There’s no doubt in horror fans’ minds that Tony Todd stands easily as one of the great slasher actors of our time. The six-foot-five actor effortlessly created an icon in 1992’s candy man, playing the titular character summoned in an eerie, Bloody Mary-like ritual. The actor towered over Virginia Madsen’s Helen Lyle with ease, covered in a number of bees that would make even the biggest outdoorsman flinch and speaking in such a way that almost made audiences want to trust him — were it not for his giant hook for a hand.
Candyman has gone down in history as a horror icon alongside the likes of Jason Voorhees and Freddy Krueger — but when it came to reintroducing him to new audiences, things got a little tricky. Our DaCosta, director of Universal Pictures’ “spiritual sequel” to the horror classic, had a bit of a challenge on her hands when it came to Todd reprising his role on screen for 2021’s candy man, starring Yahya Abdul-Mateen II and Teyonah Parris.
For DaCosta, it wasn’t simply a matter of putting Todd back on screen as Daniel Robitaille — the man tortured into becoming Candyman — to please longtime fans. For her, she said on an appearance on the Empire Spoiler Special Podcast, the circumstances of Todd’s appearance mattered to the story, to the weight of the Candyman legend and what it said about the cyclical nature of violence. She wasn’t interested in a one-off cameo for fan service — if Todd was going to appear at all, it had to mean something in the story of Mateen’s Anthony McCoy:
“We definitely knew Tony Todd would be involved in a very specific way – which is basically what we did…What’s so interesting is everyone’s like, ‘You have to bring him back, and bring Helen back.’ And it’s like, well, they both aren’t allowed to age, because they’re both ghosts. So that’s immediately the trickiest thing about it. The bad version is some weird cameo, like, ‘He’s a guy buying art in the gallery!’…It’s like, no – Tony Todd is Daniel Robitaille, is Candyman, and so we knew that’s what he had to be in the film.”
To satisfy fans’ desire to see their favorite slasher back on screen, but also not lose the meaning of her own, new story, DaCosta came up with a workaround that seemed to satisfy: the idea that Todd’s Daniel Robitaille isn’t the only Candyman, that Candyman is “the whole damn hive”, as the film’s trailer proclaims, an amalgamation of all the violence and horror experienced by Black men in Cabrini-Green, and even in the whole of America:
“The original script I don’t think had that kernel of an idea in it…But what it did have was the idea that Anthony himself would become Candyman at the end of the film. That really spoke to me. I was like, ‘Oh that’s so great, because I really want to talk about the fact that these people we make into martyrs or monsters are humans first of all.’ […] At least for me, it was about making sure we talked about the fact that this was cyclical and that history repeats itself, and this isn’t just an incident that happened to one guy named Daniel Robitaille. It’s actually an environment in which we live that allows for these things to happen over and over again.”
If that hasn’t completely terrified you out of seeing candy man for yourself, the horror sequel is now playing in theaters, also starring Nathan Stewart-Jarrett and Colman Domingo, with a script from DaCosta, Win Rosenfeld, and producer Jordan Peele. But don’t go muttering around any mirrors…
KEEP READING: Did You Catch All 12 Hidden ‘Candyman’ Appearances in Nia DaCosta’s Film?
Cinematographer Jeff Cutter announced the news.
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Candyman Director Nia DaCosta Discusses Tony Todd’s Role in Her Version