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“Frankenstein’s Monster has had more lives than a cat!”

So begins the prologue of the Crestwood House book on Ghost of Frankenstein, the 1942 film that was the fourth in Universal’s Frankenstein series. The authors go on to give us an extremely condensed history of the franchise, starting with Mary Shelley’s novel and continuing through the previous three Universal films, devoting about a sentence to each one. (They also incorrectly identify the Frankenstein of the book as “the mad Dr. Heinrich Frankenstein,” rather than Victor Frankenstein.)

“Was that the end of Frankenstein’s Monster?” they ask, after their recap of 1939’s Son of Frankenstein. “Perhaps it should have been. But the Monster was still selling movie tickets.”

That “perhaps it should have been” may have been intended by the authors as a nod to the tragic – for himself and others – trajectory of the Monster’s life, but given that we’re about the read about Ghost of Frankenstein, it sounds a bit like they’re lamenting that the franchise has staggered on this long.

Indeed, there are several points in the narrative when it seems like the authors’ hearts simply aren’t in it this time around, even though this is one of the volumes copyrighted in 1985 rather than ’87, meaning there were still several more to come. Also, it’s a bit hard to tell whether they were just less into retelling Ghost of Frankenstein or whether that sensation is because, let’s face it, Ghost of Frankenstein is a bit of a hot mess.

Everyone changes their mind at the drop of a hat, the literal ghost of Frankenstein shows up at one point and begs to have his creation not be destroyed which… doesn’t seem in keeping with the events of the previous films, let’s say. And that’s not getting into how this movie really doubles down on the idea that the problem with the Monster is that it has a criminal’s brain – never mind that the Monster is pretty uniformly gentle and good-natured until people attack or betray it.

Which is not to say that the novelization isn’t occasionally able to rise to a kind of poetry, even with its simplistic language. “Now I see,” Ygor says, when lightning strikes the Monster and revivifies it. “Dr. Frankenstein was your father, but the lightning was your mother!” You can virtually hear Bela Lugosi’s unmistakable voice uttering the lines, even if you haven’t watched the movie lately, and even though – as has been the case with most of the rest of these books – the actual lines in the film are subtly different.

Indeed, re-watching Ghost of Frankenstein after reading the book, the authors once again make a host of sometimes inexplicable changes. For example, in the book, it’s Ludwig Frankenstein’s daughter who suggests the rather grisly idea of performing vivisection on the Monster in order to destroy it, while in the movie it is Frankenstein himself who proposes it, and she never offers anything remotely as bloodthirsty.

Once again, perhaps the most striking deviation is left for the (relatively muddled, even on screen) ending, however. The broad strokes are mostly the same, as Ygor’s brain is secretly switched at the last minute and implanted into the monster. However, in the movie we get the explanation that Ygor’s blood type is different from the Monster’s, meaning that the blood won’t feed the sensory organs and leading the “Ygor-Monster’s” sight to fail, before he is ultimately consumed in a fire that destroys the house, as fires are wont to do in movies like this.

The book… makes less sense. “I forgot that the Monster’s blood won’t feed a normal brain,” Frankenstein crows as the Ygor-Monster goes blind in the book. “Ygor’s brain is dying!”

That’s… there’s a lot to unpack there. What does he mean by a “normal brain” in this context? Given that the movie version of Frankenstein’s Monster received a criminal brain, are we to assume that criminals – or possibly the mentally ill – have different blood than other people? And given that Ygor is probably both a criminal and mentally ill, shouldn’t he be fine?

The movie also gives no such indication that Ygor’s brain is “dying,” merely that he can’t see. He dies – or is implied to – when the house burns down, though, of course, the Monster will be back the following year in Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man.

In the movie, Frankenstein’s daughter and her love interest walk silently away from the burning house and into a sunset as the end titles come up. In the book they do that, too, but the authors put some condescending dialogue in the mouth of the male lead. “Don’t look back,” he tells Frankenstein’s daughter. “Your grandfather died in the same kind of fire that has killed your father. Now it is up to us to go on with our lives.”

Sure, guy, that follows.

In 1940, Universal made a movie adaptation of Hawthorne’s House of Seven Gables, with Vincent Price in the good guy role. So times change, is what I’m saying.

(Indeed, he would play essentially the opposing part in the much-abridged version of the story included in 1963’s Twice-Told Tales.)

The Crestwood House book doesn’t tell us that, though. Instead, it introduces itself with this bon mot: “Writers of the 1800s believed their stories should teach lessons about life.” However, the prologue goes on to let us know, Nathaniel Hawthorne’s stories were “more than sermons against sin. People still read them today for their interesting characters and plots.” (And because they’re assigned to read them in school, but the book doesn’t say that, either.)

Interestingly, given that the other books in this series have tended to shy away from the more lurid, graphic, or violent episodes of their chosen films, this one gives us a nicely vivid quote of the curse placed on Colonel Pyncheon by the man he has accused of witchcraft so he can steal his land: “God hath given him blood to drink!”

In these seven books, there were two for films that I had never seen when I picked them up. In an odd twist, both have “house” in the title. This is the first of them. It feels like I’ve seen it, because I’ve seen Price doing the “House of Seven Gables” story in Twice-Told Tales, but I haven’t seen this version, more’s the pity.

To that end, I can’t tell you how the book stacks up against the movie, though I can say that the working out of the plot, as presented here, is less horror story and more melodrama. And I can say that, in the book at least, the ending feels considerably rushed, to the extent that I was not entirely positive – until looking at the film still that follows “THE END” – whether both couples had gotten married or just the one.

While movies from this era have a tendency to just be like “monster’s dead, the end,” I have a feeling this one probably seems a little less rushed on film than it does in the pages of the book. (Also, there is no monster in The House of Seven Gables, for those who are unfamiliar with the story. At least, not the kind that we’re talking about when we talk about monsters on this blog. There’s just an asshole.)

October is the busy season for horror writers. That’s pretty much always been true, and this year is no exception. While the pandemic has put a damper on some of the season’s usual festivities, that doesn’t mean that there isn’t still plenty to do.

I’ve been making a couple of appearances and I’ll be making a few more. For the most part, this means social distancing, masking up, doing things outside where possible, all the usual safety measures, even though I am double-vaxxed and all that jazz. But while last year these kinds of activities were functionally impossible, this year they’re happening, just under somewhat less-than-ideal circumstances.

Let’s start with the most pressing item: Tomorrow, I’ll be outside the Afterword Tavern & Shelves in the Crossroads in downtown KC, where I’ll be joined by a bunch of other local authors (including Jason Teal) in hawking my wares as part of their first annual Lit on Grand event. It kicks off at 11 in the morning and goes until we pack it in, so come on down and say hello!

Then, in about two weeks’ time, the Halloween event of the season is happening at the Screenland Armour as Magnetic Magic dusts off not one but two VHS oddities for a very special October #AnalogSunday where we’ll be screening The Boneyard (1991) and Hellgate (1989)! I’ve never seen either one, so I’m really looking forward to this. There’ll also be special prizes, custom intros, and the usual tape trading and other fun analog nonsense.

Finally, I’ll be hosting both a lecture and a workshop (that’s basically a long lecture) at the Johnson County Library’s writer’s conference the weekend of November 5-7. I’ll be discussing how to draw inspiration from movies for your prose writing, and working on licensed properties.

Naturally, other stuff is going on, too. My birthday will be in there (October 30, for those who don’t know) and I’ll be watching other movies and doing other fun stuff. Already this month I’ve knocked out this year’s Nerdoween, and over at Unwinnable, we’ve turned the place into a video store complete with employee recommendations for streaming flicks, with themes chosen by yours truly.

Dracula’s Daughter (1936) is actually pretty well regarded, compared to most of the other films covered in this series. For its novel approach to the material, its lesbian themes, its unusual antagonist, its Gloria Holden, you name it. And unlike the last couple of titles I wrote about, Dracula’s Daughter is one that, while I have seen it, I hadn’t seen it as recently – or as often – as those flicks that got the MST treatment.

The prologue of this volume very briefly introduces us to two very different concepts. First, the historical Vlad Dracula, as the book calls him. “Dracula was a brave leader,” the authors tell us, “but he was also in love with death.” I think we could all hope for such a pithy summary of our lives five centuries after our demise.

However, again according to Green and Sanford, “Few people cared about Vlad Dracula, except for Bram Stoker.” I feel like there are at least a few Romanians who would probably disagree. Anyway, the book continues, Stoker wrote his famous novel in 1897 and it was “wonderfully scary. Everyone wanted to read it!”

The authors use this as a springboard to explaining their second concept, the idea of the movie sequel – there’s a certain charming naivete in assuming that any child old enough to read this book would be unfamiliar with the idea of a sequel. “How could Universal make another vampire movie and still use Dracula’s name?” the authors wonder. “Some clever writers came up with a good answer. They said, ‘Imagine that Dracula had a daughter!'”

From there, the book moves into the realm of recounting the events of the film. At the time I reread it, I hadn’t seen the movie recently enough to make clear notes about what was different or the same, though I have watched it since, but right away the novelization is nicely more atmospheric and suggestive than our last couple of installments, thanks partly to the more gothic nature of the film itself.

The first few sentences of the first chapter, which is entitled “A Body Vanishes,” describe Carfax Abbey. “Overhead, a pale moon was lost behind heavy clouds. A bat circled above the tall towers of the old house.” This is also embellishment, as the film provides no such establishing shot. The story picks up immediately following the events of Tod Browning’s 1931 film, never mind that Dracula’s Daughter didn’t hit screens until five years later.

Edward Van Sloan is back as Professor Von (as it’s spelled here and in the original film) Helsing, who is in trouble with the law because he’s been found with the corpse of Dracula, and nobody seems to believe him that it was just a vampire he staked. In short order, we meet Dracula’s eponymous daughter, Countess Marya Zaleska (Gloria Holden). “Some fathers raise their daughters to be artists or writers,” she tells our protagonist, played by Otto Kruger. “My father made me a vampire!”

What makes the line, which is one of the better ones in the book, honestly, particularly interesting is that she never actually says it in the movie. In the film, she simply tells him that she’s Dracula’s daughter and lets him draw his own conclusions as to what that means – which, by then, he has already done.

A much longer essay than this could be written about the film’s themes, and how they were cut to ribbons by the Hays Code. Among these are the parallels between vampirism and mental illness – the suggestion that either Countess Zaleska herself or even Von Helsing could simply be delusional. More striking are how the scenes suggesting a lesbian subtext to Zaleska’s actions were cut, despite that same subtext being used to peddle the film, with taglines like, “Save the women of London from Dracula’s Daughter!”

Instead, I’ll leave you with a bit of background from when Joseph Breen, then head of the Production Code Administration, was asked to look over the script of the scene in which the Countess attacks a young model who has come to pose for her. Breen demanded – his wording not taking the form or “should” or even “must” but “will” – that the implication that the model posed in the nude be cut, and went on to say, “The whole sequence will be treated in such a way as to avoid any suggestion of perverse sexual desire on the part of Marya or of an attempted sexual attack by her upon Lili.”

For seven years now, every October I have gone to a local event called #Nerdoween, hosted by my favorite local theatre, the Screenland Armour, and the fine folks from the Nightmare Junkhead podcast. The gimmick is always the same: one night, three horror movies, all on a pre-chosen theme, but you don’t get to know what you’re going to see until the movies play.

In past years, the themes have included demons, sequels, anthologies, “sleazy sci-fi,” killer nouns, and Satan. This year, to celebrate the fact that movie theatres are kinda, sorta able to be open again a little bit, the theme was movies that take place, well, at the movies.

And I’m gonna warn you, one of the three movies we saw is a film best experienced as cold as humanly possible, and just knowing that it’s included in this list constitutes a spoiler of sorts for it, so I’m not going to say the title. If you follow me on Twitter or Letterboxd you can figure it out, but there’s only so much I can do to protect you from a movie from 1987.

I am a skeleton of few traditions, and #Nerdoween is one of the things that brings me the most joy each year. Every one of those seven years, my friend and adopted brother Jay has accompanied me. Unlike me, he is almost always exposed to entirely new things – across 21 movies, we determined that he had ever seen three of them before. And even I get introduced to at least one new film more often than not.

In fact, every year save two (this year and “killer nouns”), I’ve seen at least one new-to-me film, and sometimes (indeed, on three occasions) two. This year, the poor hosts set themselves a nearly impossible task if they wanted to show a movie I hadn’t seen, given the theme they picked, as I think I’ve seen most of those. At the same time, they came surprisingly close, as I had only seen one of the films for the first time earlier this year.

We kicked off the night with Popcorn (1991), perhaps the most obvious choice given the theme but also a perfect way to start things off. It was a blast to see in a theatre, as a movie that has always felt more like a Halloween party in a movie theatre than an actual movie.

That was followed up with Porno (2019), a movie I had previously seen when it made its debut at Panic Fest. I wasn’t a fan then, and I’m still not, but it was a good crowd movie. (It may surprise you to learn that it is remarkably difficult to perform a Google image search for stills from the movie Porno and actually turn up pictures from that movie.)

The last film of the night is often the weirdest and/or the heaviest – as is only right and proper – and this year it was both. I’m gonna refrain from saying its name here because, again, I think that to even include it on this list is to lose something of its magic, but for those who want to know, feel free to drop me a line, or you can check Letterboxd or my Twitter, where I spilled the beans.

Perhaps more so than any of the others, it was a real pleasure to see this in a theatre, especially given that literally no one else there had ever seen it besides me and one other person. Also, the sound mix was amazing.

So props to the Nightmare Junkhead crew for always putting on a great show, and I’m already looking forward to next year, when hopefully COVID will actually be a thing of the past and the only anxiety will be what’s up on the screen.

Here we are with the third (of seven) in my weekly explorations of the purple cover Crestwood House Movie Monsters books that I found at an antique store. As I mentioned in my last post, this time around I’m tackling Revenge of the Creature, a 1987 title in the series adapting the (lackluster) 1955 sequel to Creature from the Black Lagoon.

Like The Mole People before it, Revenge is a film that has gotten the Mystery Science Theater 3000 treatment, meaning that I’m more than usually familiar with the script. Which, once again, enables me to let you know that the authors of this book, somewhat inexplicably, took some liberties with the events of the story.

While the end of the book isn’t identical to the end of the picture, it’s much closer this time around than in The Mole People. Instead, the differences crop up in other, less explicable places. For example, when the Gill Man arrives at Ocean Harbor in the movie, he comes by boat (Porpoise III, to be precise) whereas in the book he arrives in a seaplane “specially fitted to carry a large water tank.”

Ocean Harbor is called Ocean Harbor Seaworld in the book, as well. These are just a few of the differences, though most of the others are not so striking. The love triangle between John Agar (again playing a pompous scientist), Lori Nelson, and John Bromfield is downplayed here. The line Agar tosses out about Bromfield being a “grade-A wolf” is still here, but the follow-up that he’s not going to let “Captain America cut into my cake” is missing, along with much of the rest of the film’s sexism. Instead, Agar’s character and Bromfield’s shake hands and Nelson sees that they’re “good friends.”

The book also gets inside the Gill Man’s head a little bit. “Within the Gill Man’s slow brain, a plan was forming,” the authors inform us, after the Gill Man has absconded with Lori Nelson’s character. “This woman was his. He would take her with him to the Black Lagoon.”

Okay, so maybe not all of the sexism is gone.

(Thank god that still over there got a full-page spread, by the way, so we can all bask in its fine quality.)

Like all the books in this series, this one prefaces its retelling of the film with a brief prologue contextualizing the picture. “The earliest sailors believed that monsters lived under the sea,” this one starts. “Even when scientists proved that the stories were false, many people still half-believed them.”

Ah, those good ol’ days when even most people listened to scientists when they said stuff.

The prologue goes on to briefly explain what a sequel is, and suggest that this film was intended to make the audience “feel sorry for the Gill Man,” as if the first movie didn’t already do that more than adequately. “Will you feel sorry for the creature?” the authors ask. “Maybe… as long as he stays hidden in the Black Lagoon!”

So, here’s a story: Back when I was putting together my very first collection, it was originally going to include a story called “The Tooth.” Around the same time, however, Cullen Bunn was putting out a comic called The Tooth. To make matters worse, his comic was about a monster hero in the ’70s Marvel style that grew from a dragon’s tooth, while my story was about a ghost/monster that grew from a dead wizard’s tooth. What’s more, the publisher of my first collection happened to also be publishing some of Cullen’s stuff.

In other words, Cullen Bunn and I were engaged in a Swamp Thing/Man-Thing scenario, while we were both writing for the same publisher. “The Tooth” got retitled and, ultimately, pulled from my first collection, to eventually find its way into print (under its new and, frankly, better title, “Remains”) first in Strange Aeons and then in my second collection, Painted Monsters & Other Strange Beasts.

Cullen Bunn and I aren’t friends, per se, but we’ve remained on friendly terms over the years. He lives in Missouri, I live in Kansas right by the Missouri line, which means that we find ourselves at the same conventions and whatnot a lot of the time. In the years since my first collection came out, his career as a comic book writer has skyrocketed, and he has written, well, just all sorts of things, including lots of stuff for Marvel and DC, not to mention the really great Harrow County and The Sixth Gun.

What reminded me of all this was that last night, I finally got around to watching a movie that came out last year called The Empty Man. It’s adapted from one of Cullen’s comics. The movie seems to be divisive, but most of the weird fic folks I know who have seen it like it, and I totally get why. It’s a big swing at cosmic horror, fronted by a cold open that’s basically an M. R. James ghost story with a Zdzislaw Beksinski creature, and told in the form of a detective flick. Think True Detective only, honestly, this does it better.

It’s long as hell, which I actually dug, because I hate when movies are long except when they’re also long and boring. No, wait, what I mean is, I’m a sucker for overlong procedural stuff. People looking at photographs, digging through papers, going to places and putting pieces together. I can watch that all goddamn day, if it’s done even remotely well, and especially if there’s a supernatural component at the heart of it all.

Add to this that the film is set (though mostly not shot) in and around St. Louis, and I was completely onboard for the whole ride. If you haven’t seen it and you dig cosmic horror, weird fiction, and detective narratives, give it a shot. If you have, or if you’re not into it, at least it prompted me to tell an odd little anecdote about one of my stories…

I wrote last time about my relationship with the Crestwood House monster books, how I found seven of them at an antique mall, and my plans to post about each one, one a week, until Halloween. So if you need a refresher, there you go.

Thanks to its being featured on an episode of Mystery Science Theater 3000, I am probably more familiar with the script for The Mole People than any other movie in either of the Crestwood sets, with the possible exception of two other MST alums, Revenge of the Creature (which I’ll be covering next time) and The Deadly Mantis, from the orange series. Which means I can tell you, unequivocally, that they changed some stuff here.

Like, the beats are all there, but the dialogue is all different. And not just that they excised some of it to keep the length of the book intact, what is there is almost always slightly off in wording – if usually similar in meaning – to what the actors actually say. But the dialogue is the least of it, in some ways. Perhaps the most startling change comes at the end…

The movie ends with the slave girl Adad – played by Cynthia Patrick, who has been gifted to John Agar’s pompous archaeologist Roger Bentley and becomes his love interest in typically ’50s creepy fashion – perishing in an aftershock just after Agar and company reach the surface. The earthquake is here, but Agar and Leave it to Beaver‘s Hugh Beaumont dig her back out and resuscitate her in a fairly anticlimactic sequence.

“Bently uncovered her face,” the authors write. “She was barely breathing. He started giving her first aid. At last, her eyes opened. In a little while she was strong enough to start the climb downward.”

Indeed, where the film ended with Adad perishing, then cutting to a sequence of the subterranean temple being destroyed by the quake, the book adds several paragraphs as Agar, Beaumont, and Patrick make their way down the mountain, and Agar laments that he has no proof of his discovery, except for Adad who, after all, looks just like any other (white) person.

He vows to dig the lost civilization back up, but Adad begs him not to, asking him to, “Let the mountain keep its secrets.”

Ultimately, he agrees. “After all,” the final lines of the book speculate, “there were plenty of other places he could dig. Besides, who would believe his story?”

Normally, in a novelization, we would chalk such a disparity up to the writers working from a shooting script, some previous version that got changed before the film was released. But given that The Mole People came out in 1956 and this book was copyrighted in 1985, that seems an unlikely explanation. Perhaps the authors were pressured (or simply chose) to give the tale a more traditional “happy” ending. I suppose only time will tell if the other volumes in this series share similar variations from their source material.

The ending isn’t the only deviation in The Mole People, even while it is the most major one. Agar’s character is less insufferable here than he is in the film, and, in a haphazard gesture toward at least a kind of diversity, the eponymous mole people are, occasionally, referred to as “Mole Men and Mole Women.” Oh, and the mole people talk in the book, which also doesn’t happen in the movie.

When Agar and Beaumont save some of the mole people from their albino Sumerian oppressors, one of them stops before leaving to tell Agar, “We re-mem-ber,” making their attack at the picture’s climax more an intentional combining of efforts, rather than the conveniently-timed but largely unrelated uprising that it seems on film.

I have written before, extensively, about my relationship with the Crestwood House monster books, most recently in the first issue of Weird Horror from Undertow Publications. For those who weren’t like me, the Crestwood House books were a series of retellings of the classic horror films of yesteryear, illustrated with evocative black-and-white film stills from those same flicks, at least some of them provided by none other than Forrest J. Ackerman.

The school library at just about every elementary school I ever attended had at least a few of them, usually the whole series. The first and best-known set, which kicked off in the late ’70s, had orange-and-black covers and titles hitting upon some of the biggest names in the Universal monster canon, including Frankenstein, Dracula, and The Creature from the Black Lagoon – not to mention more weirdo titles like The Deadly Mantis and It Came from Outer Space.

Each of those orange books provided an abridged novelization of the film, alongside trivia and context for the films that surrounded it. The Frankenstein book, for instance, summarized the James Whale film, but also talked about Mary Shelley’s novel, Thomas Edison’s Frankenstein, and other films and adaptations before and since.

The lesser-known purple series came out later, kicking off in the ’80s (the ones I have are copyrighted 1985 and 1987) and including more B-sides than its predecessor. Hence, we get titles like Werewolf of London, Tarantula, and House of Fear.

The dimensions of the books were also smaller. While the orange titles were the size of a standard “board book,” the purple series were closer in scale to a mid-grade chapter book. And where the orange books had included a breezy summary of the main film, alongside details about others, the purple series included a more scene-by-scene novelization of the film in question, even if the result was still quite brisk.

While I was obsessed with those books, I never owned any of them – I’m pretty sure they were sold only to libraries, as I’ve never seen a copy without a library stamp inside. Today, they sell for big bucks online, when you can find them at all. Recently, I came across seven of the purple cover titles in a book-filled booth at an antique mall, and brought them all home with me. It’s not quite the full series – I’ve never been able to find a definitive list, but I know I’m missing several titles. Now, as we head toward Halloween, I’ll be reading one a week and posting about it here.

Most of the books in the orange cover series were credited to writer Ian Thorne, actually science fiction author Julian May. All of the purple ones – or, at least, the ones I have – are credited to Carl R. Green and William R. Sanford, authors, according to the website of Enslow Publishing, of “more than one hundred books for young people.”

Each book includes a prologue, usually about a page long, that gives some minor context for the story you’re about to read, and from there on it’s just raw adaptation of the screenplay, accompanied, once again, by black-and-white stills.

I decided to start with Werewolf of London for a variety of reasons. The 1935 film is an oddity, given that it predates The Wolf Man by more than half-a-decade, yet never managed to kick off a franchise the way that film did, even though it was the first mainstream Hollywood film to feature a werewolf. What’s more, it actually features two werewolves, and not just one begetting the other, as in that later picture. Here, there’s an actual werewolf-on-werewolf fight!

Werewolf of London is also interesting in its relationship to the Crestwood House canon. While it didn’t get a book in the orange series, it also kind of did. Not only does the orange Wolf Man book summarize this flick alongside the Lon Chaney Jr. one, it’s the werewolf from Werewolf of London – with his Eddie Munster widow’s peak – who decorates that cover.

It’s been long enough since I watched the film that I can’t tell you for sure which liberties Green and Sanford took with the script, but the writing is, for the most part, of the “see Jane run” style you might expect, with short, unambiguous sentences. “Lisa and Miss Ettie ran down the stairs,” one climactic scene tells us. “The wolfman was faster.”

Which is not to say that such direct language can’t be occasionally effective. “Glendon knew he was now a werewolf,” an earlier scene says, conveying his transformation. “Deep, evil powers ruled him.”

“A story like that, a pain like that, it lasts forever.”

It would be more dramatic to say that today was the first time I set foot in a movie theatre since February of last year, when I went to see Underwater, blissfully ignorant that it would be my last movie before the pandemic. But that’s not wholly accurate. I went to a very socially-distanced Nerdoween last October, and I’ve been to a couple of Analog Sundays over the past few months, since I got vaccinated and they started up again.

It is true, though, that Candyman is not merely the first new-release movie of 2021 that I’ve seen, it’s the only first-run movie that I’ve caught in a theatre since that fateful showing of Underwater. In a way that even Analog Sunday hasn’t quite, it felt like a homecoming.

Since whenever the hell it first got announced way back before the plague times, I have been excited to catch this new Candyman. I am not as familiar as I maybe should be with director Nia DaCosta, but Jordan Peele’s other horror efforts have been some of my favorite films of the past decade, and I was extremely excited to see an #ownvoices take on this material.

More to the point, though, Candyman is one of my favorite films. It is, for my money, the best screen adaptation to date of anything by Clive Barker, himself one of my favorite creators. This is, in no small part, because it actually improves upon the source material, by moving the action from the projects of London to Chicago’s Cabrini Green and changing the race of the eponymous urban legend, thereby also changing the socio-political heft of the story for the better.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, given Peele’s name in the credits, this new Candyman takes that added heft and runs with it. What is more surprising, for me, is how well the movie seems to get what the original Candyman was all about. Better than many fans of the movie seem to. Certainly better than any of the other sequels ever did.

There are going to be mild spoilers from here on in, so read at your own risk.

Tony Todd is in this movie. I don’t feel like that’s a surprise, at this point. He’s not all over the trailer or anything, but they also haven’t exactly kept it under their hats. But he’s not in it much. Instead, the legend of Candyman has… expanded. Candyman is no longer just Daniel Robitaille – but then, he never was.

What this movie nails that so many don’t get is that Candyman isn’t a ghost. He’s not even the more tangible revenant that slashers like Jason and Freddy represent. He is the tragedy itself, not the person the tragedy happened to. “It is a blessed condition, believe me,” he says to Helen Lyle. “To be whispered about at street corners. To live in other people’s dreams, but not to have to be.”

That quote, which is also lifted more-or-less whole cloth from the original Clive Barker story “The Forbidden,” as many of the original movie’s best lines are, always resonated hard with me. It’s why I used it as the epigraph for my story “Ripperology.”

Candyman is not the person, Candyman is the myth. It’s true for him in a way that it isn’t for any of the other slashers, even while there’s an element of the urban legend about all of them. It is that element of the original’s power that this movie gets, and runs with, and exploits for its own purposes to very interesting and satisfying – at least for me – ends.

This new Candyman is not the picture that the original was – it can’t be and, mostly to its credit, it doesn’t try. It’s messier and more ambitious. It’s the rare movie that I actually think would have benefitted from being longer. Giving its characters, its mysteries, its recursions and inversions more time to breathe. Writing at the AV Club, Anya Stanley argued that the film would have been better served as a TV series and, for once, I don’t necessarily disagree.

Even at a brisk 91 minutes, however, and amid not-infrequent missteps, DaCosta and company have crafted a haunting, complex, sometimes funny, often gruesome puzzle box movie that simultaneously serves as one of the better things to grow organically out of Clive Barker’s extensive and often very organic oeuvre, and also very much its own creature.

In a world of largely unnecessary remake/sequels (requels?), the others could stand to take notes.