Thursday, February 23, 2012

Toys ARE for Children - This Movie is Not

Toys Are Not For Children (1972)
Director: Stanley H. Brassloff.
Seen @: The Colony, Raleigh 
Presented by Cinema Overdrive
Rating: 6.5/10 

This review is a little later than I intended, but how could I let a weird gem like just pass by without sharing the love?

Just in time to celebrate the Valentine's day season (okay, a little late), here's a creepy little sexploitation feature about a woman permanently stuck in childhood who longs for the love of her father. You're probably wondering how far such a film would be willing to go with this idea. I suggest you find out for yourself. In fact, I'd go so far as to recommend this as a date movie. If your relationship survives intact, you'll know you've found a keeper. I'm not sure whether to thank the folks at Cinema Overdrive for digging up this sick little treasure or just try to forget the more, er, uncomfortable parts of the experience. I'm inclined towards the former.

Stan Brassloff didn't just appear out of the blue to unleash this one on the world - he's credited as directing one other sexploitation film, which he also wrote, (Two Girls for a Madman), and penning another (Any Body, Any Way). Toys Are Not for Children does appear to have ended his career though, for what it's worth. I can't say I'm familiar with either of his previous films, or really care to be, judging from what I've read. But in Toys... his ambition seems to have stretched a little higher, as may be evidenced by the last names of the main couple: Godard and Belmond. This ain't no Breathless, but it is pretty skillfully assembled, and actually pretty clever about how it handles the more lurid parts of its story. Not to worry though, however hard it tries, it's still way more grindhouse than arthouse.

The story opens with a scene of its protagonist, Jamie (the aforementioned Godard), getting, er, friendly with a large soldier doll in bed. Enter Mom, a walking avatar of sexual repression and regression, who scolds Jamie for being nasty. Nasty? You haven't seen shit yet, Mom. And as our opening scene ends, we get a title sequence with an original song. I love the fact that so many movies from the 70's and 80's with such seemingly low budgets always found the means to come up with a original song.

Fade to a wedding - yes, Jamie is getting married to a guy who works with her at the toy shop! What becomes clear shortly afterward is just how clearly messed up this girl is. Poor Jamie, I'm sure a Freudian psychologist would have a field day with her. Her problems seem to stem from her childhood, particularly the day when her father left her mother in favor of the company of innumerable whores. Jamie has never gotten over the loss of her father, and now finds her husband a poor substitute. The only thing that comes close to replacing him are the toys he sends her for her birthday... and we already know how much she likes those. Surprisingly, Jamie actually becomes significantly less repressed as this movie continues, but not in the most positive way.

As her own husband becomes increasingly alienated, Jamie sets out on a quest to find her father, with the help of an aging prostitute who lives in the city. I don't want to spoil too much, because it's more fun to wonder just where this movie is heading, and how far it will go. That said, for such a taboo subject, there's actually surprisingly little explicit content in this flick. Many of the key sequences are handled through flashbacks, cutting to pivotal scenes of Jamie's childhood. So most of the time, rather than seeing Jamie self-sabotage, we're seeing the reason she's doing it. The editing keeps the movie interesting, and jumps forward and backward in time throughout the film, giving us insight that might otherwise be absent.

Toys Are Not for Children would not be half as creepy as it is without the performance of Marcia Forbes as Jamie. She plays the role with a weird sort of wide-eyed naivete that's unsettling enough when she's just a repressed housewife, but gets even worse when she becomes a hooker. She's emotionally a child, and since Forbes plays this so strongly in the beginning, it's hard to let it go later on when stuff gets wrong.

This isn't the kind of movie you recommend to someone, but I stand by my statement that it'd be a great date night litmus test. Watch (and enjoy) at your own risk.

6.5 / 10 = It doesn't get a whole lot more unsettling than this.

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