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Credit: TriStar Pictures

Why Candyman is the perfect sleepover movie

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Mar 4, 2020, 3:00 PM EST

Five teenage girls stand in front of a high school bathroom mirror and say the name "Candyman" five times. The new trailer for the forthcoming sequel to the 1992 legendary horror film plays heavily into the name-saying folklore (right down to the inspired song choice), which looks set to deliver the scares when it hits theaters in June. Director Nia DaCosta utilizes the conceit that made the Tony Todd-starring movie such a terrifying experience to great effect in the first-look tease and anticipation levels are already high.

"We Dare You To Say His Name Five Times" reads the tagline on the original artwork, a dare that provides the foundation of an art exhibit in the new trailer — and one that I refused to partake in after seeing this movie for the first time at a friend's thirteenth birthday sleepover.

My first exposure to horror as a genre began with books when I was a tween — my favorites were anything that could give me nightmares. Counterintuitive? Sure, but the macabre as a form of entertainment has its way of drawing you in deeper via curiosity and fear-induced adrenaline. As book clubs have proved, reading does not have to be a solo activity, but when it comes to a great shared scary experience, the sleepover comes out on top. The origins of my scary movie education began with this rite of passage, which often involved a trip to the video store, perusing titles in the horror section that we were too young to rent. An older sibling or relaxed parent would handle the acquisition, but the gaggle of teen girls would make the choice based on whatever cover image or tagline creeped us out the most. And while I can't recall the first flick in this genre I ever saw, the memory of watching Candyman is burned into my brain.

What I could remember of the action that played out on screen was limited because I didn't end up seeing a lot of the film. Rather, I spent a large portion peeking over the top of my pillow, terrified at the mere glimpse of mirrors, hooks, or bees. But even though I was petrified by what was unfolding on screen, this only fueled my love of horror and experiencing these types of movies in a group setting while dressed in our pajamas. The memory of my friend's birthday sleepover is peppered with other images: gleefully dancing around the garden to Spice Girls songs in the late summer sun (even though we preferred guitar music) and sneaking vodka from her parents' cabinet, replacing what we took with water. The latter might have encouraged the dare game that took place after the movie ended when everyone crammed into the bathroom to say the infamous name into the mirror, much like the adolescent girls at the beginning of the new trailer.

Credit: TriStar Pictures

I was too lily-livered to do it in 1996 and I am too scared to do it nearly 25 years later. Yes, I knew it was just a movie then and I know it is just a movie now. It is a totally benign word to say out loud and yet, I won't do it in the vicinity of a mirror. Some of the group did, which meant that we spent the night wondering if anything would happen. Again, we knew what everyone said was based on fiction but when you're hopped on sugar, horror, and pilfered vodka, any reasoning skills quickly vanish. And what makes Candyman an ideal sleepover horror is this bonus interactive element that makes any trip to the bathroom a terrifying endeavor and one that no one did alone. There is a reason horror returns to this location time and time again.

Candyman is not the first urban legend centering on a conjuring a supernatural being via a mirror. Even before this movie, I had not taken part in the Bloody Mary ritual at a different birthday sleepover. Much like saying Candyman, the Bloody Mary folklore suggests that if you say her name repeatedly into a mirror — the version I witnessed was 13 times — she will appear covered in blood. As much as the movie watching was an integral part of an overnight gathering, meddling with ghostly entities was also a high priority, even though teen magazines warned against it. The latter definitely impacted the level I would partake, I would watch but I wouldn't place my finger anywhere near the glass/candle/torch or whatever object was being wielded as a communication device.

Witchy-themed tricks like Light as a Feather, Stiff as a Board were less intimidating, but attempting to contact the dead with a Ouija board was a big no. These sleepover activities further underscore the teen obsession with contacting the dead and exploring our power in the movies we watched and the antics that went on while our parents tried to get some sleep. Witches give a sense of inner strength that is comforting when you are a teenager, excited and afraid of what is going to happen next.

Source: TriStar Pictures

The next time I saw the original Candyman was in my first year at university when we decided to have a horror marathon that ran until the sun came up. And this time I watched the whole thing with minimal peeking from behind my fingers. It was still potent but it could never live up to the memory buried deep in my psyche. There was some talk of doing the mirror trick, but instead, we just put on The Texas Chain Saw Massacre). You can't recapture the gleeful energy of 13-year-old girls after they have watched their first truly scary movie when you're 19 and happily drinking a beer while crammed in a friend's dorm room. When the new movie comes out, I will be first in line, but wishing I was watching in my pajamas.

A sleepover is equal parts a safe space and fraught with fear. As someone who tends to overthink a worst-case scenario, I was always terrified of going to sleep at these events. — not because of the scary movie we had watched (though that probably didn't help) but I feared the tricks that might occur like putting your hand in warm water so you pee yourself. This never happened, but in my mind, there was always a chance it could and the social humiliation was a far more horrifying prospect than any supernatural being. Nevertheless, my memory of this night and of the Candyman experience shaped how I feel about horror. The social anxiety I felt can still be recalled, but the sheer joy of being completely terrified in the relative safety of a group is one I hold dear. Just don't ask me to say his name five times.

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