• Abigail Leslie Is Back In Town / Laura’s Toys (Retro-Seduction Cinema) DVD Review

    Released by: Retro-Seduction Cinema
    Released on: February 23rd, 2005.
    Director: Joe Sarno
    Cast: Rebecca Brooke, Eric Edwards, Cathja Graff, Jamie Gillis, Jennifer Jordan, Jennifer Wells, Sonny Landham
    Year: 1975
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    Abigail Leslie Is Back In Town / Laura’s Toys – Movie Review:

    The first movie, Abigail Leslie Is Back In Town, was made in 1973 when porno chic films like Deep Throat and Behind The Green Door were at their peak in terms of popularity. Sexploitation master Joe Sarno, however, was still pumping out softcore sex films, reluctant to go all the way into the realm of XXX hardcore movie making at this point in his career (he'd later cave and do it under a couple of different pseudonyms). Possibly in an attempt to cash in on some of the success that hardcore pornographic films had found at the box office, however, Sarno shot Abigail Leslie Is Back In Town using a cast of known adult film stars, which gives it some novelty value and proves that a few of them (notably Jamie Gillis of Waterpower fame) could actually act, as well as frolic in the nude in front of a camera.

    Shot in the director's hometown of Amityville, the film follows the story of the titular Abigail Leslie (Sarah Nicholson, a.k.a. Jennifer Jordan of Anyone But My Husband) who returns to her hometown after leaving some time ago after she had an affair with a married man named Gordon (Jamie Gillis). Gordon's wife, Priscilla (Rebecca Brooke, a.k.a. Mary Mendum of The Image and Max Pecas' Felicia), is none too keen on the fact that the women who bonked her man has returned to her old stomping grounds and she has absolutely no problem whatsoever telling anyone who will listen to her how she feels.

    Not one to worry about much of anything, Abigail soon gets back to her wild ways once more, laying anyone, male or female, she pleases - when you look as good as Abigail does, it isn't often that anyone tries to resist you and if, say, one of the women you want to bed decides she's not into girls, you can always let your fingers do some very convincing walking and sway her your way, right? Right! Abigail also finds her way into bed with the local Mr. Fixit, a handyman named Chester (played by Eric Edwards of Afternoon Delights) and even her own aunt, Drucilla! The more Abigail seems to get around, the more the townsfolk come over to her way of thinking and before too long everyone is doing everyone else, shedding their former uptight skins and enjoying all the pleasures of the flesh that this world has to offer, even Priscilla.

    Casting seventies porno stars gave the movie a pretty realistic look. Back before silicon took over the industry, porn stars were considerably more unique looking and a lot more realistic in how they acted in front of the camera. Everything might have looked a little seedier because of their appearance, but sex is, let's face it, dirty by nature and having someone like Jamie Gillis in your film does go a long way towards making the sex believable - and when the majority of your movie is made up of sex scenes strung together by a loose but interesting soap opera plot, you'd best make that sex as realistic as possible if you want your movie to work. Luckily, Sarno has no problem in that regard this time out. While you're not going to find any Oscar winners in here, most of the main performers do a perfectly fine job with the material both in and out of costume and Mary Mendum in particular shines as her character experiences what is literally a sexual re-awakening thanks to her experiences with Abigail and Chester.

    When the movie finally gets to the inevitable group sex scene, it makes sense that it closes that way, it's almost like this is what these characters have wanted all along and been unable to own up to until Abigail showed them how. It might not always go down that way in real life but in the context of the melodramatic world that Sarno has created for the film, the middle class suburbanites too hung up to enjoy themselves, this shedding of clothes (and in a sense, skin) seems the only resolution possible. Look for lovely blonde XXX performer Jennifer Welles in a supporting role and Sonny Landham of Predator fame as her boyfriend!

    The second feature was made the same year as the first. Laura’s Toys isn’t as ‘deep’ as the first film but it still manages to find that mix of sexploitation and soap operatics that makes Sarno’s filmography as interesting as it is. Eric Edwards plays Walter Rockford, an archeologist married to a blonde fox named Laura (Rebecca Brooke). When the film begins, the two are in Scandinavia working on a project, but you can tell that their relationship is stressed. Laura just doesn’t share Walter’s passion for archeology, and would much rather spend her time getting laid. While this probably seems reasonable to many of us, Laura and Walter are suffering from a fairly serious marital disconnect.

    Walter finds solace in the arms of his assistant, a lovely lady named Anna (Katja von Graff), and unbeknownst to them, Laura sees them in the throes of passion one fine day. Laura decides to look for love herself, and finds it in the arms of her former schoolmates, Hanni and Gabrielle. This pleases her for a while but what Laura really wants is a shot at Anna. She gets it and you can tell that Anna is falling for her, but Laura has other ideas in mind aside from some simple lesbian lovemaking.

    The storyline in this second feature isn’t as important to the film as the sex scenes are. The premise is a simple one and it sets up the bumping and grinding well, but a bit more meat on the bones of the plot would have gone a long way towards making this one stand out more. That said, Sarno’s fanbase will definitely find much to appreciate about the film. The cast, again made up of many seventies porno movie luminaries, are fairly effective here and it’s interesting to see them in less explicit roles than the ones that they’re generally associated with.

    Like a lot of Sarno’s films, there’s an emphasis on the emotional impact of the various characters’ actions. This is pointed out a few times, thanks more in part to some clever camera work and effective cinematography than great acting but it works. The movie does a decent job of pulling us in and making sure we want to know how it all ends. While the first feature in this set is definitely the better of the two, this is still a film worth seeing even if Sarno certainly made better movies.

    Abigail Leslie Is Back In Town / Laura’s Toys – DVD Review:

    While the elements for this 1.78.1 anamorphic widescreen transfers obviously weren't in the best of shape, for a pair of older low budget sexploitation pictures, Abigail Leslie Is Back In Town and Laura’s Toys look pretty decent. The framing and compositions are nice and look dead on (not surprising since Sarno approved the transfers himself) and the color reproduction is strong. Black levels are solid and there aren't any problems with mpeg compression or edge enhancement and only a slight trace of aliasing is present. In terms of print damage, well, it's there and the grain is heavy in some spots but nothing is so harsh as to render the films unwatchable or anything like that. There are a few scratches, some dirt and some specs here and there as well as the odd cigarette burn, but the image remains fairly decent. Unfortunately, EI didn't bother flagging the transfers for progressive scan playback so depending on what kind of hardware you use, you might notice some saw tooth effects during motion.

    The English language Dolby Digital Mono sound mixes aren’t half bad. There's some mild hiss present in a few scenes and the levels do fluctuate a tad but dialogue remains clean, clear and concise and the sound effects and background music are well balanced and don't over power the performers. No alternate language dubs, subtitles or closed captioning options are provided for this release.

    EI has done a nice job with the supplements on this release. Starting with the Abigail Lesley disc, there’s a brand new full-length audio commentary with director Joe Sarno, spurred on by moderator Michael Bowen with periodic input from Michael Raso. This is a pretty decent track that covers most of the basics here. When Sarno gets quiet, which happens from time to time, Bowen jumps in and keeps things moving by providing some insight into the film. He also does a good job of asking Sarno pertinent questions about the film and his career, starting from the early days and moving through the years. The commentary from the original single disc release from 2006 has not been carried over.

    From there we move on to a series of interviews starting with Rebecca Brooke Remembers (10:02), in which the actress discusses how when she first met Sarno she was still doing modeling and how she transitioned into acting after working with him. She speaks fondly about the films that she made with him and from there she talks about the different pictures that they worked on together. She tells a few interesting stories here, discussing shooting schedules, budgets and some of her co-workers and it’s nice to see her be as open and enthusiastic about her work as she is here.

    Jennifer Jordan: The Woman Behind Abigail Lesley (8:25) is a nice look back at the actresses career as she discusses how she got into acting, how she met Sarno, and what it was like working on this film in particular. She reminisces about hanging out with Sarno and his wife, how they had her over to socialize and wound up casting her as the lead in the movie, and how she responded to his directorial style noting that he would ‘suggest rather than tell you what he wanted.’

    The Interview With Jamie Gillis (10:24) is just that, a chat with the late, great XXX thespian who is pretty open about working with the cast on this film, the influence of Jack Daniels, and who he really enjoyed hanging out with while this movie was being made. Gillis was always an interesting guy any time he decided to open up and discuss his career and this interview is no exception. He describes Eric Edwards as ‘one of the guys’ but notes that he really didn’t hang out with him much, and he talks about Jennifer Welles as a sweet, motherly type. He shares some fun stories about Landham, about Sarno’s directorial style and technique, and other production related bits and pieces and, as was the norm with Gillis, it’s amusing and bizarrely fascinating.

    Joe Sarno Is Back In Town (23:49) is an interesting segment in which Sarno is driven around the Amityville locations where the film was shot with Michael Bowen again serving as a sort of moderator as he drives. They talk about the differences between working in New York City and out of the city in Amityville before heading over to meet with Henry Marclay where he and Sarno reminisce. Some more location footage would have been welcome, as much of the first half of this segment is a shot of Sarno sitting in the passenger seat of the car, but the stories he tells here are pretty interesting and it’s a nifty little segment in its own right.

    Carried over from the last release is a video interview with Joe and his wife/collaborator Peggy (5:56) that clocks in at about six minutes. Peggy's memories of the film are a bit sharper than her husband’s but she isn't given a whole lot of time to go into a ton of detail here. They cover shooting the film in Amityville, how locations were arranged, and where the film sort of fits within Sarno's interesting body of work. There’s also a brief featurette on the Alamo Drafthouse revival screening (7:00) in which Bowen and some of the Alamo guys introduce the film before we see Sarno meeting and signing for some of the fans. Rounding out the extras on the DVD are a selection of trailers for other Sarno movies available through EI/Retro-Seduction Cinema, including Swedish Wildcats, Vampire Ecstasy, Inga, and many more.
    Included inside the keepcase is a booklet of liner notes from Sarno historian Michael Bowen that detail the bizarre production history of the movies and that include some stills and poster artwork from the advertising campaigns made to promote the films.

    The Laura’s Toys disc is exactly the same as the single disc release of that title that came out in 2005, meaning you’ll find the commentary with Eric Edwards and Michael Bowen, an interview with Eric Edwards and a second interview with Joe and Peggy Sarno. If you don’t already have that disc, it’s a nice selection of supplements that does a good job of detailing the history of the film. The commentary in particular is strong, as Edwards has a pretty keen memory and shows no hesitation talking about his work on the film or sharing his memories of what it was like working with the cast and crew on the picture. The interviews compliment the commentary well and while they cover some of the same ground, there’s enough material here that isn’t covered in the commentary to make both of them worth watching.

    Abigail Leslie Is Back In Town / Laura’s Toys – The Final Word:

    If you already have the single disc releases, you’ll have to decide how much the new supplements on the Abigail disc mean to you (and they are very good) as the Laura’s Toys disc is the same, but those who haven’t already purchased those previous releases should consider this two disc set the one to get. The transfers are good and the extras plentiful and interesting. The first film is the better of the two but both are worth seeing, especially for those with an interest in the softcore and adult film industry of seventies era New York.