Obviously hoping to cash in on the infamy of Wes Craven’s “The Last House on the Left”(1972), in 1973, director Guerdon Trueblood and writer Bryan Gindoff set out to make their own off-kilter version of a young woman in peril exploitation film. Even down to the poster art of the criminals looking down at their victim a la Krug and company and one of the taglines reading “’Violence Beyond ‘Last House on the Left’!” Well, I can say that’s not true but “The Candy Snatchers” IS in the same vein as “LHOTL” but the dynamics of the film are quite the opposite. The result is the sometimes bizarre, sometimes clever but definitely different, “The Candy Snatchers”. Starring Tiffany Bolling (a “Playboy” Playmate in 1972) as Jessie, the beauty AND brains of the kidnapping gang, her twisted brother Alan (Brad David) and an ex-Vietnam vet with issues, Eddy (Vince Martorano), the film opens with Candy Phillips (Susan Sennett, playing a convincing 16-year old even though she was actually 28) leaving her Catholic school, hitching a ride partway home and then getting snatched by the gang. Their plan is to bury Candy in a hole in the ground with only a pipe for air and demand that her father, who manages a jewelry store, deliver all of the diamonds to them in exchange for Candy. But from the point of Candy’s burial on, nothing goes right for anyone. The gang is spied upon by a very young boy, Sean Newton (the director’s son, Christopher Trueblood, billed here as “Christophe”), who tries to tell his abusive, white trash mother Audrey (Bonnie Boland) and his workaholic father, Dudley (Jerry Butts) what he saw but, ironically, the child is a mute. Actually, Candy and Sean are the only likable characters in the entire film – the viewer really cares about both of them and what eventually happens to them.
The truth of how despicable the other characters are begins when the gang goes to Candy’s father’s jewelry store with a demand note. What they don’t realize is that Candy is only Avery Phillips’ (Ben Piazza) STEP-daughter and he doesn’t give a flying damn what happens to her because Candy’s alcoholic mother Catherine (Dolores Dorn) has it in her will that Candy will inherit $2 million dollars when her mother dies. BUT, should something happen to Candy prior to her mother’s death, “darling daddy” will get $1 million. So, instead of giving the diamonds to the gang, Avery shacks up with his mistress, Lisa (Phyllis Major) and gives HER a diamond necklace and callously tells the gang:
Eddy: “You still don’t understand! We are going to kill her”.
Father: “I was hoping you’d say that”.
There is also a seriously corrupt morgue attendant who makes a little extra money on the side, selling body parts to people like Jessie and her gang (they need an ear to fool Candy’s father, before they realize he doesn’t care about Candy’s fate) and has his own “philosophy” about the bodies he mutilates:
“These are the best people in the World. They don’t hurt nobody…they don’t make no trouble…they don’t tell me what to do…they don’t cost no money…they mind their own business. Yes sir, all they do is lie there, and just think about all those people its too late to fuck”.
Charming people. I think I would prefer Krug and his gang to this bunch. And Alan, Jessie’s brother, is the worst of the lot. When they all finally realize their plan is totally fucked up, he takes off, back to the house where they have taken Candy after digging her out of the ground, and rapes her. Something he had been wanting to do from the moment the gang saw her leaving school. But Eddy is the one to pay attention to as he seems to be trying to protect Candy at the same time he himself is raping Jessie in the bathroom of the house they are hiding in. He is definitely torn – wanting to defend Candy but in love with Jessie and afraid of Alan at the same time.
Back home, poor little Sean Newton is STILL trying to get someone to “listen” to him. He digs his talking police officer doll out of his bureau and randomly calls numbers, pulling the string to make the doll talk and say “Police”, hoping someone will catch on. Which no one does. His mother-from-hell accuses the toddler that HE is the reason his father didn’t get the promotion from his boss as when the family went to dinner at Dudley’s employer’s home, the creepy boss (Leon Charles) laughed and laughed when he was told little Sean didn’t speak. So it is Sean who gets the beating (off-camera thankfully).
But soon, Sean and Candy do meet up as Sean goes investigating the house on the hill where Candy has been left. It is Candy who tells Sean to get the police but as that didn’t work out, somehow Sean finds a gun and, well…the end of the film is very interesting and might even have you applauding at one point although overall, it’s a downbeat denouement.
Even though the movie was shot on 35-mm, it has that wonderful grainy 70s look (and yes, I KNOW it was filmed in 1973) and distributor, Subversive Cinema, has done a great job bringing this little grindhouse film back to life. There are a few extras: interviews with “The Women of ‘The Candy Snatchers”, stills from the film, trailers for other Subversive Cinema movies, bios of the principle actors as well as a new 16:9 (1.85:1) widescreen transfer from the original camera negative. And in the “Audio Options” section is a feature-length commentary from Candy (Susan Sennett) and Jessie (Tiffany Bolling) themselves, which is quite interesting as neither actress had seen the movie in quite some time so their insight and memories are fascinating.
The film opens with a song entitled “Money is The Root of All Happiness” and the van the gang drives around in even has a bumper sticker with that moniker on it. But in “The Candy Snatchers”, with all the double-crossing and unexpected twists and turns and eventual (and somewhat surprising ending), the irony of that song should NOT be lost on the viewers.