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Candyman, Candyman, Candyman: looking at how we classify horror

Posted on 27 October 2021 by Rebecca

Candyman is rated R16 violence, horror, suicide and content may disturb

*Spoiler alert and content warning*


Welcome to the Classification Office HORROR Fortnight! We’re taking a look at the scary content that’s out right now and breaking down what we look for when we’re classifying and consuming content.

Candyman is in NZ cinemas right now (sorry Auckland!) and we viewed the film for classification back in August prior to lockdown.

Director and writer Nia DeCosta (Little Woods, The Marvels in 2022) and writer/producer Jordan Peele (Get Out, Us) have crafted a classic horror spun with a stylistic arthouse vision. The traditional horror tropes we saw back in the original Candyman (1992) are the backbone of this spiritual sequel.

In Candyman, there’s an upfront mix of graphic bloody violence and skilful horror. And it’s used to tell the story of racial justice and the legacy of race hate crimes in the location of a former Chicago public housing project called Cabrini Green.

Horror is one of our ‘gateaway’ categories for classifications. The others are sex, crime, cruelty and violence. Sometimes the horror we’re ‘looking’ for is as much about what we don’t see as what we do see.

Within Candyman there’s body horror and a supernatural killer, who stalks his victims after they summon him by saying his name five times in the mirror. The summoning element adds a psychological element to the horror. Candyman has a hook instead of a hand and can often only be seen in reflections, adding to the tension and terror as he kills his victims. In some scenes, Candyman’s face is covered in bees. The main character Anthony has visions of Candyman in the mirror which he cowers from, thinking that he is going crazy.

“One reason this “Candyman” never feels like a formula slasher film, even during the murders, is that DaCosta stages them with a spurting operatic dread that evokes the grandiloquent sadism of mid-period De Palma. When four young women prepsters stand before the school bathroom mirror and say “Candyman” five times, it’s as if they’re acting out what they think is their privilege; their deaths come at us in a way that’s just oblique enough to get you to imagine the worst. And when a know-it-all art critic (Rebecca Spence) receives her own ghastly comeuppance, DaCosta shoots it from an elegant distance that heightens the horror.” — Variety

We also note the horror violence in the film. A number of characters are killed through serious physical harm, but the stylised filmmaking means that often deaths are shown from a distance or glimpsed in a mirror, with streams of blood evoking the injury. Victims are sometimes suspended in the air by an invisible force, blood blossoming from their necks.

Visceral, gory and disturbing scenes are noted in explicit detail in our written decision so that the conclusion for the final classification is clear.

The Classification Office must also consider the dominant effect of the publication on its intended audience. Despite the film’s strong cultural standard the body horror and bloody violence is likely to shock and disturb younger viewers. The idea of Candyman and his various incarnations creates a sense of threat throughout. We balance these harms against the right to freedom of expression.

Two members of our Youth Advisory Panel attended the screening, both 17 years old. They felt that the film would likely shock and disturb children and younger teenagers. They found the body horror the strongest element and considered it more bloody than they were expecting. Although they did say that they expected death scenes because it was a horror.

So that those who are old enough to ‘enjoy’ the content can make their own choice about experiencing the shock and horror of a supernatural thriller like Candyman. We decided on a final classification of R16 violence, horror, suicide and content may disturb.

So viewers… know your rating, and beware before looking in the mirror and uttering that infamous name five times.

Help information

At the Office we know that everyone has a line. What might seem like an easy watch for one person could be different for another. If the content of this blog has made you feel uncomfortable please reach out. Talk to your friends or whānau or you can free call or text 1737 for more support.


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