MISS LESLIE’S DOLLS (1973)
Director: Joseph G. Prieto
Starring: Charles Pitts (Roy), Kitty Lewis (Martha), Marcelle Bichette (Lily), Terry Juston (Alma Frost), and Salvado Ugarte (Miss Leslie)
Transfer quality: Excellent
I’m always on the hunt for fucked up and strange movies. So, when I discovered this obscure gem a few months back, one that is touted as “the lost deranged grindhouse classic!” and seeing the photos of a cross dressing Salvador Ugarte with an axe on the back of the case I knew I had to see this.
Miss Leslie’s Dolls is not a great film by any stretch, but it is entertaining. There’s so much about it that would not fly with today’s audience, such as the cross dressing, using transgender as a shock ploy, and a teacher seducing a reluctant student. But this is not a movie with any message. It’s sleaze, shock, and exploitation from 1973.
It starts off with Miss Leslie performing a ritual in her house, “I too, shall attain this metamorphisis. Tonight, perhaps.” She is a variation on Norman Bates, but with occult leanings, and overwrought dialog. We then see Miss Leslie robbing a grave in a rainstorm and absconding with the body of a freshly buried young woman. Scenes which set up what is to come. Seconds later a car with three students and a teacher returning from a football game in Boston driving through a graveyard, wending their way among the tomsbstones. Why they chose to drive through the cemetery instead of around it is never revealed. They soon have the inevitable car trouble, ditch the car in the graveyard and run over to a seemingly abandoned house, which turns out to be the home of thee Miss Leslie.
Introductions are made, and wooden acting is revealed. Especially the monotone delivery of Terry Juston as the teacher, Alma Frost. Devoid of any emotion. When Miss Leslie is introduced to Martha, she is taken aback, and from here things grow increasingly strange.
“You are Martha! My Martha!” She thinks Martha is a reincarnation of her long dead best friend of the same name. We learn that the deceased Martha was her “dearest friend. A lovely little creature employed by my mother in our little toy factory. She was the only one who knew and understand the painful sorrow of my innermost secrets.” More clues of what is in store. Miss Leslie’s mother owned a toy factory in Boston where they manufactured all types of dolls until a mysterious fire broke out killing her mother and dearest Martha, and institutionalizing Miss Leslie for some time. She now spends her days in solitude, alone with her thoughts, books on the occult, and the “dolls” that Roy finds when he goes off to find any hidden booze in the house while Miss Leslie sets up places for them to sleep for the night.
When Roy shows the “dolls” to his friends, he remarks that they must be the “goddesses of some weird love cult.” Unbeknownst to them, those “dolls” are the bodies of women that Miss Leslie has tried to transfer her spirit contained within her male body into theirs, but failed. Everyone else thinks they are well made wax figures. But Miss Leslie informs them, “My dolls are not made of wax.” What they are made of is is a “well guarded secret.”
From here the movie picks up the pace and begins delivering in the tasteless sleaze, shock, and violence (though nothing brutal or gory) it promises. Some scenes at the end are a little too low lit, but it works out. Despite the obvious low budget they make the best with that they have, and even the bad acting does not get in the way of the overall enjoyment . Nothing exactly original, but worthy of a late night viewing. (MA)
NW: Nate Wilson DC: Devon Cahill MA: Matt Average