The decade of the 1970’s was, in my opinion, American horror cinema’s zenith. It was a time when studios took risks, young filmmakers broke barriers, and horror films aimed not only to shock and offend, but also offered sly commentary on the sociopolitical climate of the time. I pride myself on having a large collection of little-seen gems from this era, but I’m always thrilled when something new comes across my desk, and that was the case with Subversive Cinema’s The Candy Snatchers.
On first look, The Candy Snatchers packaging suggests yet another in a long line of Last House on the Left rip-offs; three counter-culture punks kidnap a young girl and put her through physical and emotional hell. I threw the disc into my DVD player expecting a shoddy, uncomfortable rape and revenge flick, but soon realised that I was watching something else entirely.
Jessie (Boiling), Eddie, and Alan plot to kidnap the daughter of Avery (Piazza), a jewelry store manager with access to a fortune in diamonds. The trio snatch Candy (Sennett) off the street, bind and gag her, and throw her into a hole in the ground while they make contact with Avery to make their demands. Meanwhile, Sean, a mute young boy, discovers the girl’s shallow grave, and, while he can’t tell anybody what he’s found, makes repeated visits to the ramshackle house where the kidnappers are holed up. The kidnappers are confidant that Avery will deliver the diamonds, and that they’ll be rid of Candy soon enough, but when Avery fails to show up at the drop, they realise that something’s amiss. It seems that they haven’t done their homework, as Candy is actually Avery’s stepdaughter, and the man has been looking for a way to kill off the girl himself as her death would net him a million dollars in inheritance money left to the girl by her real father. Jessie’s sociopathic brother Alan wants to kill Candy and get out of the scheme, but Eddie feels for the girl, and wants nothing more than to get their money and save the girl. All the while, the silent Sean watches and waits for his chance to save Candy.
The Candy Snatchers is a classic crime thriller, chockfull of humour, twists, and some truly outrageous characters and situations. It’s also a terrifically smart film, lovingly crafted on a miniscule budget, and beautifully shot by director Gordon Trueblood (whose son, Christophe, plays the tormented Sean). I was blown away by this movie, as it is the sort of film that, were Quentin Tarantino to helm today, would be praised as the epitome of cool crime cinema. This isn’t nearly as violent or controversial as other films from its time, but The Candy Snatchers pushes boundaries in other, more cerebral ways, with a terrifically downbeat ending that plays like a backhanded swipe at the era’s less conscientious offerings.
Subversive serves up the film with a remarkably clean transfer that is about as pristine as any you’re apt to come across. I couldn’t get over how sharp and vivid the image quality was, and the audio (which, in the case of lesser known films of this era tends to be fuzzy or flanged) is as clear as a bell, with a pulsating acid rock soundtrack. The DVD features a moderated commentary by stars Boiling and Sennett, a “Woman of Candy Snatchers” featurette that’s loaded with behind-the-scenes stills and interviews with the actresses, another stills gallery, talent bios, and more. The set also features a pair of lobby card reproductions, as well as a generously proportioned fold-out reproduction of the film’s Italian poster. It’s a fantastic set, and, if this is even a hint at what Subversive have up their sleeves for future offerings, colour me psyched!
The Candy Snatchers is not a film for people looking for the sort of verite style grindhouse that the cover may suggest, but those in the market for an exhilarating, whip-smart, and fun psychedelic crime drama will find much to love here. Highly recommended.