Who Makes the Hood?: The City, Community And Contemporary Folk Horror in Nia Dacosta’s Candyman

Marshall, Kingsley ORCID logoORCID: https://orcid.org/0000-0002-2518-7305 (2022) Who Makes the Hood?: The City, Community And Contemporary Folk Horror in Nia Dacosta’s Candyman. In: Future Folk: Evolution of Folk Horror in the 21st Century. Lexington Books, Lanham, US. ISBN N/A (Submitted)

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Abstract / Summary

“Who do you think makes the hood? The city cuts off a community and waits for it to die.” (Candyman)

Folk horror is traditionally located in the rural landscape or pastoral settings, where the power of nature creates a sense of isolation compounded by an individual’s exclusion from communities, initially defined by a triumvirate of British films — the “unholy trinity” of Witchfinder General (1968), The Blood on Satan’s Claw (1971), and The Wicker Man (1973) and continued in a second wave of British stories typified by the woodland trilogy of Ben Wheatley’s Kill List (2011), A Field in England (2013), and In the Earth (2021), in addition to The Isle (2019) and, more recently, the village and woodland settings of Alex Garland’s Men (2022) and Ben Steiner’s Matriarch (2022). In folk horror as Adam Scovell defines it, the “folk” of the definition is the ethnographic practices of a people or community, its folklore and superstitions, where the “horror” through which these practices are depicted is “open to fluctuating meaning.” (2017, 6)

In North America, folk horror shares many of the themes with its European counterparts in that stories are often focused on a clash between the modern and the arcane, the ordinary and the uncanny, or “wyrd” – a term Diane A. Rodgers has proposed as a way of describing post-2000 folk horror revival as “eerie, hauntological media with folkloric themes” (2019). The genre is typified by the enemy within and situated in place and the hierarchies of power that govern communities. The genre is commonly located in rural environs — evident in the TV movie Crowhaven Farm (1970), and superlative cinematic releases Children of the Corn (1984) and The Blair Witch Project (1999). The religious fervor of British films, whether pagan or puritanical, often shifts focus in North American folk horror to stories that reflect the impact of slavery or colonialism. This is evident in the country’s own latest wave of films in the genre, from the early New England puritans of Robert Eggers’ The Witch (2015), the contemporary settings of Upstate New York in Jordan Peele’s Get Out (2017) and coastal small town location of Us (2019), to the struggling Oregon town that features in Antlers (2021). All of this group of US folk horror films are connected by roots that sit in the black American experience or Native American folklore, rather than calling back to European traditions.

Nia DaCosta’s Candyman brings the conventions of the folk horror – a brooding fear of others and place and a sense of the past imposing on the present – within a spectral city, in a story evoked by its location connected with the past that haunts both the locale, and the central character. These themes existed in the original Candyman films (1992, 1995) and, indeed, in Clive Barker’s original novel The Forbidden (1985) – where the occupants of the Spector Street Estate, a public housing project in Liverpool, are subjects of a study by a white academic researcher. Though the action is contemporary to the book, the occupants of the project are the subjects of institutionalised poverty, a working class consigned to concrete tower blocks. In Candyman, this 1980s gothic is reimagined in the 2022 rebirth of the Cabrini-Green projects – a location haunted by the suicide

This paper considers how the film presents gentrifcation as the religious purification more typical in folk horror, and relocates the position of the poor and excluded within the inner city.

Adam Scovell describes one of the key criticisms of his “Folk Horror Chain” as the emphasis on rural landscape, presenting in a later essay a number of films situated in the urban environment which may otherwise satisfy the criteria – citing the London Underground setting of Death Line (1972) as a specific example of what he defines as “Urban Wyrd” (2015). He suggests that one of the key differences between the urban and rural landscape is how the former retracts to create its sense of isolation, while the latter expands. Nia DaCosta’s Candyman avoids this problem by the manner with which it frames its city. This urban landscape is not viewed horizontally or from above, but from below, looking up to the sky through its floating camera. The manner with which the skyscrapers of the wider Chicago tower over the two-storey rowhouses that embody the continued haunted landscape of Cabrini-Green provides a further twist; a distinctly urban alternative to the more traditional presentation of woodland that contains the threat to the ordered world in Robert Egger’s The Witch, so beautifully captured in the title of Kier-La Janisse’s superlative folk horror documentary Woodlands Dark and Days Bewitched. DaCosta’ elegant aesthetic choices provides the necessary expanse within the city blocks, the impact accentuated through a film that expands the liminal spaces so central to its narrative – mirrored surfaces – to the connective tissue of the city; the transport network of roads, railroads, subways, and bridges. Folk horror reflects a lived experience and to exclude urban characters is to deny the understanding of the city as a landscape like any other, one that is capable of presenting a veritable palimpsest of meanings, of memory, of hauntology and is perhaps more powerful to the contemporary audiences that live within them.

I challenge you. Look in a mirror. Say his name five times. “Candyman, Candyman, Candyman, Candyman…”

Item Type: Book Section
Uncontrolled Keywords: candyman, nia dacosta, jordan peele, clive barker, folk, horror, folk horror, cosmic horror, chicago, film, woodlands dark, cabrini-green, a field in england, unholy trinity, witchfinder general
ISBN: N/A
Subjects: Film & TV > Film > British Film
Writing & Journalism > Literature > English Literature
Film & TV > Film > Hollywood Film
Film & TV > Film > International Film
Geography & Environment > International
History > International
Writing & Journalism > Literature
Courses by Department: The School of Film & Television > Film
Depositing User: Kingsley Marshall
Date Deposited: 18 Jan 2023 11:09
Last Modified: 18 Jan 2023 11:09
URI: https://repository.falmouth.ac.uk/id/eprint/4742

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