Colour, 1973, 94m. / Directed by Guerdon Trueblood / Starring Tiffany Bolling, Ben Piazza, Susan Sennett, Brad David, Vince Martorano / Subversive (US R1 NTSC) / WS (1.85:1) (16:9) / DD2.0

By the early 1970s, exploitation films had been derailed by the arrival of hardcore pornography and a far more relaxed new ratings system that allowed Hollywood to tread in waters previously explored only in grindhouses. The once-popular "roughie" style of sexploitation, which combined lashings of nudity with crime-oriented, violent storylines, had largely dissipated, leaving viewers nostalgic for the likes of The Defilers. However, the short-lived General Film Corporation was still looking for ways to deliver traditional exploitation in shiny new packages, dabbling in blaxploitation (Detroit 9000) and a variety of softcore sex films. However, in 1973 they really hit paydirt with two noir-inspired films starring actress Tiffany Bolling, whose only other major role was the lead in MGM's split-screen oddity Wicked, Wicked. First she managed to steal Arthur Marks' ambitious, sleazy, but deeply flawed Bonnie's Kids, but her real moment to shine arrived with The Candy Snatchers, a roughie-inspired kidnapping thriller that ultimately veers into full-fledged horror territory.

One sunny afternoon while riding around in their van to a ditty called "Money Is the Root of All Happiness," three inexperienced, aspiring criminals -- ice-cold ringleader Jessie (Bolling), her psycho brother Alan (David), and dense "nice guy" Eddy (Martorano) -- kidnap Catholic schoolgirl Candy (Sennett), daughter of a wealthy jeweler, and, in a move inspired by Cornell Woolrich's "Graves for the Living," bury her alive on a dusty hilltop with a metal tube providing her only source of air. However, Candy's father (Piazza) doesn't respond to the ransom demands as expected; in fact, he has some dirty plans of his own and sends the entire scheme spiralling into chaos and tragedy. Meanwhile Candy's plight is witnessed by a young mute boy ("Christophe," actually the director's son, Christopher), whose foul-tempered mother ignores his signals that something is very, very wrong in their own backyard.

Tight, nasty, and chilling, The Candy Snatchers delivers all the requisite drive-in thrills (flying bullets, tough talk, and female nudity), but its twist-packed plot and unflinching willingness to put its audience through the wringer results in a film unlike any other. Director Trueblood (otherwise known for TV work) shoots in a compact, efficient style that maximizes the surprisingly strong performances, with everyone turning in solid work and Piazza doing wonders with a very tricky role. Of course, Bolling fans will delight in her acidic viper role, but Sennett - who had just starred in the squeaky clean Ozzie's Girls on TV - is equally impressive in a largely silent role that led to Big Bad Mama the following year. The budget-impaired film has to make do with limited locations but, thanks to clever scripting, manages to turn this challenge into an asset, becoming increasingly claustrophobic as the story nears its grim final stretch. Most critics don't strictly peg this as a horror film, but as with films like Gonin and The Vanishing, there's no doubt that the ending more than justifies the label in the best possible sense.

Due to a variety of legal entanglements, The Candy Snatchers was never legally released on any home video format for decades but still built up strong word of mouth on the gray market. The first official release via Subversive's DVD thankfully gets the job done and then some, with a remarkable transfer from the original negative that restores a considerable amount of colorful luster completely missing from many theatrical prints. Note the restrained but striking use of lime-green "money" lighting as an accent in many shots, as well as the evocative, arid hilltop photography that practically forces the viewer to leap for a glass of water. The soundtrack is offered with the original mono and a slightly remixed stereo soundtrack; either one works fine, with the latter spreading out some of the ambient effects between the front speakers. Though the filmmakers and male stars weren't available, Bolling and Sennet are well-represented throughout the disc, first on an enjoyable commentary track together with Subversive's Norm Hill and Marc Edward Heuck. Since Sennett and Bolling share very little screen time together, it's interesting to hear their unique anecdotes about shooting the film during the hectic heyday of indie drive-in cinema. Both women return for a satisfying half-hour featurette, "The Women of Candy Snatchers," in which they focus more on their careers at the time and stories about the other actors and creators of the film. Also included are two trailers (one for general audiences, the other restricted), a lobby card gallery, cast and crew bios, and promos for other Subversive releases, all tucked into amusing animated menus, which are hampered a bit by overlong transitions (e.g., a 30-second clip plays every time you want to change audio options!) and massive spoilers for anyone who hasn't seen the film. Be careful with that menu button! Otherwise this is a sterling release, one of the best drive-in DVDs to date and a much-needed restoration of a terrific, utterly ruthless buried treasure from the early '70s.

Mondo Digital Reviews Mondo Digital Links Frequently Asked Questions