Monday, 23 March 2009

The Toy Box (1971)

The fact that The Toy Box has the Something Weird Video logo on the DVD cover gives you a fair indication of some of the delights the movie is going to contain. Massive amounts of sleaze? Yes, it certainly has that. Bizarre horror elements? Yep. A very large dose of just plain weirdness? Oh yes, it most definitely has that. The amazing thing about this company though is their ability to find so many movies of the 60s and 70s that include these ingredients and yet still manage to combine them in such divergent ways, to result in totally different concoctions of sleazy cinematic strangeness.

We start with Donna, a woman on her way to a party, but it’s not just any ordinary party, and she then explains to us how she met a man named Ralph, and how it is that she is now on her way to one of Uncle’s parties. At Uncle’s parties the guests provide the entertainment for Uncle. Uncle likes tricks and games, so each couple on the guest list performs a trick for him. The trick always involves a sex act, and some kind of macabre twist. Afterwards they take their payment from Uncle’s Toy Box.

This party shows signs of being a little bit different. For one thing, Uncle appears to be dead. Well he certainly looks dead. But Uncle is such a joker, you can’t be really certain. In any case the guests still perform their tricks, and still get their reward from the Toy Box. Donna and Ralph get more than they expected though, and find themselves imprisoned in a cellar. They were already a little disturbed to find that all the doors were locked, barring any escape from Uncle’s house. Finding the maid dead was another sign that perhaps everything was not as it should be. Convincing the other guests that something is wrong isn’t easy. They know Uncle’s reputation for being a joker so they’re not inclined to take Donna and Ralph’s warnings seriously, and besides they’re all too busy having sex. When dead bodies start turning up Donna and Ralph are really worried, and when Uncle (who is still evidently very dead) starts talking to them they become even more worried. At this point the movie begins to get much more seriously odd.

It has a bit of a Twilight Zone flavour, with more than a hint of Lost in Space campness, but with lots and lots of nudity and sex. Perhaps surprisingly, it is at times genuinely erotic - Uschi Digard being made love to by her bed is definitely very sexy indeed. The tricks performed for Uncle show enough evidence that real thought was put into them, and do indicate that writer-director Ronald Víctor García was attempting to give us more than just a succession of copulating couples, that he was trying to add some real kinkiness but also some humour and some truly inspired weirdness.

The movie was clearly made on a minuscule budget, but the combination of ultra-cheap and very amateurish special effects with a strange and twisted vision is one I’ve always enjoyed. Harry Novak was one of the legendary exploitation movie producers, and The Toy Box gave him something he could sell just as easily as a softcore sex film or a campy horror film, or an offbeat trippy comedy, and that kind of versatility was always the Holy Grail of the exploitation producer. The Toy Box is another fun present to cult movie fans from those wonderful folks at Something Weird. If you generally like the movies they release on DVD then this is one you’ll want to add to your own toy box.

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