Candy Land - Fright Fest Review
Director: John Swab
Starring: William Baldwin, Eden Brolin, Olivia Luccardi, Owen Campbell, Sam Quartin
Written by: John Swab
Produced by: Jeremy M. Rosen, John Swab
Cinematography by: Will Stone
Original Score by: David Sardy
A seemingly naive and devout young woman finds her way in the underground world of truck stop sex workers a.k.a. "lot lizards."
I adored this film. I went in expecting to be disgusted (body count films aren’t usually my thing) but I came out not only pleasantly surprised, but ready and willing to recommend this 70s-style exploitation horror flick to my fellow horror fans.
For a horror film about sex workers in a cheap truck stop motel, 'Candy Land' is surprisingly deep and sympathetic. Our main characters – Sadie, Liv, Riley, and Levi (my dear boy Levi) – embrace their situations with realism and openness, looking out for each other without judgement. They are genuinely likable characters with great chemistry, which is rare in these kind of exploitation films, and they portray the hardships of sex work in a meaningful and respectful way. I wasn’t expecting to get emotionally attached to these characters so it’s a credit to the actors for their incredible portrayal of these down-on-their-luck "Lot Lizards", as they call themselves. I was ready to be uncomfortable with the sex scenes, because they’re usually pretty misogynistic, but not once did I feel that the representation on screen was in any way negative, be it the girls or Levi. And I want to shout out to Sam Quartin (Sadie) for not shaving her natural armpit or pubic hair – we love to see realistic representations of women on screen!
The group’s lives are thrown into utter turmoil by the arrival of Remy, a member of a Christian cult who has supposedly run away from its oppressive regime. The group welcome her with open arms but what they don’t realize is that Remy has her own agenda – she believes she is on a mission from God to ‘cleanse’ (i.e murder) those she deems unclean so they may enter Heaven unsullied. Remy is a fantastic character. Played by ‘It Follows’ Olivia Luccardi, Remy appears pure and innocent and by all accounts, she is, as she believes she is doing the right thing. Her weapon of choice is a sharp blade hidden in a large cross that she carries – there’s some bloody fantastic shots of Remy dripping with blood and holding the cross – which reinforces her identity as a missionary killer, a kind of serial murderer who justifies their actions by claiming they’re acting on behalf of a higher cause.
Remy murders several truck stop visitors, some disgustingly pervy and some sympathetic (not that it matters to Remy), before moving on to the sex workers who welcomed her into their home. What I loved about her murder scenes was that they not only didn’t linger longer than they needed to, but the director chose to change the style of shots when Remy completes her mission; she is filmed from above, as if God is watching her and she is making direct eye contact with him (she looks right into the camera at us), and the edges of the shot blur into black, giving us an insight into Remy’s singular state of mind. It’s a simple technique but it’s very effective.
Remy kills off her sex worker friends one by one, brutally slaying them by slashing their stomachs with her bladed cross, and she is happy about it; not because she gets enjoyment from the killing itself, but from the joy she feels knowing they’re going to Heaven and that she’ll meet them there. Poor Levi, my favourite and perhaps the most sympathetic character, is killed in the middle of having tender sex with Remy by a pencil to the throat, and it broke my heart because he did not deserve that. None of the sex workers deserved to die, which makes 'Candy Land' a rare gem in exploitative horror because these kinds of films usually use their occupation as a justification for their murders.
The film’s climax gave me Jonestown vibes. Remy returns home to her Christian cult to discover her entire family and friends have committed ritual suicide to go to Heaven, despite saying that they would wait for her. When she breaks down in hysterical sobs, you almost feel sorry for her. Her ending, suicide by cross blade, feels appropriate and the only way 'Candy Land' could have ended.
'Candy Land' is a surprisingly beautiful film to look at (the cinematography is gorgeous) and its portrayal of sex workers as real people, really makes it rise above other exploitation-style films. I loved it and I can’t wait to recommend this horror flick to my fellow horror nerds.
- Victoria Brown
'Candy Land' received its UK Premiere at FrightFest 2022 on August 27th