Following a succession of great Southern-fried sex flicks from Harry Novak released on DVD, Something Weird has entered 2003 with undoubtedly their best Novak-produced double feature disc yet! Pairing two films which are complete polar opposites, but both well above-average sexploitation fare, by the time you've polished this one off, you'll need a nice hot shower to wash away the filth, disdain, and depression. In other words, don't miss it!
Attractive couple Donna and Ralph are searching to inject some much-needed spice into their love life. They stumble upon a strange group of swingers who all gather at the home of the mysterious "Uncle" (Harry Novak's favorite fat man Jack King) to perform sexually perverse situation plays for him. In exchange for sharing their erotic fantasies, they are rewarded with gifts from "The Toy Box." But one night, as the swingers perform their acts in-between drug orgies, people start disappearing and dying...for real! Is "Uncle" dead? Has one of the group gone berserk? Or is there an even more whacked-out explanation in store for everyone? You get two guesses.
Out of all of Harry Novak's acquisitions (including the excellent THE DEVIL'S GARDEN and the hilarious ROSELAND, both of which deserve DVD releases), THE TOY BOX is one of his very best, if not THE best. Possibly cinema's first mix of sex, sci-fi, horror, and drugs, you will never see another film like this one. And for once, all of these elements meld successfully! Where most sex scenes in Novak's films go on forever and rarely raise the temperature, just about every scene in this film is worth viewing. Whether it be a man stabbing his girlfriend as she gives him fellatio, a butcher having sex with a cadaver (Maria Arnold), or Uschi Digart's steamy encounters with a disembodied hand in a box and her own possessed bedsheets (in what might be the best sex scene in all of 70s sexploitation), director Ron Garcia has put some thought into how sex and horror can make a vivid combination. And skin flick fans will recognize Marsha Jordan, Debbie Osborne, Kathy Hilton, and Ann Myers from other Novak productions, such AS MARSHA THE EROTIC HOUSEWIFE, MIDNIGHT PLOWBOY, EXOTIC DREAMS OF CASANOVA, and THE GOLDEN BOX. As the film progresses, plot twists abound, winding the viewer into a maze of erotic confusion until the final surprise ending pulls the rug out from under you! Notice the similarities between this film and THE ROCKY HORROR PICTURE SHOW....I wonder if this had theatrical distribution in England? Anyone who hates Novak's flicks will find themselves confronted with a tough film to dislike here.
Following your journey into the "Toy Box," get out your Kleenex and strap on your seatbelt, because TOYS ARE NOT FOR CHILDREN isn't pretty viewing. Young Jamie is a toy store clerk whose obsession with toys stems from the gifts sent to her from her father, who was kicked out of the house after his wife discovered his love for whores. Living in fading memories of her childhood and longing to reunite with him, Jamie becomes friends with Pearl, an experienced lady of the evening working the streets of New York City who knows his whereabouts. A marriage to a fellow clerk leaves her frigid and unfulfilled, so she decides to try hooking, allowing her clients to fill her father-less void! But when she is set up to meet with her father at long last, will it go as planned....?
TOYS ARE NOT FOR CHILDREN makes THE CANDY SNATCHERS look like IT'S A WONDERFUL LIFE in comparison. There is not one remotely likable character in this whole film, everyone poor Jamie meets is either miserable, conniving, or oversexed and aching to get into her pants. By the end credits, you are advised to stay away from sharp objects or dangerous medications; you might be left wondering what the point of living is? The poster for this film leads one to believe it should be a skin flick, but nudity and sex is kept to a bare minimum (a few exposed breasts here and there). But even without a liberal dose of sex and violence, CHILDREN weaves its spell over the viewer almost effortlessly. This is a gripping, well-acted drama with an excellent script and accomplished directing and editing, not to mention a great theme song. Much like David F. Friedman's JOHNNY FIRECLOUD, this is an underrated gem hiding behind an exploitative title and ad campaign.
The transfers for these films are just as different as the two films are from one another. TOY BOX is the far superior of the two, with bold colors, dark pools of black, balanced grain, and few instances of dirt, only appearing at reel changes. CHILDREN, on the other hand, looks like it hasn't gone through any restoration whatsoever! The print is letterboxed at 1.85:1, but skin tones vary from pale to green, dirt, speckles, grain, and lines permeate every scene, and there are virtually no clean frames to speak of. The film jumps, eliminating some dialogue in several spots. Still, the film is able to grab the viewer so tightly by the collar that one might be able to forgive this transfer. Sound on both releases is mono, but weak mixes at that. You'll have to crank up the volume in some scenes, but leave it at a normal level in others.
Pick up your chin and turn that droopy frown upside down, there are some A+ trailers on hand here! In addition to the lengthy (over 5 minutes!) trailer for TOY BOX and the stills-driven, tightly-edited preview for TOYS ARE NOT FOR CHILDREN, you will witness more jaw-dropping. THE EXQUISITE CADAVER is a Spanish murder-mystery about a man who is stalked and tormented by the lesbian lover of his mistress who committed suicide. It looks marvelous (kind of like FATAL ATTRACTION meets THE LIBERTINE), and it features Capucine in a starring role! TALES OF THE BIZARRE is a retitling of SECRETS OF SEX, but to be expected, this trailer downplays the sex angle. Most of the preview is in split-screen, with a mummy on the right side and action on the left side?! THE SINGLE GIRLS is included because of its similarity to TOY BOX; a group of sexually active people at a resort are decimated by a murderous vacationer! Claudia Jennings stars in this one, so it would be worth tracking down. Look fast for Jason Ledger (the deputy in JOHNNY FIRECLOUD!). ANN AND EVE is one of Marie Liljedahl's few starring roles! Also starring Gio Petre (I, A WOMAN), the plot is similar to Liljedahl's EUGENIE: she goes on a vacation with an older lesbian friend who degrades and humiliates her sexually before her marriage! It has a dwarf and an orgy! And for anyone wondering what else Olivera Vuco (MARK OF THE DEVIL) has been in, seek this one out! I must see this film! THE DEPRAVED is probably Christina Lindberg's best film. Lindberg was another Swedish sex starlet of the late 1960s-early 1970s, but she was obviously geared to pick up where Marie Liljedahl left off. She looks EXACTLY like Liljedahl, albeit with larger breasts! In this film, she is a young girl who is blackmailed by a nasty photographer who took nude photos of her. The trailer makes it look very, very sleazy and doesn't reveal the schizophrenic nature of the film. Co-star Heinz Hopf also boffed Liljedahl in ANN AND EVE and met Lindberg again in THRILLER! This is also the best the trailer has looked; it is usually ragged and saturated in red. Sextet has no IMDB entry and I can't find any other info about it! It's an omnibus of six sexy stories, all with bizarre twists and sexy nude women in them. It might be 1971's THE BLUE SEXTET...I don't know... I could have sworn Diana Lewis (FLESHPOT ON 42ND STREET) was in this trailer! THE NAKED COUNTESS is reminiscent of a Radley Metzger import; a rich woman has sexual adventures with a variety of strange men. She also takes drugs and teases men from inside a glass room a la FRIGHTENED WOMAN. Leading lady Ursula Blauth looks strangely like a mix between Edwige Fenech and Natalie Wood. LABYRINTH OF SEX is an Italian Mondo movie in 2.35:1 widescreen! It details the study of man and woman's deepest sexual desires.
Unfortunately, the trailer collection is the star of the extras. The shorts are mildly entertaining, but nothing to get worked up over. "The Toy Telephone Truck" follows the life of a little boy's favorite toy truck. It's entertaining, I guess, but would have been more suitable on, say, the kiddie double feature disc. "The Christmas Eves" is a 30s nudie short with a group of women waking up on Christmas morning. It's mostly interesting because anything with nudity, sex or other controversial 30s elements is almost always worth viewing. Surprisingly for the time, there is pubic hair visible in this short!! I wonder how the filmmakers got women to be in these things....? The Harry Novak gallery is great, as usual, with some fine music from Novak's films (like "Midnight Plowboy"), but is a reminder of how truly great the feature films on the disc really are, especially when compared to some of the other fluff Novak produced. There is an Easter egg on the extras menu: a Christmas message from Doris Day!!
Like 2002's ATOMIC WAR BRIDE/THIS IS NOT A TEST!, this is Something Weird's Don't-Feel-Good Disc of the Year (released at about the same time as last year, too), but don't let that you scare you off. Both films are incredible examples of creating honest-to-God motion pictures, not just a series of sex scenes draped on an invisible plot. SWV has kicked off 2003 with a great start, proving that for every dozen by-the-numbers exploitation films, there are always a few diamonds in the rough well worth discovering. (Casey Scott)
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