THE CANDY SNATCHERS
I caught up with this 1973
obscurity fairly recently, but it immediately jumped to the top of my grindhouse
fave list, alongside down ‘n dirty classics like
THE LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT.
THE CANDY SNATCHERS is, in a word, raw: a grim and uncompromising portrait of
greed and depravity that still packs quite a punch.
It’s interesting to note that THE CANDY SNATCHERS was heavily reviled upon
its initial 1973 release and that many members of its cast and crew have since
removed it from their resumes (headliner Susan Sennet, in her DVD interview,
admits she hates the film, claiming “I could have lived without it”).
Clearly the film’s unremitting nihilism struck a nerve during the Vietnam era,
even though it was clearly the sense of hopelessness and confusion prevalent
during those years that spawned THE CANDY SNATCHERS (just as it did other early
seventies no-hopers like THE BABY, THE EXORCIST, A CLOCKWORK ORANGE and the
abovementioned LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT).
It was to be the only directorial credit for Guerdon
Trueblood, a veteran TV scribe who’d go on to author several killer bug movies
for the small screen like TARANTULAS: THE DEADLY CARGO, THE SAVAGE BEES and
ANTS, and was one of two feature screenwriting credits for Bryan Gindoff (the
other being Walter Hill’s 1975 boxing drama HARD TIMES), a protégée of
Michelangelo Antonioni. Beyond that the cast is packed with genre favorites,
including Susan Sennet, who’d go onto star in BIG BAD MAMA; Tiffany Bolling,
from WICKED WICKED and BONNIE’S KIDS; and if you look closely you’ll spot a
cameo by James Whitworth, who’d go on to play Jupiter in
THE HILLS HAVE EYES.
Candy Philips is a sweet, virginal 19-year-old snatched off the streets one
day by two scrubby guys and a hot chick looking to bilk Candy’s rich father out
of a large sum of money. They bury Candy in the ground near their Hollywood
Hills hideout, unknowingly witnessed by young Sean, an autistic boy who can’t
speak. Sean does what he can to alert the authorities to Candy’s presence, but
is continually stymied by his abusive parents.
The kidnappers’ attempts at collecting a ransom from Candy’s father fail,
so they decide to cut off one of her ears to demonstrate their seriousness.
They can’t bring themselves to go through with the act, however, and so get a
friend who works in a morgue to sell them a dead person’s ear. Their efforts,
alas, are in vain, as it turns out that Avery, the rich guy they’ve taken for
Candy’s father, is actually her stepfather, and is furthermore every bit as
scummy as the kidnappers themselves. It seems that Candy stands to inherit her
actual father’s vast estate when she turns twenty one, but if she dies before
then Avery gets the loot--so killing Candy would actually be doing him favor!
From there things go from worse to worst, as the kidnappers succumb to
paranoia and infighting. They unwisely decide to confront Avery at gunpoint, a
plan that turns out to be downright cataclysmic. In the melee both Candy and
the Jesse, the femme kidnapper, are brutally raped, several killings occur and
Sean the autistic boy proves he’s not the innocent victim he might seem...
THE CANDY SNATCHERS contains many of the pratfalls common to early
seventies low budget fare, most notably choppy editing and flat, unimaginative
set-ups. Beyond that, however, Guerdon Trueblood’s helming is quite assured and
admirably unpretentious, and makes excellent use of quite a few LA locations.
Although graphic, the rape scenes are handled with a fair amount of taste, and
even the violence is somewhat muted for this sort of fare. The acting is quite
fine all around, with standout performances by Susan Sennet, who apparently
didn’t have to do much acting in her role as the put-upon title character, and
Christopher Trueblood, the director’s son (credited as “Christophe”), as the
young Sean, who manages to speak volumes in a dialogue-free role with his
remarkably soulful expressions.
What gives the film its punch is the screenplay by Bryan Gindoff, which
Trueblood, a writer himself, respects enough that he doesn’t overwhelm it with
the flashy camerawork popular during the time. The script shines through, a
tight and unpredictable piece with fully fleshed-out characters and a vivid
sense of evil that favorably recalls the best work of Jim Thompson. Bryan
Gindoff creates a dark, menacing universe where nearly everybody is mean,
selfish and willing to go to any extreme for material gain...which, come to
think of it, isn’t all that different from today’s world, which is doubtless why
THE CANDY SNATCHERS, despite its retro veneer, feels so contemporary.
THE CANDY SNATCHERS
Director: Guerdon Trueblood
Producer: Bryan Gindoff
Screenplay: Bryan Gindoff
Cinematography: Robert Maxwell
Editing: Richard Greer
Cast: Tiffany Bolling, Susan Sennet, Ben Piazza, Vince Martorano, Bonnie Boland,
Brad David, Christopher Trueblood, Jerry Butts, Leon Charles, Dolores Dorn,
Phyllis Major, Bill Woodard, Earl Hansen, Harry Kronman, John Bill, James