“Imagine an X Rated Apple Dumpling Gang, and you’re still nowhere near how wrong that movie is.”
I’d vaguely heard of ‘The Candy Snatchers’ but without knowing who was in it (nobody I’d ever heard of, as it turned out) or who directed it (nobody I’d ever heard of, as it turned out) or what it was about. With a title like ‘The Candy Snatchers’, all manner of dubious possibilities came to mind.
Sitting down to watch it, I discovered that the title refers to a gang of kidnappers who target a girl named Candy (Susan Sennett). Whew! So it wasn’t about a sweet-shop heist after all.
The opening scenes, as Candy hangs out with schoolfriends then hitches a ride home, have the flat and characterless look of a TV movie. Then a van pulls up next to her (our trio of kidnappers inside it are wearing ludicrous fake noses by way of a disguise) and she’s bundled inside. One of the kidnappers wonders aloud if he’ll get the opportunity to “do her” before the ransom’s paid.
This priapic gentleman is Alan (Brad David). His partners in crime are Jessie (Tiffany Bolling) – ostensibly the brains behind the outfit – and Eddie (Vince Martorano). Eddie is basically a big dumb lug.
They drive Candy up into the hills and bury her in a coffin that looks like it was knocked together from a few bits of pallet wood. There’s a small tube for ventilation. No-one notices the autistic boy hiding in the scrub, the only witness to their actions. A ransom demand is made to diamond store owner Avery (Ben Piazza) whom they wrong assume to be Candy’s father. Arrangements for the drop are confirmed, after which the kidnappers impersonate bird-watchers while they stake out the drop site.
Instead of ripping off his own store as per instructions received, Avery palms off his alkie wife with a story that Candy’s staying at a friend’s house, heads off to an anonymous hotel where he makes out with his mistress. The scene shifts back to the kidnappers. Pissed off that the gems weren’t delivered, they dig up Candy and have a lively debate about whether to cut her ear off and mail it to Avery by way of an incentive. The motion is passed in principle but volunteers to do the actual slicing are thin on the ground, so Jessie suggests her buddy at the hospital might be able to help. Hospital buddy is a funky-struttin’ jive-talkin’ hipster whose dialogue with Jessie vis-à-vis the dollar value of a severed ear takes the form of a musical number.
It was that this point that my perception of ‘The Candy Snatchers’ as a generic crime thriller thus far notable only for bad acting and a couple of offbeat aesthetic decisions on the director’s part went down in flames faster than a kamizake pilot on speed and I found myself deep in WTF territory without a map or compass. I was less than half an hour into the film and I was glued to the screen. As the next hour or so rolled by, my jaw described an ever-widening descent in the general direction of the carpet.
The best frame of reference I can come up with for ‘The Candy Snatchers’ is ‘The Big Lebowski’ as an early ’70s Roger Corman production written by Charles Manson on laughing gas and directed by Humbert Humbert while possessed by the ghost of Edgar Allan Poe. While all of them were doing crack. Like the Coen brothers’ stoner classic, ‘The Candy Snatchers’ takes a standard issue crime thriller premise and puts it through a sequence of unexpected and increasingly bizarre permutations.
Gasp! as Avery reveals his ulterior motive – to the very people who are trying to extort him. Gape! as Eddie fawns over Candy in true Lennie in ‘Of Mice and Men’ style, warning the predatory Alan off her … then without missing a beat forces himself on Jessie. Gawp! as the filmmakers contrive scene after scene in which an autistic child witnesses a rape, gets mistreated by his parents and finally stumbles onto centre stage for the off-the-wall finale, delivering a bitterly ironic visual punchline that makes you reflect on what an episode of ‘Sesame Street’ directed by Sam Peckinpah might have looked like. Only without the educational content.