I learned about Toys Are Not For Children (dir. Stanley H. Brassloff, 1972)—likely to be the most harrowing film I review for the psychotronic project—when I read a description of it by Lars Nilsen, guest programmer for the Brattle Theater’s grindhouse series, in which context the film played several years ago at a midnight screening. “It’s just impossible to believe that anyone would be sick and depraved enough to make this movie, let alone release it, let alone watch it,” he writes. Immediately after reading this, I dashed to my computer in search of a DVD copy (the screening having been long past) and was thrilled to find one from (of course) Something Weird.
What’s most unsettling about this film is that despite being billed as just another ’70s sexploitation movie (it was produced by an uncredited Harry Novak), it’s hardly a campy, good-natured, up-tempo sex romp. Rather, Toys is a grim and pitilessly dark psychodrama. It’s the kind of psychotronic film I most appreciate, because it’s not simply content to flash a lot of nudity in the faces of its audience and call it a day; it does not bear the cheeky, lusty charm of, say, a Russ Meyer nudie flick, in which the sex is all in good fun and the violence is cartoonish. Toys is up to something far more interesting and sinister, something that simply could not exist within the strictures of mainstream filmmaking. It is a thoroughly perverse film. It is, in fact, about the very nature of sexual perversity—about the pursuit of one’s sexual obsessions to the point of psychic self-destruction. (The film might make a nice double bill with Nagisa Oshima’s In the Realm of the Senses.)
The tension in this film builds slowly and ominously. 20-year-old Jamie (Marcia Forbes) is a sexually repressed virgin with serious daddy issues. On her wedding night, she’s less interested in sex with her husband than with unpacking her much-prized collection of toys and dolls, all gifts from her estranged father. To reveal any more of what follows would ruin the pleasures of this film’s particularly sordid plot, which unfolds with a tragic inevitability. Toys Are Not For Children is too carefully made—and too intricately kinky—for it to be written off as pure grindhouse trash; it’s an example of the kind of genuinely mind-bending cult film that dares to go places that a Hollywood film never could.
Side note: like many other films in this series (The Black Klansman, Skidoo), Toys… sports an original song that I haven’t been able to get out of my head. In another context, “Lonely Am I” might have seemed sweet; in the context of this film, it’s downright chilling. I submit the title sequence below as proof. Stuffed animals have never looked so creepy (and considering everything that’s done to that stuffed toy soldier in the film, I can only hope it was burned when production wrapped).