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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. 

The Package 
     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.

The Story 
     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 Direction 
     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. 


Vital Statistics 

THE CANDY SNATCHERS
Marmot Productions 

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 Whitworth
 


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