakes involved. Anchored by another sterling performance from Bradley Cooper as Stan, the journey rises to biblical proportions. An actor whose gifts are often deceptively subtle, Cooper makes sure Stan’s pride always arrives with a layer of charming sympathy, even as it blinds him to the pitfalls ahead.

For Del Toro fans, the most surprising aspect of Nightmare Alley might be the lack of hopeful wonder that has driven most of his films. As the title suggests, this is a trip to the dark corners of the soul, where hope is in damn short supply. As much as this looks like a Del Toro film, it feels like a flex just from taking his vision to the sordid part of town. But what a vision it turns out to be – one of the year’s best and one of his best.

8. Drive My Car

Adapting a short story into a three-hour class on screenwriting, writer/director Ryûsuke Hamaguchi turns a seemingly simple premise – a visiting theater director begrudgingly accepts a chauffer from festival organizers – into a sprawling study of the human soul.

As secrets are revealed and burdens lifted, Drive My Car becomes a soaring testament to grief, forgiveness, moving on and the unending lure of a fine automobile.

9. Riders of Justice

Men will single-handedly gun down an entire biker gang rather than go to therapy. That’s the premise from prolific writer-director Anders Thomas Jensen, as he reunites with Mads Mikkelsen in this dark comic revenge fantasy.

But Jensen isn’t nearly as interested in the physical mayhem as the emotional wreckage his oddball characters are all coping with. Riders of Justice treats its characters with such forgiving empathy that it’s easy to forget that the group is also almost certainly responsible for the most murders in Denmark since the Vikings.

Matt Weiner’s favorite film of 2021: Riders of Justice

It’s the feel-good Christmas comedy that brings the whole family together with good cheer, redemption, philosophical detours on the meaning of life and a body count that puts Die Hard to shame.

10. Wild Indian

As angry a movie as you’re likely to see, Wild Indian pushes you to hope compassion and tenderness come to the most unlikeable man onscreen.

Writer/director Lyle Mitchell Corbine Jr. refuses to lean on stereotypes that would make the central performance more comfortable viewing. Makwa (a stunning Michael Greyeyes) is neither victim nor noble wiseman. Not entirely a villain, he’s nonetheless ill-suited as antihero or, God forbid, hero. He’s a survivor bound up in his own guilt and shame, taking advantage of whatever he can and hating himself and everyone around him because of it.

It’s a desolate world Corbine Jr. creates, but no less remarkable for its bleakness. A character study unlike anything else on screen this year, Wild Indian gives longtime character actor Greyeyes the opportunity to command the screen and he more than rises to the occasion.

11. Pig

This touching film—a tale of love, loss, authenticity and a good meal— is essentially the anti-John Wick. And we are better for it.

Nicolas Cage is almost always the center of attention in every film he’s in. It’s tough to look away from him because you’re afraid you’ll miss some insane grimace or wild gesture, but also because filmmakers love him and never pull away. Here, co-writer/director Michael Sarnoski asks you to wait for it. He gives Cage time to pause, breathe, and deliver his most authentic performance in ages.

Brandon Thomas’s favorite film of 2021: Pig

Pig is a beautiful commentary on grief while also serving as a reminder that Nicolas Cage never stopped being one of our finest actors.

12. Passing

Making her feature debut behind the camera, Rebecca Hall adapts Nella Larsen’s 1929 novel about women unable to find a place to truly belong. Hall mines Larsen’s insight and longing to produce a visually stunning, melancholy period piece.

The languid beauty and comment on class play like a more delicate take on Gatsby, Hall subtly drawing attention not only to the racial divide but to the socioeconomic divide within Irene’s (Tessa Thompson) home and life. Never showy, never heavy-handed, the film’s themes prick at the audience just as they slowly, cumulatively wound Irene.

Thompson delivers an introspective performance unlike anything thus far in her impressive career. Likewise, Ruth Negga is superb as Irene’s friend/nemesis Clare, just incandescent and haunting as a damaged, elegant survivor.

13. Belfast

Belfast is a man’s reminiscence of his own childhood, informed by the movies and songs that bleed together with memory and saturated in the wonder of youth.

Director Kenneth Branagh has yet to make a film with such precise visual purpose or style. Every black and white frame, every movement or lack of movement from the camera carries the vision of the film. 

It is sentimental. It is nostalgic. It is unapologetically sincere. But by taking the perspective of a 9-year-old boy (a magnificent Jude Hill) trying to make sense of a suddenly and profoundly confusing and frightening world, the film gets away with it.

14. The Green Knight

Lutes and mead, chainmail and sorcery—director David Lowery’s Camelot is just as rockin’ as ever in his trippy coming-of-age style The Green Knight. The story itself may be more than 700 years old, but credit Lowery, who adapted the old ballad for the screen, with finding fresh intrigue in the old bones. He’s slippery with symbolism and draws wonderful performances from the ensemble.

His visual storytelling has always been his greatest strength as a director and this tale encourages his most fanciful and hypnotic style to date. The Green Knight is gorgeous. The color and framing are pure visual poetry. Together with a never-better Dev Patel and an exceptional ensemble, Lowery’s created a magical realm where you believe anything could happen.

Cat McAlpine’s favorite film of 2021: The Green Knight

The Green Knight is a visual spectacle that matches the scale of journeying within oneself, masterfully portrayed by a wide-eyed and constantly wet Dev Patel.

15. C’mon C’mon

A man’s changing relationship with his young nephew mirrors his deepening bond with his estranged sister. That man, Johnny, is played by Joaquin Phoenix, particularly endearing in this film. Nine-year-old Woody Norman soars as the nephew, his chemistry with Phoenix couldn’t be more charming or genuine. Gaby Hoffmann is wonderful as well as Norman’s mom, Johnny’s sister Viv.

C’mon C’mon wraps the messy, awkward, disappointing realities of being human in a blanket of hope. As cloying as that sounds, the film is so sincere it’s hard to deny its warmth.

16. The Lost Daughter

Unnerving intimacy marks Maggie Gyllenhaal’s debut as a feature director. Luckily for all of us, Gyllenhaal’s uniformly subline cast meets the challenge.

Adapting Elena Ferrante’s novel, Gyllenhaal challenges romantic preconceptions about motherhood (sometimes quite bitingly, thanks to lines delivered with acidic precision by the remarkable Olivia Colman). The film acknowledges what is given up, what is lost, when you essentially transfer ownership of yourself—your time, your attention, your future—to someone else, to your children. The theme is deeply and honestly felt, and that, too, is unnerving.

17. The Humans

Two of 2021’s most prominent film themes – impressive debuts and stellar ensembles – come together in rookie writer/director Stephen Karam’s The Humans.

Adapting his own stage play, Karam displays wonderful instincts for how his story of a family reunion could move from stage to screen with relevant new layers. Buoyed by a first-rate cast including Richard Jenkins, Steven Yeun, Amy Schumer, Beanie Feldstein and Jayne Houdyshell, The Humans slowly revels itself as a domestic horror show, with familiar tensions and deep-seeded fears becoming more frightful than anything going bump in the night.

18. The Worst Person in the World

Led by a revelatory performance from Renate Reinsve, the latest from Norwegian writer/director Joachim Trier effectively fuses coming-of-age sensibilities and romantic drama.

As one woman navigates what she wants in a career, in a relationship, and ultimately what she wants out of life, Trier crafts small, indelible moments that bind together for a refreshingly honest look at how, as John Lennon once said, life happens when you’re busy making other plans.

19. Zola

Is it surprising that movies are now born from Twitter threads? Maybe, for a minute. But you’ll find good stories on Twitter, and with Zola, director/co-writer Janicza Bravo tells a ferociously good story, even if some of it may not be exactly true.

Bravo, Taylor Paige and Riley Keough (with solid support from Colman Domingo, Nick Braun and Jason Mitchell) all bring indelible talent to Zola, and the sheer buzz of this wild ride becomes irresistible.

Is it truth? Fiction? A bit of both?

It matters only in that it doesn’t matter at all. Because whatever truth still exists in the digital age, Zola speaks it.

Rachel Willis’s favorite film of 2021: Adventures of a Mathematician

Adventures of a Mathematician offers devastating insight into why some of the world’s most brilliant scientists lent their skills to the creation of the deadliest weapons in history.

20. Spider-Man: No Way Home

This third installment of Jon Watts’s Spidey franchise showcases the naïve optimism and youthful sweetness that has made his first two episodes such a great time, that are so perfectly embodied by star Tom Holland.

Rather than feeling like those Marvel overreaches in defining their own universe, No Way Home uses the opportunity of pulling in other movies to celebrate the hero, his roots, and what he stands for as an icon of comics, heroes, and childhoods the ‘verse over.

Oh, sure, it’s nostalgic. It panders. It also spills over with joy.

21. Spencer

The opening credits of Spencer include a declaration that the film is “a fable from a true tragedy.” Indeed, this look at the final weekend in the marriage of Princess Diana and Prince Charles is draped in sadness and longing, but it’s one that uses what you already know about its subject to its advantage, completely enveloping you in an otherworldly existence.

If you haven’t been keeping up with Kristin Stewart’s string of fine performances since the Twilight films, don’t be surprised when she starts collecting the award nominations this performance richly deserves.

Filmmaker Pablo Larrain chooses the word “fable” at the start for a reason. This film is no fairy tale, but Larraín’s committed vision and an achingly poetic turn from Stewart make Spencer a completely fascinating two hours of story time.

22. Saint Maud

Maud (an astonishing Morfydd Clark) has some undefined blood and shame in her recent past. But she survived it, and she knows God saved her for a reason. She’s still working out what that reason is when she meets Amanda (Jennifer Ehle), a former choreographer now crumbling beneath lymphoma. Maud cannot save Amanda’s body, but because of just the right signs from Amanda, she is determined to save her soul.

As a horror film, Saint Maud is a slow burn. First-time writer/director Rose Glass and crew repay you for your patience, though, with a smart film that believes in its audience. Her film treads the earth between mental illness and religious fervor, but its sights are on the horror of the broken-hearted and lonesome.

23. Candyman

This new Candyman is the most delicious brand of horror sequel. Thanks to the startling vision of director/co-writer Nia DaCosta, it is a film that honors its roots but lives so vibrantly in the now that it makes you view the 1992 original from an urgent new angle.

DaCosta’s savvy storytelling is angry without being self-righteous. Great horror often holds a mirror to society, and DaCosta works mirrors into nearly every single scene in the film. Her grasp of the visual here is stunning—macabre, horrifying, and elegant. She takes cues from the art world her tale populates, unveiling truly artful bloodletting and framing sequences with grotesque but undeniable beauty. It’s hard to believe this is only her second feature.

By the time a brilliant coda of sadly familiar shadow puppet stories runs alongside the closing credits, there’s more than enough reason for horror fans to rejoice and…#telleveryone.

24. The Last Duel

This is a brooding, brutal, violent and sexually violent film, one that utilizes a Rashomon-style narrative to frame an often debated moment in history around a centuries-old struggle that continues today.

Director Ridley Scott presents the tale with exceptional craftsmanship and spectacle, getting big assists from Dariusz Wolski’s gritty, expansive cinematography and Michael Fentum’s detailed sound design. Scott’s remarkable cast — Jodie Comer, Adam Driver, Matt Damon and Ben Affleck — digs in to these old ideas to find startling relevance.

The Last Duel aims for more than just a gripping history lesson. It’s ultimately able to use that history to remind us that the way society treats women generally – and women’s sexuality specifically – has changed little since the freaking Middle Ages. 

25. No Time to Die

Opening with a tense and expansive 26-minute prologue, Cary Joji Fukunaga unveils thrilling set-pieces and gorgeous visuals that beg for a big-screen experience. Aided mightily by a soaring, throwback score from Hans Zimmer, Fukunaga infuses Daniel Craig’s final Bond film with a respectful sense of history while it marches unafraid into the future.

The one-liners, callbacks and gags (like Q’s multi-piece tea set) are well-placed and restrained, never undercutting the nearly three-hour mission Fukunaga clearly approached with reverence.

Where does James Bond go from here? Hard to say, but this 007 doesn’t care. Five films in 15 years have changed the character and the franchise for the better, and No Time to Die closes this chapter with requisite spectacle and fitting emotion.

Daniel “Schlocketeer” Baldwin’s favorite film of 2021: No Time to Die

No Time to Die is a fantastic action adventure epic, a pitch-perfect ending to the Daniel Craig era of James Bond and a wonderful modern encapsulation of the writings of Ian Fleming.

Almost Made It:

Lamb

Beta Test

The Harder They Fall

Mass

Shiva Baby

CODA

Fright Club: Best Horror Movies of 2021

Big year! In fact, horror may have saved movies this year. That’s what lured people back to cinemas —A Quiet Place Part II, Candyman and other genre films. And even though we don’t entirely consider Last Night in Soho a horror film, Edgar Wright’s giddy take on giallo was a blast in the theater.

But horror also flooded streaming services, where you could find some of the most amazing bloody treasures in 2021: Jakob’s Wife and Fried Barry made you glad you had a Shudder subscription, and Double Walker proved true indie horror was alive and well.

It took some time to boil it down, but here are our 10 favorite horror films of 2021.

10. Titane

Julia Ducournau’s Palme d’Or-winning Titane is alive with alternating color palettes, pulsating sounds and endless shocks of body horrific visuals. The sudden bursts of violence are downright pedestrian alongside the parade of boldly squirm-inducing clashes of flesh, bone and other.

But as she did with her first feature, Raw, Ducournau finds humanity clawing out from the inhumane. Truly unforgettable performances from Vincent Lindon and Agathe Russell provide intimate examples of the extremes that even the most damaged souls are capable of in the search to care and be cared for.

It may not be shy about homages and influences, but Titane is indeed its own ferocious animal. Open the cage look the F out.

9. Caveat

The room is dark, decrepit. A wild-eyed woman with a bloody nose holds a toy out in front of her like a demon slayer holds a crucifix. The toy – what is it, a rabbit? A jackalope? – beats a creepy little drum. Faster. Slower. Hotter. Colder.

This is how writer/director Damian Mc Carthy opens Caveat and I am in. An expertly woven tapestry of ambiguity, lies and misunderstanding sink the story into a fog of mystery that never lets up. McCarthy unveils a real knack for nightmarish visuals, images that effortlessly conjure primal fears and subconscious revulsion.

Mc Carthy does a lot with very little, as there are very few locations and a total of three cast members—all stellar. You won’t miss the budget. Mc Carthy casts a spook house spell, rattling chains and all, and tells a pithy little survival story while he’s at it.  

8. Psycho Goreman

Endlessly quotable and boasting inspired creature design and a twisted Saturday Morning Kidventure tone, Psycho Goreman is a blast

Fans of writer/director Steven Kostanski’s 2016 breakout The Void (a perfect blend of Lovecraft and Halloween 2) might not expect the childlike lunacy and gleeful brutality of Psycho Goreman (PG for short), but they should. His 2012 gem Father’s Day (not for the easily offended) and his 2011 Manborg define not only his tendencies but his commitment to tone and mastery of his material.

His ensemble here works wonders together, each hitting the comedic beats in Kostanski’s script hard enough that the goretastic conclusion feels downright cheery. This movie could not be more fun.

7. The Retreat

The Retreat shows how satisfying it can be when cabin-in-the-woods horror is done well.

Director Pat Mills builds an air of dread and tension minus the usual gimmickry. Writer Alyson Richards pens a lean, mean, bloody survival thriller that boasts some welcome surprises and a smart social conscience. Realized via strong performances from Tommie-Amber Pirie and Sarah Allen, heroes Renee and Val’s relationship feels perfectly authentic, with a sexuality that’s never exploited by a leering camera. And while you may be reminded of 2018’s What Keeps You Alive, there is a critical difference.

The couple in that film could have been heterosexual, and it still would have worked. But here, the fact that it is a same sex couple being hunted matters very much to the story at work. It enables Richards and Mills to anchor a revenge horror show with a satisfying metaphor for the violent threats LGBTQ folks continue to face every day.

6. A Quiet Place Part II

For a few well-placed and important seconds, there it is: the much-discussed nail from A Quiet Place. And like most everything else in writer/director John Krasinki’s thrilling sequel, the nail’s return carries weight, speaking visually and deepening our investment in these characters’ terrifying journey.

There is no shortage of exhilarating, squirm-inducing and downright scary moments, but Krasinski instills it all with an impressive level of humanity. He gives the enterprise a welcome retro feel and his flair for visual storytelling has only strengthened since the last film.Paragraph

AQPII is lean, moves at a quick clip, thrills with impressive outdoor carnage sequences and yet commands that same level of tension in its nerve- janglingly quiet moments. Krasinski had a tough task trying to follow his 2018 blockbuster, one made even tougher now having to prove the sequel was worth saving for a theaters-only release. On both counts, we’d say he nailed it.

5. Censor

It’s 1985, Thatcher’s England: an era when controversial films hoping to make their way to screens big and small found themselves more butchered than their characters. Writer/director Prano Bailey-Bond and co-writer Anthony Fletcher evoke such a timestamp with this film, not just in the look and style, but with the social preoccupation.

Censor is a descent into madness film, but its deep love and understanding of the genre play a central role in this madness. Niamh Algar’s performance as the video nasty censor in question is prim and sympathetic, deliberate and brittle. It’s clear from the opening frame that Enid will break. But between Algar’s skill and Bailey-Bond’s cinematic vision, the journey toward that break is a wild ride.

4. My Heart Can’t Beat Unless You Tell It To

Making an unnervingly assured feature film debut, writer/director Jonathan Cuartas commingles The Transfiguration’s image of lonely, awkward adolescence with Relic’s horror of familial obligation to create a heartbreaking new vampire tale.

Many things are left unsaid (including the word “vampire’), and My Heart Can’t Beat Unless You Tell It To confines itself to the daily drudgery of three siblings. Dwight (Patrick Fugit) longs to break these family chains, but sister Jessie (Ingrid Sophie Schram) holds him tight with shame, love, and obligation to little brother, the afflicted Thomas (Owen Campbell).

What could easily have become its own figurative image of the masculine longing for freedom mines far deeper concerns. Cuartas weaves loneliness into that freedom, tainting the concept of independence with a terrifying, even dangerous isolation that leaves you with no one to talk to and no way to get away from yourself.

3. Lamb

Among the many remarkable elements buoying the horror fable Lamb is filmmaker Valdimar Jóhannsson’s ability to tell a complete and riveting tale without a single word of exposition. Rather than devoting dialog to explaining to us what it is we are seeing, Jóhannsson relies on impressive visual storytelling instincts.

His cast of three – well, four, I guess — sells the fairy tale. A childless couple working a sheep farm in Iceland find an unusual newborn lamb and take her in as their own child. As is always the way in old school fables, though, there is much magical happiness but a dire recompense soon to come. It is an absolutely gorgeous, entirely unusual and expertly crafted gem of a film. You should see it.

2. Candyman

This new Candyman is the most delicious brand of horror sequel. Thanks to the startling vision of director/co-writer Nia DaCosta and producer/co-writer Jordan Peele, it is a film that honors its roots but lives so vibrantly in the now that it makes you view the 1992 original from an urgent new angle.

DaCosta’s savvy storytelling is angry without being self-righteous. Great horror often holds a mirror to society, and DaCosta works mirrors into nearly every single scene in the film. Her grasp of the visual here is stunning—macabre, horrifying, and elegant. She takes cues from the art world her tale populates, unveiling truly artful bloodletting and framing sequences with grotesque but undeniable beauty. It’s hard to believe this is only her second feature.

By the time a brilliant coda of sadly familiar shadow puppet stories runs alongside the closing credits, there’s more than enough reason for horror fans to rejoice and…#telleveryone.

1. Saint Maud

Maud (an astonishing Morfydd Clark) has some undefined blood and shame in her recent past. But she survived it, and she knows God saved her for a reason. She’s still working out what that reason is when she meets Amanda (Jennifer Ehle), a former choreographer now crumbling beneath lymphoma.

Ehle’s performance strikes a perfect image of casual cruelty, her scenes with the clearly delicate Maud a dance of curiosity and unkindness. Clark’s searching, desperate performance is chilling. Writer/director Rose Glass routinely frames her in ways to evoke the images of saints and martyrs, giving the film an eerie beauty, one that haunts rather than comforts.

Glass’s film treads the earth between mental illness and religious fervor, but its sights are on the horror of the broken-hearted and lonesome.

Say His Name

Candyman

by Hope Madden and George Wolf

Sweets to the sweet, indeed.

This new Candyman is the most delicious brand of horror sequel. Thanks to the startling vision of director/co-writer Nia DaCosta and producer/co-writer Jordan Peele, it is a film that honors its roots but lives so vibrantly in the now that it makes you view the 1992 original from an urgent new angle.

We go back to Chicago’s now-gentrified Cabrini Green housing project with up-and-coming artist Anthony McCoy (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II), whose works have taken a very dark turn since he learned of the Candyman legend from laundromat manager William Burke (Colman Domingo).

Anthony’s obsession helps spark the interests of curious doubters, which means blood will soon be shed. Suspicions about Anthony’s possible role in the killings begin to grow, leading his girlfriend Brianna (Teyonah Parris) to worry about her own promising career in the art world – and eventually her own safety.

Research on the legend reacquaints us with events from the first film, gloriously reenacted through the paper and shadow puppet work first seen in the film’s trailer. Without dismantling the backstory, only shifting the point of view from white storyteller to Black, DaCosta takes ownership of the narrative—which is, itself, the point the film makes. Own the narrative.

DaCosta’s savvy storytelling is angry without being self-righteous. Great horror often holds a mirror to society, and DaCosta works mirrors into nearly every single scene in the film. Her grasp of the visual here is stunning—macabre, horrifying, and elegant. She takes cues from the art world her tale populates, unveiling truly artful bloodletting and framing sequences with grotesque but undeniable beauty. It’s hard to believe this is only her second feature.

Compelling performances throughout draw you into the saga. Abdul-Mateen II delivers terrifying layers while Parris gives the filmmaker a vehicle for outrage and satire. The always reliable Domingo (having a banner year) brings the film’s institutional knowledge — important in any sequel (somebody has to tell the protagonist what’s already happened), but invaluable in a film about the legacy of trauma.

And then there’s Vanessa Williams, whose return to the franchise is heartbreaking perfection.

Fans of the preceding films will find no reason to be disappointed, but that’s about the least of what this Candyman accomplishes. By the time a brilliant coda of sadly familiar shadow puppet stories runs alongside the closing credits, there’s more than enough reason for horror fans to rejoice and…#telleveryone.

Fright Club: Best Black Characters in Horror

We didn’t want to let Black History Month slip by without recognizing the best black characters in horror. Obviously, this is actually a countdown and podcast we could have done at any time, but any particular excuse to talk about William Marshall must be taken!

Regardless of the (far too often proven) cliche that the token black character in any horror film is simply the first victim, there are many amazing characters and actors worth celebrating in this list. The all time kickass Pam Grier stars as a voodoo practitioner in Scream Blacula Scream (1973), Morgan Freeman brings his characteristic gravitas to the role of mentor cop and general smartypants in Seven (1995). Wesley Snipes combined vampire and badass in the Blade trilogy, as did Grace Jones in Vamp (1986) – and these are just a few of the candidates we will not be mentioning.

Nope, instead we present you with the five best black characters in horror.

5. Selena (Naomi Harris), 28 Days Later (2002)

When it outbreak comes – and you know it will – what you want on your team is a pharmacist (someone with some medical training) who is not afraid to use a machete. Naomi Harris was the brains and the backbone of the ragtag group of survivors in 28 Days Later. Without her, Cillian Murphy wouldn’t have made it.

The great Danny Boyle, working from a script by Alex Garland (who wrote and directed the magnificent Ex Machina last year), upended a lot of expectations, giving us tenderness in the form of the great Brendan Gleeson, and a vulnerability in the newly-acquainted-with-the-apocalypse Murphy, but the brains and the bravery are Selena’s. That isn’t to say the realities of gender inequality disappear during the apocalypse – Nope! But this is a really uncommon character in a horror film: a strong, black female survivor.

4. Peter (Ken Foree), Dawn of the Dead (1978)

When George Romero returned to his zombie apocalypse in 1978 – nearly a decade after he’d rewritten the zombie code with Night of the Living Dead – he upped the ante in terms of onscreen gore, but there were some pieces of the formula he wasn’t ready to let go of.

Two members of SWAT join their newsman buddy and his producer girlfriend, take off in a helicopter, land at a mall, and set up house while that whole zombie thing blows over. Ken Foree and Scott Reiniger as the buddies from SWAT create the most effective moments, whether character-driven tension or zombie-driven action. While the leads were flat and bland, Foree not only delivers the film’s strongest performance, but Peter is the most compelling character and the one you’re least willing to see go.

3. Candyman/Daniel Robitaille (Tony Todd), Candyman (1992)

Oh my God, that voice! Yes, Candyman is a bad dude, but isn’t he kind of dreamy?

Like a vampire, the villain of Cabrini Green needed to be both repellant and seductive for this storyline to work, and Todd more than managed both. With those bees in his mouth and that hook for a hand, he is effortlessly terrifying. But it’s Todd’s presence, his somehow soothing promise of pain and eternity, that makes the seduction of grad school researcher Helen (Virginia Madsen) realistic.

Clive Barker wrote the original story, and the racial tensions that run through the film are both intentional and required. Madsen’s raspy-voiced heroine offers a perfect counterpoint to Todd, both of them a blend of intelligent and sultry that make them more parallel than opposite.

Todd would go on to love again in the Candyman sequel Farewell to the Flesh, as well as star or co-star in countless other horror films, but it was the first time you hear that voice in this film that sealed his fate as an iconic horror villain.

2. Blacula/Mamuwalde (William Marshall), Blacula (1972)

Did someone mention awesome voices and onscreen presence? The great William Marshall is the picture of grace and elegance as Mamuwalde, the prince turned vampire.

The film is a cheaply made Blaxploitation classic, with all that entails. For every grimace-inducing moment (bats on strings, homophobic humor) there’s a moment of true genius, almost exclusively because of Marshall’s command of the screen and the character.

Though he’s often hampered by FX as well as writing, the character remained true throughout the film, even to his death. It’s the kind of moment that could be brushed aside, in a low budget flick with a lot of plot holes and silly make up. But there’s more to Blacula than meets the eye.

Blacula is a tragic antihero and it’s all but impossible to root against him. Marshall brought more dignity to the role of vampire than any actor has, and the strength and respectability he imbues in the character were not just revolutionary at the time, but were so pivotal to that particular character that he has become a legendary character in the genre.

1. Ben (Duane Jones), Night of the Living Dead (1968)

Over the years, much has been made of director George Romero’s assertion that Duane Jones’s casting in Night of the Living Dead had nothing to do with his color; Romero simply gave the role to the best actor.

Maybe so – and certainly Jones’s performance alone has a great deal to do with the success of the film – but casting a black male lead in this particular film at this particular juncture in American history is among the main reasons the film remains relevant and important today.

Jones plays Ben, the level-headed survivor holed up in a Pennsylvania farmhouse trying to wait out the zombipocalypse. Ben is the clear cut leader of this group of survivors, caring for the shell-shocked young white woman (Judith O’Dea), working in tandem with the young couple also hiding out, and engaging in a needless and ugly power struggle with that dick Mr. Cooper.

Jones’s performance is, as Romero points out, easily the strongest in the ensemble, and that work alone would have made the role and the film memorable. But it’s the kick to the gut documentary-style ending that not only marks the film’s sociological period, it is a horrifying reminder of all that has not changed in the world.





Fright Club: Amputees in Horror

If you watch much of horror, there’s something you might notice. People lose a lot of limbs in these movies. Naturally, we decided to look into this. We spent some time with the tragic (or maybe deserving) amputees of Audition and American Mary and others, but there turned out to be so many badasses who only get cooler once the limb is missing that we decided to hang out with them.

Thanks to the B Movie Bros for joining us for the podcast to talk through the list. Listen in HERE.

6. Arlen (Suki Waterhouse) – The Bad Batch (2017)

Writer/director Ana Lily Amirpour creates another unusual heroine with this one. Arlen’s a vane bit of white trash deemed part of “the bad batch.” Shortly into her investigation of her new home, she learns that at least one of the neighborhood communities is less welcoming – if better fed – than the other.

No crybaby, though, Arlen faces life as a double amputee with a lot of nerve and eventually some hallucinogenic drugs. What she does more than anything is refuse to conform and instead paves her own path.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PVfpKaftzv4

5. Alonzo (Lon Chaney) – The Unknown (1927)

When Tod Browning makes a movie about side show freaks, color us excited. In this unseemly tale, the great silent monster Lon Chaney is The Amazing Alonzo, an armless knife thrower/sharp shooter/guitar player/smoker in a circus. He has eyes for his show partner Nanon (Joan Crawford, pre-wire hanger), but the circus strongman is hot for her.

So, it all sounds a tad like Browning’s infamous Freaks. But Nanon spurns the strongman because she can’t stand to be groped by men’s hands – which makes it seem like Alonzo is a shoe-in, except that he is not what he appears to be.

Camera trickery, an actual circus performer, and Chaney’s convincing performance work together to create a believable side show character in Alonzo. Browning couples this unsettling performance with an air of seediness and some bizarre plot twists to leave a lasting impression.

4. Candyman (Tony Todd) – Candyman (1992)

Oh my God, that voice! Yes, Candyman is a bad dude, but isn’t he kind of dreamy?

Like a vampire, the villain of Cabrini Green needed to be both repellant and seductive for this storyline to work, and Todd more than managed both. With those bees in his mouth and that hook for a hand, he is effortlessly terrifying. But it’s Todd’s presence, his somehow soothing promise of pain and eternity, that makes the seduction of grad school researcher Helen (Virginia Madsen) realistic.

Todd would go on to love again in the Candyman sequel Farewell to the Flesh, proving that you do not need two working hands to wreak bloody havoc.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XROa2ZOqh8Q

3. Mia (Jane Levy) – Evil Dead (2013)

With the helpful pen of Oscar winner Diablo Cody (uncredited), Fede Alvarez turns all the particulars of the Evil Dead franchise on end. You can tick off so many familiar characters, moments and bits of dialog, but you can’t predict what will happen.

One of the best revisions is the character of Mia: the first to go and yet the sole survivor. She’s the damaged one, and the female who’s there without a male counterpart, which means (by horror standards), she’s the one most likely to be a number in the body count. But because of what she has endured in her life she’s able to make seriously tough decisions to survive – like tearing off her own damn arm. Nice!

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pxrbNDDWass

2. Cherry (Rose McGowan) – Planet Terror (2007)

Losing a leg – in most horror movies, this would spell doom for a character. Not in Robert Rodriguez’s half of Grindhouse, though. Indeed, for Rose McGowan’s Cherry Baby, an amputated limb turns her to the film’s most daring badass.

A machine gun for a leg! How awesome is that?! McGowan strikes the right blend of hard knock and vulnerability to keep the character interesting – beyond the whole leg of death thing. I mean, you’d hardly call her boring.

The entire film is a whole lot of throw-back fun – gory, lewd, funny, gross (so, so gross). It’s so much fun that even a lengthy Tarantino cameo doesn’t spoil things. And it makes the point that people who’ve been struck by physical disabilities can still be total badasses – not to mention hot as F.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jmMApNy48Sc

1. Ash (Bruce Campbell) – Evil Dead 2 (1987)

What?! Like you didn’t know he’d be #1. Hell, he’s the entire reason we did this list.

When his hand turns evil, Ash does what he needs to do. Of course he does – he’s already dismembered nearly everyone who’s ever meant anything to him, what loyalty does he owe his own hand at this point?

Plus, if Cherry Baby was cool with a machine gun leg, how awesome is Ash with a chainsaw for an arm?!

Super cool. Groovy, even.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=awxz-8XR938





Fright Club: Marital Problems in Horror

For some filmmaker and even audiences, a horror film can provide catharsis. It can be a way to channel one particularly horrifying experience into art. A crumbling marriage can inspire this kind of horror. Of course, it can also become the tidy underpinning of a mystery or a comedically evil revenge plot.

Here are our five favorite horror films about marital problems.

5. Candyman (1992)

Candyman is a seduction film, like a vampire fable, and for it to work this film needed two things.

1) A seducible heroine.

Enter Helen Lyle (Virginia Madsen). While she researches her graduate work on urban legends, her professor husband Trevor (Xander Berkeley) philanders with nubile co-eds.

2) A seductive villain, which it delivered with a dreamy baritone in the form of Tony Todd.

No, he’s not classically handsome. In fact, on paper, Candyman is not that sexy of a villain. He has a hook for a hand, bees in his chest, that moldy velvet robe thing has to smell awful. But Todd’s voice is the push over the cliff. When he tells Helen, “Don’t fear the pain. The pain is exquisite,” you can’t help but want to believe.

4. The Crate (segment from Creepshow) (1982)

Several of the shorts featured in the George Romero/Stephen King collaboration focused on troubles between husband and wife, but there was one particularly toxic marriage.

College professor (very popular figures in bad marriage horror, eh?) Henry Northrup (Hal Holbrook) has a problem. His wife.

One might guess at the focus of his early attraction to Wilma (Adrienne Barbeau), but we’re introduced to the couple well into their worn out, unhappy pairing. Wilma’s a belligerent drunk, you see, and Henry’s friend needs a little help with this monster he’s unwittingly unleashed from a crate beneath the stairs back on campus…

Henry probably thought of Wilma as a tasty dish once before, too.

3. Diabolique (1955)

Pierre Boileau’s novel was such hot property that even Alfred Hitchcock pined to make it into a film. But Henri-Georges Clouzot got hold if it first. His psychological thriller with horror-ific undertones is crafty, spooky, jumpy and wonderful.

And it wouldn’t work if it weren’t for the weirdly lived-in relationship among Nicole (Simone Signoret) – a hard-edged boarding school teacher – and the married couple that runs the school. Christina (Vera Clouzot) is a fragile heiress; her husband Michel (Paul Meurisse) is the abusive, blowhard school headmaster. Michel and Nicole are sleeping together, Christine knows, both women are friends, both realize he’s a bastard. Wonder if there’s something they can do about it.

What unravels is a mystery with a supernatural flavor that never fails to surprise and entrance. All the performances are wonderful, the black and white cinematography creates a spectral atmosphere, and that bathtub scene can still make you jump.

2. The Brood (1979)

Dr. Hal Ragland – the unsettlingly sultry Oliver Reed – is a psychiatrist leading the frontier in psychoplasmics. His patients work through their pent-up rage by turning it into physical manifestations. Some folks’ rage turns into ugly little pustules, for example. Or, for wide-eyed Nola Carveth (Samantha Eggar), rage might turn into bloodthirsty, puffy coated spawn. This is Cronenberg’s reimagining of procreation, and it is characteristically foul.

What’s she so mad about? Her divorce. So angry, indeed, that she’s gone mad – and begun neglecting, even endangering, her puffy coated actual daughter.

Cronenberg wrote the film during his own ugly divorce and custody battle. He created a fantasy nightmare rooted firmly in the rage, despair, and the betrayal that comes from watching someone who once loved you turn into someone who seems determined to harm you.

Cronenberg is the king of corporeal horror, and The Brood is among the best of the filmmaker’s early, strictly genre work. Reed and Eggar both are unseemly perfection in their respective roles. Eggar uses her huge eyes to emphasize both her former loveliness and her current dangerous insanity, while Reed is just weird in that patented Oliver Reed way.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RVQkJJxjdIM

1. Possession (1981)

Speaking of sex and monsters – wait, were we? – have you seen Possession? WTF is going on there?

Andrzej Zulawski – writer/director/Czech – created this wild ride with doppelgangers, private investigators, ominous government agencies, and curious sexual appetites. It’s more precisely fantasy than horror, but it strikes me as David Cronenberg meets David Lynch, which is a pairing I can get behind.

Sam Neill plays Mark. Mark has just left his job. He’s being offered a lot of money to stay, but he needs to go home. We don’t know why.

Back at home, he greets his genuinely adorable son Bob (Michael Hogben). I love that his name is Bob. Bob – it’s so normal, and yet feels so unusual for a small child. Mark’s wife Anna (Isabelle Adjani) is also at home with Bob. There’s nothing normal about Anna.

Mark and Anna’s relationship boasts an intentional artificiality- a queasying sexuality- that makes it hard to root for either of them as their marriage deteriorates. Anna, it seems, is in love with someone else. Is it the sexually open – really, really open – Heinrich? Is it a bloody, mollusk-like monster? Is Mark boning Anna’s mean friend with a cast on her leg? Does Bob’s kindergarten teacher bear an unreasonable resemblance to Anna? Is anyone caring properly for Bob?

These questions and more go basically unanswered in a deviant, summary-defying, fantastical bit of filmmaking. Surreal and unnerving as it is, Possession is maybe the bet cinematic nightmare interpretation of a crumbling marriage you will find.





Fright Club: Sexiest Villains

Some people dream of the hero. There are folks who swoon during Avengers films, choosing their fave from the assemblage of good guys, or wait with baited breath for Wonder Woman to get her stand alone film.

But what about the bad guys? Are you saying that, just because we like a date with blood on their teeth, there’s something wrong with us? Surely not! Tell us you didn’t get a little weak in the knees for Skeet Ulrich in Scream, or swoon just a little when Catherine Deneuve seduced Susan Sarandon in The Hunger. Of course you did! And why not?

So today, we celebrate the sexy villains. Join us, won’t you?

George Pick #3: Elizabeth Olsen – Silent House (2011)

Olsen is a tremendous talent, consistently excellent even in lesser films. Silent House starts off strong but eventually relies too heavily on a gimmick and Olsen’s tight shirt to keep you interested. Still, Olsen’s vulnerable yet badass character is undeniably hot – tight shirt or no.

Hope Pick #3: Tony Todd – Candyman (1992)

No, he’s not classically handsome. In fact, on paper, Candyman is not that sexy of a villain. He has a hook for a hand, bees in his chest, that moldy velvet robe thing has to smell awful. But Tony Todd’s voice is the push over the cliff. When he tells Helen (Virginia Madsen) “Don’t fear the pain. The pain is exquisite,” you can’t help but want to believe.

George’s #2 Natasha Henstridge – Species (1995)

Species is more a SciFi thriller than a horror movies, but George gets to choose so it’s not up to Hope and her picky rules. No one could blame the guy for landing on this one – Henstridge is fierce and sexy and very naked. What is he, made of stone?

Hope’s #2: Johnny Depp – Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street (2007)

Sweeney Todd is to Hope what Chocolat is to normal people. Sure, Depp is a dreamboat regardless of his role, but with Sweeney Todd, director Tim Burton finally lets him get a little mean. When he lifts that blade above his head, singing of his “old friend,” he is hypnotic.

George’s #1: Salma Hayek – From Dusk til Dawn (1996)

Duh. Bow your head, dogs! When Salma Hayak appears in Robert Rodriguez’s From Dusk til Dawn, everybody pays attention – everybody in the bar Titty Twister, and everybody watching. Hayek is easily one of the most gorgeous humans on earth, and her snake-bedecked dance is no doubt enough to lure many voluntarily to her eternal servitude.

Hope’s #1: Rutger Hauer- The Hitcher (1986)

Hope had been nursing a crush on Hauer since Blade Runner, but it was The Hitcher that sent her over the edge. Unsettling, given the tender age at which she saw the film? No doubt, but his brilliant eyes and steely delivery and the way he seduced girlie C. Thomas Howell on that drive across the desert was just more than her bored little heart could bear. Don’t judge her.

Who did we miss? Let us know on twitter @maddwolf!