"Money is the root of all happiness ..."

This cold-hearted 1973 thriller opens with three wannabe kidnappers - manipulative ringleader Jessie (Tiffany Bolling), gentle giant Eddy (Vince Martorano) and creepy psychopath Alan (Brad David) - sat in a van with joke shop disguises on their faces, watching their potential quarry as she walks to school: innocent Catholic teenager Candy (Susan Sennett).

Their plan is to kidnap the lass and extort money from her stepfather, slimy jewellery shop owner Avery (Ben Piazza).

Things start off well enough for these budding criminals. They blindfold and snatch Candy (in her school uniform, naturally) and drive her up into the hills, where they dump her into a pre-dug grave which they then seal a wooden lid on and cover in earth. Don't worry though, they've drilled a hole into her "grave" and inserted a pipe in there to allow her to receive oxygen. She'll be fine, Eddy assures her, so long as Avery coughs up with the money they're about to demand.

But that's where things start to get complicated. See, Avery is tired of Candy's alcoholic mother and has taken to fucking his glamorous blonde shop assistant. He wants a divorce, and doesn't really give a fuck if he never sees Candy again. In fact, it would benefit him if she actually died, as his wife is ridiculously wealthy and with Candy out of the way, he'd stand to inherit her fortune.

All of which leaves our kidnappers in a bit of a pickle. What to do about Candy? In the meantime, unbeknownst to them, there's a mute kid called Sean (the director's son, Christopher Trueblood) who lives with his abusive mother Audrey (Bonnie Boland) and disinterested career-obsessed father Dudley (Jerry Butts), who has stumbled across Candy's grave and is desperate to save her from her most unfortunate predicament.

A rare occurrence of capturing lightning in a bottle, THE CANDY SNATCHERS is one of those films where everything works in its favour despite its clearly limited resources. Director Guerdon Trueblood works wonders with Bryan Gindoff's unsparing script and fashions a drama that enthrals from beginning to end.

Performances are universally on point. All the characters are memorable, as is a lot of the dialogue. Imagery is striking, not only for its stylish presentation but some of the simplest ideas work the best - like Candy being lowered, blindfolded and in her uniform, into a nameless grave for example. And the cruel nature of the film, tonally rather than explicitly, is impressively unrelenting. Never in an off-putting way, which is the genius of the film: we get rape, we get violence against kids, violence against women, but the equilibrium between this film's political incorrectness in this current climate and its ability to play as invigorating pulp fiction is formidable.

There's no flab; THE CANDY SNATCHERS is pure entertainment, a crime drama par excellence that borders on horror territory due to its unflinching descent into dark waters that you just know you're not going to escape easily from. Watching the criminals unravel as their plans go tits-up is fascinating. Fearing for Candy's safety seems incrementally futile as events continue to escalate.

THE CANDY SNATCHERS makes its worldwide blu-ray debut thanks to those fine folks at Vinegar Syndrome, who're fast becoming one of the most essential distribution companies on Earth. The brilliant-but-short-lived American company Subversive Cinema released a fantastic DVD of the film several years ago; let's see how this fares in comparison ...

The film is presented uncut in a new 4K restoration from its original 35mm camera negative. Its 1.85:1 ratio has been preserved and, of course, is enhanced for 16x9 televisions. Presented in full 1080p HD resolution, the film looks superb - the best it ever has, and most likely ever will. Images are natural, clean, colourful and filled with true filmic depth. Blacks are impressively black, while colours pop off the screen. Flesh tones are natural, grain is fine: it's a sterling job all round.

English audio comes in a pleasing mono Master Audio DTS-HD mix, with the added benefit of easily readable optional English subtitles for the hard-of-hearing.

The region-free disc opens to an animated main menu page. From there, pop-up menus include a scene selection menu proffering access to the film via 5 chapters.

Extras begin with an optional 84-second video introduction to the film from Trueblood, who is understandably - justifiably - proud of his film, but clued-up enough to know that the original title (THE CANDY SNATCH) had totally different connotations for audiences in 1973 ...

An audio commentary follows from film historian Nathaniel Thompson, he who writes reviews for the excellent Mondo Digital site. This is an extremely fluid, fact-filled chat track which is clearly well-researched but not in an oppressively academic manner. It's more like a mate filling you in with lots of fascinating trivia on a film you really like, and is a very welcome inclusion as a result.

Next up is a 15-minute interview with Trueblood. He expands on how he graduated from writing to directing, and how the premise of THE CANDY SNATCHERS was informed by French exploitation cinema. Trueblood is an agreeable, unassuming chap; it's nice spending time in his company.

"Snatching the Role" allows the laidback Martorano to reveal how he got involved in this project, and his experiences on the shoot. He had a great time by all accounts. "I enjoy very much talking about myself" he quips at the start, and does come across as a friendly raconteur during this pleasing 11-minute featurette.

Producer Gary Adelman is present and correct for the 9-minute featurette "Digging Up the Past", another most valid addition to the disc.

Finally, we get a 2-minute gallery of fascinating lobby cards, posters and newspaper reviews.

The packaging for this release is quite sublime. The card slipcase is a beauty; within that, we get a clear keepcase and double-sided reversible cover art.

THE CANDY SNATCHERS stands the test of time as being one of the best exploitation films of the 1970s, and Vinegar Syndrome's blu-ray release is simply amazing.

Highly recommended.

Review by Stuart Willis

Released by Vinegar Syndrome