The arrival of Wes Craven's Last House on the Left had inspired film makers to flex their muscles to an even greater degree of cinematic extremes. Craven had taken the roughie genre pioneered by David F. Friedman with The Defilers, and gave it a dark and dangerous post-Manson Family re-fit. Something of the same mood is captured with The Candy Snatchers. Made in 1973, The Candy Snatchers follows a bunch of get-rich-quick criminals (a beautiful but sadistic blonde, her murder-happy brother, and a dysfunctional war veteran) who kidnap schoolgirl Candy in exchange for a booty of diamonds from her father's jewelry store. Except things don't go to plan...
To say anymore about the plot would be unforgivable because part of the fun of The Candy Snatchers is seeing where the film makers take the routine plot. There are twists, turns, and double-crossings as the relationships between Candy and her would-be kidnappers disintegrate as the movie progresses. While the film does not have the same feverish intensity of Last House on the Left, its obvious the film makers had the movie in mind. Craven's decree at the climax of his landmark film that there were no easy answers, that one could not hope for a better world, is evident in The Candy Snatchers. This is a dark and disturbing film, peopled by sleazy characters who are entirely self-centered. Even the minor character of a mortuary attendant is scummy - he sells body parts on the street to the highest bidder. The only two characters in the film who untainted are Candy and a strange little mute boy who may hold the key to Candy's salvation. Sadly, these are the most put-upon victims in the film - Candy is routinely beaten, terrorized and savagely raped; while the little boy is at the mercy of uncaring, abusive parents. Its a subversive device on the part of screenwriter Bryan Gindoff but it adds to the film's grim power.
The Candy Snatchers was directed by the unlikely sounding Guerdon Trueblood whose background was writing for TV shows, so unsurprisingly the film looks pretty slick. Unlike Craven's hard flat style for his debut, The Candy Snatchers has some nice visual touches. Director Trueblood riffs on the "candy" of the title and shoots some dialogues scenes lit with gorgeous striking colors - at once echoing Mario Bava's lighting experimentation, and pre-dates Argento's ultra-stylized color palette for Suspiria. The Candy Snatchers is by no means a perfect film - a clumsily handled car chase sequence betrays its low budget and there are some weaknesses in the writing, including some of the same knock-about comedy that was so conspicuous in Last House on the Left - thankfully its very brief. Performances are generally good - Susan Sennett who plays Candy looks suitably distressed, while Tiffany Bolling as one of the kidnappers is excellent as the cold-hearted sadistic bitch of the gang. Special mention as well for the little boy (played by the director's pre-school son) who gives a great affecting performance as Candy's only hope. The scene where he tries to contact the police on the phone is truly heart breaking. The sad circumstances of this unwanted little boy's life will resonate long after the film is over.
Subversive's DVD of The Candy Snatchers was one of the best discs of 2007. The movie actually never got a legitimate home video release and was something of a hidden gem known only by grindhouse hipsters who were lucky enough to score bootleg copies on the underground. The transfer taken from the original negative and framed around 1:77 is never less than stunning, with beautiful strong bold colors and an excellent sharp image. Its no exaggeration to say the film could have been shot yesterday. The audio track is fine, and delivers the dialogue and sounds clearly. Extras include a commentary track, a short feature and the usual promotional materials. Special mention for the packaging which comes in a great sleeve, and includes some stills and a fold-out Spanish poster for the film. For fans of grindhouse sleaze and the halcyon days of 70's cinema, this is seriously required viewing. This new Subversive DVD should put this back among the great 70's exploitation classics which it belongs to.