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Say Their Names: ‘Candyman’ and the Horrors of Youth Court

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The movie ‘Candyman’ has a complicated history, where facts and narratives continue to spill out into future generations. A “villain” created by society, who you summon into your life. A “villain” with a history of sadness, with a history of art and creation, with a history spanning lynching during legalized slavery to police legalized lynching. A complicated oral history with a story we have to keep telling but that remains so repetitive and true and raw that you don’t just hear it, you feel it. Many of the themes found in the film, gentrification, police violence, subsidized housing, and segregation are as real today as they were in 1992 when the first Candyman was released. Even today with the 2021 remake of the film, these themes not only touch our lives, but also our courtrooms across the country.

Horror works best when it speaks to our personal fear. And as a youth defender for the State of New Jersey, what kept me up that night after watching Candyman (2021) wasn’t the hook or the bees. It was the horror that not much had changed in the almost 30 years since we first saw Tony Todd as Candyman. Walter Jon Williams said, “I’m not afraid of werewolves or vampires or haunted hotels, I’m afraid of what real human beings do to other real human beings.” As a public defender, I have witnessed many horrors- not just in the details of crimes but in how an entire justice system can treat young black men. Sweeping reforms that made it easier to Prosecute black boys as adults, found their roots in the frenzied media and racist tropes of the super predator myth of the 90s.

One such story was that of Robert “Yummy” Sandifer. Yummy was an 11-year-old boy who was killed by members of his gang, the Black Disciples in 1994 in Chicago. Terrifying as that sounds, the real-life details of his murder and what it would mean to generations of young black boys in the juvenile legal system are what truly horrifies. Yummy was suspected of the murder of a 14-year-old girl two weeks prior. He was on probation already for a series of arrests. His mother was a teen who used crack cocaine and his father was in jail. He was beaten and burned as a child. In an evaluation, when asked to complete this sentence “I am…”, he answered “sick”. Nicknamed for his love of sweet treats, Yummy, and the teen boys who shot him, became the examples on which the super predator myth and media frenzy were built upon. States used the public’s fear of child boogeymen to fuel reforms to the juvenile court system to allow for more children to be tried as adults, imposing mandatory sentences including life sentences without the possibility of parole. Derrick Hardaway who was 14-years-old when he drove the getaway car following the murder of Yummy received 45 years in prison.

The United States is the only nation that sentences people to die in prison without the opportunity to parole, for crimes committed before turning 18. As of early 2020, while Candyman was ready to reemerge in theaters and we were dared to say his name, 1,465 people were serving juvenile life sentences without the possibility of parole. Another 1,716 are serving sentences that amount to virtually life without parole.

79% witnessed violence in their homes regularly

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32% grew up in public housing

Fewer than half were attending school at the time of their offense

47% were physically abused

80% of girls reported histories of physical abuse and 77% of girls reported histories of sexual abuse

And

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62% are African American

There are people who we, as a country, decided were legally too young to marry, buy alcohol, smoke weed, drive cars, vote, or buy a ticket to see the movie Candyman, that we, as a country, condemned to die in cages. Are you scared yet? (Also, can we all agree to stop trying to figure out ways to get out of jury duty? Great. Thanks)

But courts are beginning to listen. Just last week, in Connecticut, a court found that Keith Belcher’s sentence of 60 years at age 14 was so improperly tied to the super predator myth that it was illegal and demanded a resentencing. In coming to its conclusion, the Court noted that “[B]y invoking the super predator theory to sentence the young, Black male defendant in the present case, the sentencing court,…relied on materially false, racial stereotypes that perpetuate systemic inequities-demanding harsher sentences-that date back to the founding of our nation.” And last year, In Jones v. Mississippi Justice Sotomayor ended her dissent with the following: “Jones should know that, despite the Court’s decision today, what he does in life matters. So, too, do the efforts of the almost 1,500 other juvenile offenders like Jones who are serving LWOP[Life without the Opportunity of Parole] sentences. Of course, nothing can repair the damage their crimes caused. But that is not the question. The question is whether the State, at some point, must consider whether a juvenile offender has demonstrated maturity and rehabilitation sufficient to merit a chance at life beyond the prison in which he has grown up. For most, the answer is yes.”

Kristina Kersey is Senior Youth Defense Counsel at The Gault Center: Defenders of Youth Rights. When she is not advocating for reform of juvenile courts, she can be found collecting vinyl, Jersey shore living, and catering to her rescue Chihuahua, Biggie Smalls. She is a fan of Bruce Springsteen, iced coffee, and a fresh mani.

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HELLO DOLLY!: Ranking All the Dolls in the Chucky Franchise

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And hello to all you horror heads as well!

I’m still bounding with energy from that wicked Chucky Season 2 finale (recap here), I need somewhere to put it. We’ll be waiting a hot minute until Don Mancini brings out the next gem in the series. With my brain hollowed out and replaced with killer doll knowledge, why don’t we occupy ourselves with some rankings?

I’ve taken it upon myself to rank every iteration of the dolls in the Chucky series, for better or worse, on a set of highly scientific and measured criteria that make me objectively right.

This is for sure not just opinion and speculation.

…Probably.

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And one more thing. Childs Play (2019) Chucky is not any Chucky we recognize in this house. Lars Klevberg and Orion Pictures shouldn’t have shown that to me, but they did, and I’m not going to show that to you. It’s terrible. The one and only disqualification. Disqualified.

Would-Be Chucky Army (Chucky Seasons 1 & 2)

A moment of silence for the many copy-pasted dolls that lost their life to Andy Barclay’s self-sacrificing truck crash, and the ones lost to The Colonel’s interior decorating aspirations.

Bloated Chucky (Curse of Chucky)

I wish there were more to say, but outside of the introduction of Nica, this movie and this design committed the greatest sin of all: being boring. This version of Chucky is just very puffy, like allergic reaction mid hangover kind of puffy. I know he’s supposed to be…fleshy & intimidating, I guess? But it’s just not doing it for me. That’s basically it.

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Belle Doll Disguise Chucky (Chucky Season 2)

This one shouldn’t even be on the list since he only had about 10 seconds of actual screen time, but I’ll let it slide because it was a pretty hilarious reveal.

Chucky Trio (Cult of Chucky)

Don’t let their placement fool you, I love these and all the other dolls above them. But it’s cutthroat here on the listicle circuit.

It’s such a fun departure for the series to let Brad Douriff go nuts in a recording booth and do a one-man play between three separate Chuckys who are coordinating to possess his estranged daughter like it’s the weirdest soap opera ever put to film. The movie is a head trip, and just when you think it’s winding down into a predictable lull by the third act, the Chucky throuple reminds you that Don Mancini is no hack. The power of three, in combination with their distinct styles, weapons, gruesome kills, and drastic improvements on the Curse doll makes them stand out above the rest.

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TIE: Buff Chucky & The Colonel (Chucky Season 2)

Chucky is at his best comedically when he’s taking himself seriously, but the script isn’t. And with the floodgates opened by the war of the dolls in Season 2 of Chucky, we got two new Chucky variants that are ridiculous, and infinitely more entertaining than they should be.

If you had told me back in Season 1 that we would get a Chucky who is doing anabolics and squatting 300 on the rack every day, I would have laughed in your face; I would have laughed harder if you told me that he would freak me out. And what can be said of The Colonel? It’s Kurtz from Apocalypse Now, and just like Kurtz, he grows creepier the longer you look at exactly where he’s standing and how he got there.

GG (Seed of Chucky, Chucky Season 2)

Oh, GG. What a sweet genderfluid monarch you are, too good for your own good. While Lachlan Watson’s performance as both halves of the spiritually entwined twins Glen and Glenda was one of the best parts of Season 2, this is a battle of the dolls.

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Formerly stylized by fans as Glen/da, now going by the more neutral GG, this doll has a unique design reflecting the evolution of the nonbinary character and their identity struggle. I like that some elements of both parents got carried over to their child, and who can forget Billy Boyd’s iconic voice performance? Still, their screen time is relatively low compared to most other dolls, and we don’t see them in much action. They’re more about the talking than the killing and stalking, you know?

Grandaddy Chucky (Child’s Play)

Before you start flaming me on Twitter in front of everyone, take a moment to calm down and remember how good this movie is. This ranking can’t take that away! It’s a low spot, I know, but I still think he looks fantastic!

Honestly, he would go to the number one spot if his facial animatronics were as good as they were in any of the other films, but right now, he gets to stay where he is for 1. his icon status, and 2. his sheer durability. My god, does this doll get jacked up. Burned, shot, stabbed, exploded, decapitated, I seriously don’t think he reaches this level of superhuman (superdoll?) durability in any of the other movies. Who would have thought this was the true power of Voodoo for Dummies?

 Tiffany (Bride of Chucky, Seed of Chucky, Chucky Seasons 1 & 2)

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Okay, my Jennifer Tilly bias is showing here. Look, what can I say? I’m a man of simple tastes, I see a Tilly, I love a Tilly, and the design team making Tiff embody all the energy and character of her actress aesthetically makes me love this tiny plastic Tilly!

She might be David Kirschner and Kevin Yagher’s magnum opus in character design just for how strong her contrast is against the newer, grungier Scarface Chucky introduced in the same film. The Belle doll-turned-Blondie fan communicates all of Tiffany’s melodrama and loudness perfectly. It’s a bold but perfect partner in crime design, and with her perennial iconic style, we must stan.

“This Is the Best of The Movies” Chucky (Child’s Play 2)

Honestly, I find it so hard to pick between this design and 3’s. On the one hand, Child’s Play 2 Chucky is menacing and was the first truly upgraded Chucky, giving his motion and facial expressions a lot more credence in a film that is frankly better in all measures. Every doll owes its evolution to this one’s leap in advancement.

The doll and its kills outshine the original and do exactly what you want from a sequel. Getting a cue from Puppet Master’s Blade with that knife prosthetic in the factory finale and just becoming increasingly menacing over the runtime, he also shades his particular brand of evil with the barest hint of that humor and some very funny dry one-liners (“How’s it hanging Phil?”). He is a cut above most Chuckys.

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 Extra Chunky Salsa Death Chucky (Child’s Play 3)

But this Chucky? This Chucky was the blueprint for the silliness that would eventually become a hallmark of this series, and all the variants we would eventually see.

This was when Chucky entered his quip era and cemented himself as a goofy ass villain. His scheming and cartoony expressions in this movie make him such a lovable goober. He’s not that scary, but he is on the same level as 2 when it comes to physicality. For me, he has the goofiest and most satisfying death of any doll in the series with that face slice into industrial fan combo. This version of Chucky being so great makes up for 3 being one of the weakest entries in the series and carries the entire film on its back.

Scarface Chucky (Bride of Chucky, Seed of Chucky)

Rude f**king doll indeed. Bride of Chucky is far from a perfect film, but it has a perfect Chucky in my eyes. Does it have that late 90s edge that dates it like the rest of that movie? Yes! Does it look like Tiffany gave up on the sutures halfway through? Also, yes! Is it also the most enduring and recognizable Chucky design, not just to horror fans but pretty much everyone on earth, even when he’s been reduced to 3/4ths of a head? A million times yes!

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It’s so textured and battle-damaged, which is appropriate since it keeps things fresh for the fourth entry in the series. Also, I would have paid triple the price of admission to see another movie about Andy carrying around Chucky’s decapitated, messed-up talking head.

Hackensack Chucky, AKA, Good Chucky, AKA, Prime Chucky (Chucky Season 1 & 2)

He’s the worst…but also the best.

Spanning several functionally identical plain jane bodies, this most joyously evil era of Chucky doesn’t have any aesthetic modifications like the counterparts at the #2, #7, and #9 rankings (beyond improvements in animatronics and seamless integration). But over 16 episodes, these dolls still showed you exactly how evil a plain old Chucky can be.

Though awful in Season 1, this era’s most notable lowest low is during his stint as “Good Chucky” in Season 2. The Hackensack Gang and a good chunk of the audience were duped into thinking that the kid’s attempts at brainwashing Charles Lee Ray had worked; for our naivete, we were awarded one of the most harrowing character deaths in the entire franchise.

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Pouncing back on Jakes insecurities tenfold, attacking Lexy’s addictive nature, and exploiting Nadine’s goodhearted nature, killing off two fan favorites within a matter of a few episodes, I truly think this was the first time I wouldn’t say I liked a version of Chucky after everything. This is why Prime Chucky’s fate felt so much more satisfying, being rewarded for his duplicity by taking his own holly jolly chainsaw to the face, courtesy of Lexy. What a Christmas present!

AFTER DOLL IS SAID AND DONE…

Disagree with any of the rankings? We’d love to hear from you on Twitter, so hit us up there and stay tuned for more articles, more Chucky mayhem to come and more Horror Press.

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Slappy Was the Blueprint: How the Dummy from Goosebumps Became A Horror Icon

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The Scholastic Book Fair was a religious holiday for me growing up. It was the moment middle schoolers felt like they had real agency to make their own decisions with money, and the only time it was actually cool to want to read (the coolest of the cool kids only bought erasers and stickers to trade among each other). Entering the loud gym where the sale was housed always felt like a rush—and when it was finally your turn, you felt like royalty. 

Colorful chapter books lined the metal bookshelves like a candy store, and I had five dollars in my tiny pockets to burn. There was so much to choose from in the early 2000s—A Series of Unfortunate Events was a smash hit, Bunnicula was the underground niche pick, and you could never go wrong with the creepy Animorphs series. But for me, the second I saw the oozing font and dead-eyed dummy staring back at me on the cover, I knew I had to have Night of the Living Dummy topping the massive Goosebumps display. I handed the nice cashier five dollars (who also asked, “Are you sure?” when she noticed my selection), took a sparkly bookmark on my way out, and proudly ventured home. I was on top of the world, only to be quickly dragged down once I began reading about the doll’s evil antics later that night. Slappy would haunt my nightmares for weeks—to the point where I hid the book in my basement and locked the door behind me.

One of the quintessential faces of the Goosebumps series, Slappy the Dummy first debuted in 1993 and immediately skyrocketed to fame. R. L. Stine would write nine different Goosebumps books centering the character and created an entirely separate Slappy series called Goosebumps SlappyWorld. Slappy was the main antagonist of the 2015 live-action movie starring Jack Black as well as its 2018 sequel, got made into actual ventriloquist dolls (perfect to add to your Chucky, Tiffany, and Annabelle collections), and became a Young Adult horror icon.

Like the killer dolls listed above, Slappy would come alive in a very similar way. If one mutters the phrase Karru Marri Odonna Loma Molonu Karrano, which translates to you and I are one now, it’s all over. Slappy will then do everything in his power to make you his servant, framing you for his crimes and pushing you away from the people you love and care about. Sound familiar? 

But Stine’s influences for the undead dummy are somewhat surprising. You’d think the main one was Chucky, arguably the most famous killer doll first appearing in 1988, but Stine hasn’t cited the little menace. 

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The main inspirations for Slappy were the 1883 classic book The Adventures of Pinocchio and the 1978 psychological horror film Magic starring Anthony Hopkins. (In the Goosebumps TV series, Slappy would even don a voice that sounds the same as Fats, the dummy from Magic originally voiced by Hopkins. And as a Buffy the Vampire Slayer mega-fan, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention Sid, the cursed puppet who looks eerily similar to Slappy, from season one.) There’s a callback to Chucky’s famous “Wanny play?” catchphrase in the Goosebumps TV show, which feels more like an easter egg than an influence. Regardless of where the idea for Slappy came from, Stine successfully created a horror figure for kids that would allow them to explore further into the horror genre—I would know, I was one of them. If it weren’t for Slappy or the Goosebumps franchise, would I have been comfortable seeking out more mature, intense horror flicks to discover Ghostface, Michael, or Freddy? Probably not—we all had to start somewhere.

We don’t all decide to turn on the TV and begin with Puppet Master, Child’s Play, or Dead Silence. Some of us start small and end up locking our books in the cold, dusty basement out of extreme fear (and throw their American Girl doll down there for good measure. Their eyes literally open and close). We build resilience like we do anything else—muscle, relationships, knowledge. And sometimes it takes a well-dressed dapper dummy to illustrate that.

The next book fair came around, and I ignored the Goosebumps table during my initial walkthrough. My eyes kept darting to the green and purple setup, too curious to look away. Was Slappy’s second book there? Did I actually want to know what was going to happen to him next?

I reluctantly walked over and picked up Night of the Living Dummy II. The cover was somehow scarier than the first, deceivingly pink with Slappy’s same dead eyes. I smiled, handed the same nice cashier my five-dollar bill feeling overly victorious, and rushed home to do my math homework so I could hide under the covers and finish Slappy’s latest adventure all in one night.

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