Toys Are Not for Children Blu-ray Review
Blu-ray Release: October 8, 2019
Audio: English LPCM 1.0 Mono
Run Time: 85 minutes
Director: Stanley H. Brasloff
Yearning for the love of her absentee father, Jamie (Marcia Forbes) inhabits an infantilized world surrounded by toys, including those which her wayward pops bizarrely continues to send her. Unable to consummate her new marriage with dashing colleague Charlie (Harlan Cary Poe), Jamie’s chance encounter with aging sex worker Pearl (Evelyn Kingsley) leads her into the murky world of prostitution, where her most disturbing erotic fantasies begin to play out. (From Arrow’s official synopsis)
Despite being spoken about in some top tier exploitation discourse, Stanley H. Brasloff’s Toys Are Not for Children (stylized on its poster as Toys Are Not for Children, 1972) remains a deep secret oddity to the general public. Even those of us who care about such things mistook it a typically seedy sexploitation relic from the Golden Age of Porn. But it’s a lot more than that and the audiences who are prepared to look beyond grindhouse-friendly button-pushing and shock value will recognize something truly disturbing and oddly poignant. Even bereft of the boundary-shattering hardcore footage of Gerard Damiano’s Deep Throat (which was released the same month – June – in 1972) or the graphic violence of the growing splatter film movement, Toys Are Not for Children is an incredibly subversive film. Sometimes, its subjective filmmaking quality is too bewildering to credit as intentionally incendiary; however, quite often, Brasloff portrays his heroine’s perverse obsessions and the ways people react to her as tragic and somber. It’s also a surprisingly sensitive picture, given the subject matter and 42nd Street audience that Brasloff was trying to sell it to.
There’s so much going on here and all of it is so contradictory that it’s difficult to describe the frisson of watching it for the first time. Accidentally or not, Toys Are Not for Children skirts a line between Cassavetes-esque pragmatism and the choppy editing and shaking camera amateurism of fellow roughie-maker, Herschell Gordon Lewis (minus the dime store gore). Brasloff regularly messes up his eyelines and mismatches framing, yet the way he so deftly cuts between timelines in the narrative is borderline radical for the time. The mix of genre aesthetics is just as baffling. Sometimes, it’s a sad, outdated made-for-TV drama about a frigid, mentally ill wife. Sometimes, it plays like a Christian-backed moralistic scare film, before turning the tables and threatening to delve directly into sleazy sexploitation (though it never does). The performances follow suit, running the gamut from naturalistic to stiff to extremely high-key melodramatic – and, from scene to scene, they all work for the material.
Brasloff’s career was extremely short-lived, consisting of three movies – Charles Romine’s German sexploitation-horror flick Behind Locked Doors (aka: Any Body... Any Way, 1968), which he produced and co-wrote without credit, the similarly horroresque softcore Two Girls for a Madman (1968), which he wrote and directed, and this film, which he wrote, directed, and produced. If this particular film is any indication, his ambitions tended to outweigh his ability to execute his ideas. Still, like all “insider art auteurs,” those ambitions offer a unique flavor that can’t be found in the mainstream. With more practice, he might have blossomed into a real cult favorite. Toys Are Not for Children at least proves he had strong opinions about the human condition and our relationships to each other.
Toys Are Not for Children is an oddity, but this isn’t its first availability on digital media. In 2003, Something Weird video released it on the bottom of a double-feature DVD with Ronald Víctor García’s The Toy Box (1971). It was cropped to 1.33:1, but it was available (at least until it went out-of-print). Now it will cost you more than a hundred dollars. Arrow video’s Blu-ray, which is being released simultaneously in the US and UK, marks the film’s world-wide HD debut, not to mention the first time most of us can view it in its intended aspect ratio. The new 1080p, 1.85:1 transfer was created using a 2K scan of a 35mm dupe negative. The results are appropriately gritty, reproducing cinematographer Rolph Laube’s harsh and seedy lighting schemes without oversharpening highlights, crushing blacks, or smoothing out the film grain. Details can appear soft and some of the colors follow suit, but these are just side effects of the movie’s low budget and short production time. In addition, inconsistencies in grain are easily attributed to purposeful changes in style, usually representing the difference between Jamie’s adulthood and childhood. For the most part, though, hues are vivid and actual print damage is minimal.
Toys Are Not for Children is presented in its original mono and uncompressed LPCM 1.0 sound. The track has its share of problems, but I believe these are inherent in the original material. The key issue is found in the balance between aural elements. Dialogue, effects, and music are crisp and clean in their own right and there’s very little distortion (there’s a hint of buzz towards the end of the film); however, the busier sequences – a scene in a dance club for instance – are a sea of noise with little dynamic designation. Cathy Lynn & Jacques Urbont’s electronic and traditional score is, like everything else, full of contradictions. Sometimes it’s boisterous and goofy, but can also be used to express heightened drama and even horror (the climatic theme is scarier than anything you’d hear in most real horror movies). It is, as mentioned, always a bit too loud and often drowning out dialogue.
Commentary with Kat Ellinger and Heather Drain – The Diabolique Magazine editors help demystify this perpetually mystifying picture with this fun and informative commentary. They run down the film’s production history, its release, the expanded careers of the cast & crew, critical reactions, similar movies, and, of course, its varied and unique themes.
Fragments of Stanley Brasloff (25:03, HD) – Stephen Thrower, the author of NIGHTMARE USA: The Untold Story of the Exploitation Independents (FAB Press, 2007), gives us a complete as humanly possible picture of the film’s obscure writer/director’s life and career. This includes a look at Two Girls for a Madman complete with footage, and a deeper exploration of Toys Are Not for Children’s production and release.
Dirty Dolls: Femininity, Perversion and Play (23:00, HD) – A fascinating and educational new video essay by Rape-Revenge Films: A Critical Study (McFarland, 2011) author Alexandra Heller-Nicholas that explores the historical link between feminine sexuality with dolls and toys. The centerpiece of the essay is the similarities between Toys Are Not for Children and Todd Haynes’ Carol (2015) and its basis, Patricia Highsmith’s novel The Price of Salt (1952), followed by a look at the history of Barbie dolls, Vladimir Nabokov’s Lolita (1955), and the long exploitation tradition of dolls in sex films.
Newly transferred/remastered original theme song "Lonely Am I,” written by Cathy Lynn and sung by T.L. Davis (2:33, HD stills)
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