Tuesday, December 16, 2008

the candy snatchers (1973)...

Crawling back into the gutter, where I so clearly belong, and keeping with some of the themes of "Naked Massacre," here's another 1970's scumbag brutality abduction movie, this one something of a cult classic, a bit more polished and rarified, but no less bleak and buggy, "The Candy Snatchers." This is a deceptively mean movie, deceptive because it's reasonably well-polished, well-acted, well-scripted, something you don't see a whole abundance of in this kind of scumbag cinema. It's got a bit of a 1970s tv veneer, not meant as an insult at all, and not surprising since direction Guerdon Trueblood cut his teeth as a TV writer (this is his only feature as director). S sense of hopelessness and despair, with some broad overtures towards the meaninglessness of life, and some subtle undercurrents suggesting the horribleness of everything.

A trio of idiot criminals (Tiffany Bolling, Ben Piazza, Brad David) conspire to kidnap Candy, the daughter of a jewel dealer. Jessie (Bolling) is a woman who's been around a little too much for her own good, and is starting to buckle under to mental strain of a life filled with abuse and degredation. Alan (David), her brother, is pretty unbent as well, bragging about how he's killed 12 people. There might be a little bit of an incest thing going on between these two. The ringleader of the group is Eddie, a big dumb guy who seems kind of sweet at first but is suffering from severe emotional damage himself, a lifetime of failure and rejection, which he takes out on Jessie in the form of sexual abuse (though his intentions toward Candy seem pretty kindly and pure, it's Alan's bit to sexual abuse her).

The trio's scheme is to ransom the gril back to her dad for some diamonds. Problem is, dad is just a stepdad, he doesn't have any money, and he doesn't really give a shit about Candy or her mom, a constantly incoherently drunk wreck who lounges around the house all day in a perma-daze. Stepdad's got a thing going on the side with his secretary, and he sees the kidnapped as a chance to get rid of Candy and put himself a step closer to the million plus dollar trust fund left to her by her real father. The girl is worth more to him dead than alive. Turns out he's about as much a deadbeat and a loser as the kidnappers, just with a nicer suit and an office.

Gumming up the works even further is Sean, a towheaded 5-year-old with some form of autism (he cannot speak), who stumbles upon the site where the kindapper's have buried Candy alive. Y'know, to keep her out of the way. Sean has just as fucked up a personal life as any of the other fuck ups in this film. His parents have direly failed to treat his condition, and his mother seems to deeply resent him. She's emotionally abusive and at one point even tries to drug her son with sleeping pills so she'll leave him alone for a while, intimating that this isn't such a bad thing to do because, hey, she could have given him the whole bottle and killed him. His dad is less abusive but mostly ambivalent. He shows the boy some affection but clearly resents him as well, especially after the kid's autism somehow costs him a promotion, since generally speaking business promotions are dependent upon whether or not a salseman's young child can speak or not. Sean wants to help Candy but he lacks the facilities to do so, not really having any powers of communication.

So, yeah, you've basically got a cade of severely fucked up characters running around doing fucked up things, so it's pretty well inevitable that sooner or later things are going to get fucked up. It's really only a matter of time before everything falls apart, and once they start to unravel, no one is expempt from the fallout. It's not even a matter of comeuppance for bad behavior, as "the Candy Snatchers" doesn't have that kind of tiresome moral agenda, it's just a matter of losers losing, failures failing, everything reaching its' final, grim, inevitable conclusion. Not every character is necessarily dead by the time the credit's roll, but it's really only Sean who's still on his feet, and he's courting a future of further despair as he blows away (like, with a gun) some of the crooks, and then for the hell of it, his mom.

"The Candy Snatchers'" particular brand of nihilism is certainly a by-product of Vietnam-era violence fatigue, coming out as it did in 1973. Director Trueblood has previously scripted what was maybe the first 'Nam vets coming home and finding trouble movie, "Welcome Home Solider Boys," from 1972, an even fuglier film than this one. "Candy Snatchers" certainly has some similarties to Wes Craven and Sean Cunningham's "Last House of the Left," another violent film envisioned in reaction to the violence of Vietnam. But "Candy Snatchers" has a smarter script and a slicker veneer, and even though it's the more "Hollywood" (using that term very, very loosely) of the two films, it also feels the most realistic, not because of its' competent construction, but because it envisions violence less as a random occurance perpetrated by aimless drifters and normal people pushed to their edge, but as the direct by-product of greed and corruption, victimization and abuse, bred in the culture of capitalism and sexual exploitation. Though Bryan Gindoff, who co-wrote Walter Hill's "Hard Times" and little else, is credited as screenwriter, I attribute these themes and the film's overall unrelenting grimness to Trueblood, based on his script for "Welcome Home, Soldier Boys." Obviously there's a generic connection here to "Naked Massacre" as well, thematically, chronologically, violence, Vietnam etc.

The cast, as I've mentioned, is also quite effective. Probably the most notable, and recognizable, performer here is Tiffany Bolling, something of a minor b-movie queen in the 1970's, sort of like a less winsome Claudia Jennings in slightly more high-profile movies (slightly). She appeared in "Bonnie's Kids," the split-screen horror flick "Wicked, Wicked," "The Centerfold Girls" and "Kingdom of the Spiders" (plus she played Spider-Lady of Sid & Marty Kroft's "Electra Woman & Dyna Girl"). I also have an album Bolling recorded, around 1969, kinda folky country rock, not really my thing, but it's alright. Susan Sennett, who plays Candy, was in Steve Carver's "Big Bad Mama" with Angie Dickinson and William Shatner (and Dick Miller). Brad David had appeared in the Guerdon Trueblood scripted TV movie "Sole Survivor." Sean, the autstic antihero of the film, is played by Trueblood's son Christopher.

Now available on DVD, "the Candy Snatchers" was somewhat hard to find for many years and in that time developed a much deserved cult following. This is one film that had been really built-up for me prior to seeing it, and acutally exceeded expectations. There's not a cop-out to found on the screen here, it's just gut punch, gut punch, gut punch, one after the other, until the bitter end. Yet "the Candy Snatchers" is never excessive, all the pieces fit, all the characters make sense. Sure, sometime's they're gross, but they're exactly as gross as they're supposed to be. No eye rolling, hand wrenching villainous histronics, just desperate people trying to get over on one another, nobody realizing how close to circling the drain they are until it's too late. Good stuff. Rough stuff, but good stuff.

Watch it twice, and stay negative...

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