Director: Guerdon Trueblood
Subversive Cinema

Reflecting on my recent DVD review of the 1973 cult classic THE CANDY SNATCHERS, I realize that the published work came across as conflicted in whether I was condemning or promoting the purchase of the DVD. To let our readers know just where I stand on the DVD, I have revised my original positive review to tone down some of the unprofessional ranting and to help ensure this disc gets as many sales as possible. I do get carried away sometimes! I want it to be made perfectly clear that I have no "axe to grind" or personal vendetta against Subversive Cinema. They delivered an immaculate transfer and I look forward to any key cult titles on their future roster. I took the limited extras on the disc (too) personally because of the reasons I pointed out in my review: I have loved this film for years, and for its official home video debut, was anxious to know every little detail about its conception, its making, its release, and what has happened to the key talent over 30 years since the film was produced. I didn't get that, and learning from the filmmakers I contacted that they were "left out," this upset me greatly. I just love this film, guys, and anyone with a passion for a certain film knows how that can feel. What if DAWN OF THE DEAD came out with Romero, Savini, or some of the actors missing in the extras? However, this disc is still an essential purchase and could very well be the cult DVD of 2005. If you don't buy it, your collection will suffer from a giant hole which only CANDY can fill!

Faithful DVD Drive-In readers know that I am deeply passionate about exploitation and drive-in cinema: the people involved, the adventure of shooting a low-budget film, the production values, and the films themselves, breaking taboos and delivering more bang for your buck than studio pictures of the time. There are a select few that I feel so passionate about that I collect as much material on them, track down as many surviving members of the cast and crew as I can, and try to spread the word as much as possible about the sheer excellence of the productions. They include TOYS ARE NOT FOR CHILDREN, THE DEPRAVED, EVA NERA, EUGENIE…THE STORY OF HER JOURNEY INTO PERVERSION, and this film, THE CANDY SNATCHERS. I came across this film several years ago, buying an expensive boot on eBay for $25, and was blown away by every frame of this long-unseen obscurity. I made copies for everyone I knew, sent them out to all my friends and anyone interested in seeing this little gem. I reviewed the film for Mobius Home Video Forum (during its heyday), which was subsequently reprinted in the excellent Cinema Sewer zine and in Emerson College’s film journal, Latent Image, and made it my goal to spread the word on THE CANDY SNATCHERS. I begged and pleaded with every DVD company I could think of to license this film, release it on DVD with extras, give it its official home video release. Thankfully this DVD has arrived with a spectacular transfer that makes the previous versions look like used toilet paper in comparison and a decent, albeit incomplete, selection of extras. There is no reason to hold onto those shoddy VHS versions culled from private battered prints. Here is the real deal: THE CANDY SNATCHERS is now available for every curious party to enjoy.

The 1972 theatrical release of LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT was a landmark in drive-in and exploitation history. It was the beginning of the popular “rape-revenge” horror subgenre, which invited entries from not only the United States, but Canada, the UK, Italy, and Japan; TERROR EXPRESS, NIGHT TRAIN MURDERS, I SPIT ON YOUR GRAVE, and MOTHER’S DAY are the better-known films “inspired” by the success of LAST HOUSE. But lost in the shuffle was 1973’s THE CANDY SNATCHERS, obviously marketed similarly to Craven’s classick. Lumped into the subgenre, this is actually a hostage thriller with influences rooted in the classic film noir of the 40s and 50s. It was shot in the familiar territory of Southern California and released by the short-lived General Films Corporation, also responsible for releasing future cult items DETROIT 9000, LINDA LOVELACE FOR PRESIDENT, BONNIE’S KIDS, and THE CENTERFOLD GIRLS. While other films from this company, run by exploitation maven Arthur Marks, have become fan favorites through home video release, a few, including THE CANDY SNATCHERS, have never had a home video release in the United States. Such a sorry fate for a vastly underrated and forgotten little thriller!

Jessie, her brother Alan, and their friend Eddy devise a clever scheme to kidnap Candy, the young daughter of Avery, a jewelry store owner, and hold her ransom for all the diamonds in the store. Sporting Groucho Marx masks (sans moustaches), the trio abduct young Candy off the street on her way home from school and bury her alive in a hole on a deserted highway in the hills. Little do they know that the heinous deed is witnessed by a mute little boy, Sean Newton, who is beaten and humiliated by his miserable parents. For fear of giving away too much for virgin viewers, I cannot elaborate on the multiple plot twists and sickening situations displayed on the screen, but I can say that a severed ear plays a large role (pre-dating RESERVOIR DOGS by 20 years), greed drives every adult character to disastrous results, and the final 10 minutes must be seen to be believed.

One has to wonder why CANDY SNATCHERS remained obscure for so long! Could it be that there are absolutely no likable adult characters in the film? The kidnappers all are disgusting human beings. While sympathy is attempted to be built for Jessie and Eddy (Jessie is revealed to be an emotionally scarred former hooker and Eddy develops a tender friendship with his young hostage), the negatives of these characters far outweigh the positives. Alan claims to have killed 12 people, drools at the thought of slicing off Candy’s ear to send to her father, and rapes Candy savagely (his motive: “You don’t want her to die a virgin, do ya?”). Jessie relishes kicking and beating Candy at every turn, and sexually provokes Eddy with no intention of following through with her teasing. Eddy, realizing that he can’t have her without force, rapes Jessie while Candy is forced to listen and recites the Lord’s Prayer in her fear. Candy’s mother is a lazy drunk, her father a sleazy philanderer, Sean’s parents are abusive and cruel to their son simply because he’s mute, which costs his father a promotion. Avery’s mistress is hungry for his money, and even a small part as a hospital intern sells body parts on the black market to the highest bidder who walks in off the street! Compared to other films of its ilk, CANDY SNATCHERS is much sleazier and more daring, considering the object of the vicious rape and attempted murder is an adolescent girl. The general plot outline seems to have been lifted from SÉANCE ON A WET AFTERNOON, but injected with a nastier edge by screenwriter Bryan Gindoff. Hollywood would never make a film like this, then or now (though 2002’s TRAPPED used similar story elements), and even if they did, there would never be scenes of tortures, humiliation, and rape like there are in this one. The surprise ending, with non-stop casualties and no hope for anyone, also crawls under the skin and stays put well after the end credits have rolled by.

The trio of Alan, Eddy, and Jessie may have been meant to mirror LAST HOUSE’s “Krug”, “Weasel”, and “Sadie” in their conception, but these characters are better-written and they are performed with more human emotion and depth than David Hess, Fred Lincoln, or Jeramie Rain. Not to knock these actors, but the cast of CANDY SNATCHERS is uniformly better. I am a huge Tiffany Bolling fan, and though this isn’t her best work, it’s a nice change of pace to see her in a villainous role the same year as the screaming heroine she played in WICKED, WICKED. Ben Piazza oozes sleaze as Candy’s stepfather, Susan Sennet is pretty heartbreaking as little Candy, and Christophe is appropriately naive and cuddly as the mute little toddler who turns out not be as helpless as everyone thought in the final 5 minutes of the film! While I cringed and cried during LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT, I would rank CANDY SNATCHERS alongside it for the sheer chills, disgust, and mortification I felt during the 85 minute running time. And you got to love the theme song “Money is the Root of All Happiness”!

I can’t believe CANDY SNATCHERS is hitting DVD culled from the original negative! Yes, after remaining in hidden storage for over two decades, the original camera negative for CANDY SNATCHERS has been digitally remastered, looking gorgeous with no room for improvement! Letterboxed at 1.85:1, the beautifully-lit film is bursting with reds, greens, and bold blacks. No grain is present, the image is solid and bright, and this is an A+ transfer that the film has richly deserved for too long! The mono audio is just perfect, with the wonderful musical score, all the hateful dialogue, and every gunshot and scream bursting forth loud and clear. I’m still amazed that this movie could look this good! I’m afraid to compare my old tape with this revelation of a transfer, for fear my head will explode!

Kicking off the extras is an audio commentary with actresses Tiffany Bolling and Susan Sennet! How exciting that these two very elusive ladies of exploitation have been talked into discussing this part of their lives! Bolling discusses the effects of the film on her career (not positive), the darkly comic intentions with the film, speculation over whether Christophe was autistic, reveals she was taking lots of drugs at this time in her life, quotes the Bible (she is a born-again Christian), cracks a few jokes, relates tons of behind-the-scenes info from an actor’s perspective, and generally is a lot of fun to listen to! Brief mention is made of WICKED, WICKED, the film Bolling was shooting at the same time, and “The New People,” her TV series. Sennet has little to say except for the revelation that being buried alive for the film helped to develop her real-life claustrophobia, and that she had a very bad experience making the film! She actually breaks down crying while watching some scenes, so perhaps it wasn’t a good idea to have her watch this film, which left her pretty psychologically damaged, even all these years later. Sennet sounds quite sweet, especially when trying to cover up Tiffany’s nude scene by commenting on her jewelry. Moderator Marc Edward Heuck (more familiar as the Movie Geek on the short-lived “Beat the Geeks” series) throws some good questions their way, and injects some interesting observations like contemporary films similar to SNATCHERS, but it becomes pretty obvious that these actresses remember little of the shoot and the majority of the commentary is play-by-play narration. Heuck also mentions Guerdon Trueblood is “missing in action”, which is most definitely not true, and some of his questions seem a little naïve for a fan of exploitation (were the girls given backgrounds for their characters, rehearsal time, make-up, costumes, for example). DVD producer Norm Hill is also on-hand, but remains silent save for a few questions. He does manage to get Sennet to discuss BIG BAD MAMA, which is great! Hill kicks into overdrive near the finale, analyzing the film with observations that prove far-fetched. He is incorrect in saying that Bolling is the leader of the gang; maybe at the start, but she begins to unravel as the film progresses and just because she has a gun doesn’t mean she has control. Hell she doesn’t even use it! And his observation that the women are the smartest characters is equally inaccurate; one is a former hooker whose use of sex appeal backfires, and the other is a victim all the way through. I also read his comparison between the women in CANDY SNATCHERS and KILL BILL in a net interview and he repeats it here. Maybe Marks’ BONNIE’S KIDS, also with Bolling, but not this film. It’s a decent commentary with some great stories, but the accompanying interviews are actually better.

The featurette, “The Women of Candy Snatchers,” includes video interviews with Bolling and Sennet. There aren’t many other bits of info here about CANDY SNATCHERS that aren’t on the commentary, and it was a bad idea to show them sitting in front of screen grabs from the film, but it’s nice to see the ladies as they are today. Unfortunately, considering both ladies did other work outside of this film, it’s too bad that neither woman discusses their other projects. Especially Bolling, whose career spanned Sinatra, jazz music, more Arthur Marks films, Merchant-Ivory, finding religion, and turning her back on discussing her career. There is discussion of her musical career, which is very much appreciated, but there’s a lot more which should have been included here. She begins to discuss her currently lost TV series, “The New People,” but the interview cuts her off from discussing this any further. Sennet also doesn’t discuss “Ozzie’s Girls”, her really big moment of her career, and does not mention her marriage to Graham Nash of The Hollies and Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young. Both ladies discuss their current whereabouts, their beginnings in show business, the film’s shooting locations at Richard Compton’s home, the film being based on a true story, Bolling being a Republican today (!), and Sennet’s remembering getting drunk and seeing the film at a drive-in seems right out of HOLLYWOOD BOULEVARD! It’s also interesting to know that neither actress is very proud of their work here, yet still consented to being interviewed here!

At other review sites and on-line message boards, I for some reason was made to seem like a monster for questioning the absence of the major movers and shakers behind the making of THE CANDY SNATCHERS. Of course I appreciate the fact that Susan Sennet and Tiffany Bolling are on this disc, but they offer very little insight into the making of the film. The real story behind THE CANDY SNATCHERS from the perspective of the people who created it remains unknown. Presenter Arthur Marks (who was more involved with the production than his screen credit reveals) is alive and well, as are writer Bryan Gindoff, associate producer Gary Adelman, actors Bonnie Boland and Vincent Martorano, director Guerdon Trueblood, his son Christopher and his wife Anna-Marie, composer Robert Drasnin, and singer Kerry Chater. I personally spoke to Vincent Martorano and Gary Adelman, and both were disappointed that they weren’t able to share their memories of the film. Adelman even attended the recent NuArt SNATCHERS screening with writer Bryan Gindoff and another uncredited writer! I have also spoken to Marks, still very much alive and kicking, and surprised at the persistent rumor that he had passed away and no one had contacted him about THE CANDY SNATCHERS! Sennet and Bolling offer some wonderful anecdotes about shooting this film for such a low budget and the lousy box office reception upon its release, but I would have loved to hear about the conception of the film, the motivation behind its production, and other behind-the-scenes tales which the actresses weren’t privy to.

The story of the rescue of the camera negative is a fascinating one which isn’t included on the disc. Lab technician Jim Harrington, who had been working for 40 years in a Hollywood film lab, was approached by film historian Walter Olsen in his search for proper elements for CANDY SNATCHERS. While searching for the materials in a mad rush before the lab was shut down, he found the original camera negative in the nick of time, filed under the original shooting title, THE CANDY SNATCH. Harrington retired soon after, but it’s wonderful that he saved the negatives of this incredible motion picture for future generations to enjoy.

Other extras include the two trailers for CANDY SNATCHERS (PG and R-rated versions), trailers for other Subversive releases, a very brief stills gallery, somewhat awkward bios of Susan Sennet, Ben Piazza, Tiffany Bolling, Vincent Martorano, Guerdon Trueblood, and Bryan Gindoff, and pretty nifty amaray inserts, a fold-out poster reproduction of the Italian poster, and three reproductions of original lobby cards. The box copy is written by Bruce Holecheck, formerly a brief columnist for DVD Drive-In. Points have to be taken off for the menus, which show up to 30 seconds (!) of randomly-edited film clips before transitioning from one menu to the next. If you haven’t seen the film before, don’t select “Special Features” on the main menu because the viewer is immediately bombarded with 30 seconds of just about every death in the film before you finally are allowed to access the extras.

I’m so psyched that CANDY SNATCHERS is available on DVD, with a gorgeous transfer and a fine pair of extras. The extras don’t dig as deep into the genesis of this classic as I would have liked, but I’m just glad that everyone waiting to see a quality version of this film can now do so. Buy this disc pronto! This disc should be on the shelves of every cult and exploitation film fan! (Casey Scott)