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Blu-Ray Review - MISS LESLIE'S DOLLS (1973)

MISS LESLIE'S DOLLS review
Caught in a storm, a teacher and her students seek shelter at the home of a disturbed killer.


Review by Eric Hillis

Directed by: Joseph G. Prieto

Starring: Salvador Ugarte, Terri Juston, Marcelle Bichette, Kitty Lewis, Charles Pitts

MISS LESLIE'S DOLLS bluray

Long considered a 'lost' film, Joseph G. Prieto's 1973 schlocker Miss Leslie's Dolls surfaced in the vault of the British Film Institute (where I suspect it wasn't so much lost as buried) a decade ago and now makes its hi-def debut thanks to a remastered blu-ray from Network, a distributor who - if you're a fan of grindhouse cinema - has truly been doing the Lord's work recently.

Though the movie is credited to Prieto, it's said that when tracked down and interviewed, the director, also known as Joseph Mawra, has no recollection of directing the film. When interviewed by the BFI, actor Charles Pitts vaguely recalled being directed by someone who may have been called Mawra, but his memory of the film was equally foggy. Well, it was the '70s. I'm loathe to imply that the people involved in the production of Miss Leslie's Dolls might have been under the influence of mind altering surfaces, but the film sure plays like they were, and it's a movie probably best viewed while in a similar state of consciousness.


MISS LESLIE'S DOLLS review

Teacher Alma (Terri Juston, a z-grade Raquel Welch) is driving through Massachusetts with three of her students - Roy (Pitts, a z-grade Roddy McDowell), Martha (Kitty Lewis, a z-grade Kate Jackson) and Lily (Marcelle Bichette, a z-grade Zooey Deschanel, whose skimpy green outfit makes her look like she's playing the lead in a Robin Hood porn parody) - when they get caught in a storm in the middle of the shoddiest screen graveyard this side of an Ed Wood production.

With Roy left to carry the girls' luggage (well it was the '70s), the foursome come upon a house in the middle of nowhere and decide to impose themselves on its owner for food and shelter. The house is occupied by the titular Miss Leslie (Salvador Ugarte), who is clearly a man in drag, though neither Alma nor her pupils notice this (well it was the '70s). Leslie is a bit on the odd side, rambling on about her childhood spent in the family's doll factory and obsessing over how Martha shares the same name as her dead sister (could this have been an influence on Batman V Superman?), but she does offer supper and some impressive accommodation (the interior of the house is closer to a hotel than the modest cottage seen in exterior shots).


MISS LESLIE'S DOLLS review

As pesky kids are wont to do, Roy goes snooping around and pulls open a curtain to reveal the eponymous 'dolls', a group of motionless women, frozen as though in a state somewhere between life and death. Any sane person would thank Miss Leslie for the hospitality and promptly run for the hills, but this lot aren't exactly Nobel prize winners, so they shrug it off and head for bed (or rather, each other's beds, the horny bunch), not realising their psychotic hostess has a night of terror planned.

It's great that a movie this obscure has been rescued and polished to the extent of Network's spotless transfer, but there's no dressing this up - Miss Leslie's Dolls is utter schlock, the sort of movie whose poster promises a lot more than the film actually delivers. Most of the running time consists of the titular nutjob waffling on about her childhood while her guests trade bedrooms like they're in a cheap farce with the gags removed.


MISS LESLIE'S DOLLS review

The Cuban born Prieto (if he did indeed direct this thing) brings something of a Latin feel to his film, which often resembles something Spanish schlockmeister Jess Franco might have knocked out over a weekend (Pitts claims the shoot lasted over a month - how???), though Franco's version would no doubt have been sleazier, a lot more unintentionally amusing and boasted a funky soundtrack in place of the irritating discordant synth sounds that play throughout here.

The nicest thing I can say about Miss Leslie's Dolls is that Ugarte gives a committed performance throughout, chewing over his nonsensical dialogue like a stage performer given a one-night-only lead role in a Shakespearean production. I'm far from qualified to comment on how the film may be received by the trans community, but Ugarte does add a sympathetic layer to the villain of a movie that undoubtedly couldn't give a damn whom it might offend (well it was the '70s).
Extras:
Just an image gallery on the disc and a booklet with writing by Laura Mayne.

Miss Leslie's Dolls is released on blu-ray and DVD by Network on September 3rd.





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