One of the major reasons that 1970’s exploitation movies are so attractive to cult movie fans is their sense of freedom. Not only do they offer more excitement in the sex and violence area, they are often genuinely unpredictable: as long as they deliver something outside the mainstream, they can break all the rules that define mainstream filmmaking. The best exploitation movies give the viewer that stomach-churning feeling that anything can happen at any time.

A great example is The Candy Snatchers, a mean, gritty take on the crime-noir film told in a vicious 1970’s exploitation style. It starts with a trio of amateur-night crooks – hardened femme mastermind Jessie (Tiffany Bolling), her sociopathic little brother Alan (Brad David) and her lovestruck would-be suitor Eddy (Vince Martorano) – enacting a kidnap/ransom plan.

They snatch innocent schoolgirl Candy (Susan Sennet) off the street and call her father (Ben Piazza), demanding all the jewelry from the store he manages. Unfortunately, the crooks don’t know their target and soon discover that greed and frustrated desires can complicate the simplest plan. Meanwhile, a mute, possibly autistic little boy (Cristophe) learns Candy’s whereabouts and makes increasingly frantic attempts to warn the adults around him.

The Candy Snatchers delivers everything one could hope for from a 1970’s exploitation flick: there’s sex, violence, sleazy characters with sociopathic attitudes, all types of bad behavior, sudden and shocking plot turnabouts and an ending that hits like a bat to the solar plexus. Bryan Gindoff’s screenplay hits all these marks in an inspired style, further enhancing the story’s dark atmosphere with caustic, highly quotable dialogue.

The direction by veteran t.v. writer Guerdon Trueblood has the no-frills, straightforward approach one might expect from a cop show of the era. This is a strength instead of a weakness; the normality of his style lulls the viewer into a false sense of security and makes the script’s grim doings all the more effective. The same can be said for the groovy soundtrack by another t.v. vet, Robert Drasnin, which also works in a folksy, Last House On The Left-style theme song called “Money Is The Root Of All Happiness.” Cinematographer Robert Maxwell works in the occasional interesting angle or visual flourish to spice things up without ever distracting from the story.

However, the element that really makes The Candy Snatchers work is its performances. Underappreciated b-starlet Tiffany Bolling grabs the audience’s attention from the get-go with a combination of sultriness and weary bad attitude that makes her character’s jaded, vaguely desperate persona instantly believable. Davis and Martorano turn in impressive support work as her cronies: Davis essays a nice example of the ‘pretty-boy psycho’ archetype and Martorano evokes a Lon Chaney, Jr.-style sense of pathos as a luckless loser whose dreams exceed his grasp.

It’s worth noting that Susan Sennett does some impressive work as Candy – her role is essentially a series of demanding scenes where she has to scream, cry and get brutalized (often all at once). That said, she does get one memorable dialogue scene when  she and Eddy have a frank, surprisingly emotional discussion about why he decided to participate in the kidnapping.  Also of note is Ben Piazza as Candy’s father – without saying too much, a lot of the film’s turnabouts in plotting hinge on his ability to create a character whose calm, calculating nature make him as scary as the villains.

In short, The Candy Snatchers is one of the unsung gems of 1970’s exploitation. Like the best film noirs, its grim, coldhearted style leaves a chill that lingers long after the images fade.