Written by: Bryan Gindoff
Directed by: Guerdon Trueblood
Starring: Tiffany Bolling, Ben Piazza and Susan Sennett
Reviewed by: Brett Gallman
“Take it easy, baby, you're just being kidnapped."
Yet another early 70s movie that finds a young, virginal girl being ripped from her comfortable existence, The Candy Snatchers at least takes a bit of a different approach to the material. Whereas Wes Craven explored the inexplicable evil lying at the center of his psychopaths, the ones here are more basic thugs, driven not so much by sadism but by monetary gain. In fact, The Candy Snatchers in some ways feels like a weird heist movie where the protagonists aren’t loveable rogues (like they are in Oceans 11); as such, when things go wrong for them, I’m not sure if we’re supposed to laugh at their plight or delight that they’re being thwarted, which speaks to how the movie is often at odds with itself.
The young girl abducted by the streets is 16 year old Candy ( Susan Sennett), and she’s snatched by a trio of thugs that includes bombshell Jessie (Tiffany Bolling), her brother Alan (Brad David), and their oafish friend Eddy (Vincent Martorano). They take her up to some secluded hills and bury her alive, holding her for ransom from her rich father, who owns a diamond store; little do they know that an autistic boy has witnessed the whole thing. Even worse, Candy’s father doesn’t show up for their rendezvous, which makes the three panic and descend into desperate, sadistic paranoia as they attempt to claim their money by any means necessary.
There’s a bit of a disconnect with the setup and perhaps the film’s reputation here; it certainly sounds like it’ll be yet another joyless, disturbing mediation on destructiveness, but it sometimes does play like a comedy of errors. Maybe the film itself actually clues us into this from the start, when the three criminals are wearing Groucho Marx masks. This is not to say the film consistently guffaw-inducing, but consider the thugs’ immediate reaction to gain the attention of Candy’s father: At first, they decide to cut off one of her ears, but soon decide that’d be going too far; instead, they hit up a local coroner (who is prone to outbursts of singing) to see if they can buy a severed ear off of one of his cadavers. Even this is complicated by the fact that he doesn’t have many corpses that fit the description they need, so it’s kind of funny watching their efforts to window shop for body parts get thwarted.
There’s even a funny moment where Eddy convinces to Candy what his ultimate goal in life is: to open a bowling alley and have a couple of strippers to call his own. Maybe he’s not such a bad guy, after all. On the other hand, Alan is the truly sadistic one, the guy who is perhaps inspired by David Hess’s character from Last House. He keeps a running tally of the people he’s killed and is constantly looking to add to it, so you can see how this somewhat conflicts with the rest of the film’s tone. Caught in the middle is the sultry Jessie, who similarly seems to just be driven by the money; Bolling was a Playboy playmate, so you can guess most of the motivation behind casting her. She’s predictably disrobed during one of the film’s sleazier scenes that finds her on the receiving end of an attempted rape; Sennett’s Candy later finds herself in a similar predicament, and it’s admittedly a little unsettling that you’re supposed to be watching a 16 year old being raped (Sennett was actually at least 20 at the time).
The film continuously oscillates between baffling absurdity and genuine unpleasantness. In particular, the subplot involving the mute boy works pretty well when it’s focused upon (there’s a long stretch where it seemingly disappears), though even it has an odd scene involving this weird, beaded Freudian type that laughs at his parents for whatever reason. Most of the film’s suspense (and there’s not a whole lot of that, honestly) is derived from the sequences where he’s attempting to communicate what he’s witnessed. This also leads to the film’s smartest, most effective moment in the ending, which is somehow both upsetting and uplifting, as the film smartly leaves well enough alone and allows you to connect the dots of what it all means.
Other than that, though, The Candy Snatchers is rather rote and even predictable; even the central twist can be guessed at. I mean, a father who hangs out with his mistress instead of trying to get back his daughter clearly has something up his sleeve, right? And while the climax is violence-laden and bloody, it doesn’t manage to be disturbing so much as inevitable, and it doesn’t help that the film is flatly delivered by Guerdon Trueblood. Sometimes, it resembles a standard TV cop drama, right down to the funky soundtrack. I would stop far short of calling The Candy Snatchers a poor film, but it didn’t do much for me outside of the memorably funny moments and the ending, which is truly inspired. Though Shriek Show will be re-releasing this soon, the Subversive Cinema release from 2005 is mightily impressive, boasting a gorgeously restored print and soundtrack. It’s robustly filled out with special features as well, including a commentary with Sennett and Bolling, a featurette on “The Women of Candy Snatchers,” some trailers for this film and other Subversive releases, and a still gallery of promotional materials. Fans of 70s exploitation will enjoy seeing minor trash flick queens Bolling and Sennett together in this, but I think this is just one to snatch up after digging through the better films of this type. Rent it!
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