Color, 1973, 88 mins. 42 secs.
Directed by Joseph G. Prieto
Starring Salvador Ugarte, Terri Juston, Marcelle Bichette, Kitty Lewis, Charles Pitts
Network Relasing (Blu-ray & DVD) (UK R0 HD/PAL) / WS (1.85:1) (16:9)

The Miss Leslie's Dollsworld is always a better place when a Miss Leslie's Dollslost horror sexploitation film gets unearthed, and one of the big discoveries a few years back was the salvaging of Miss Leslie's Dolls, a mysterious five-actor quickie with an irresistible premise. As it turned out, the BFI had the film stashed in its archives and it unspooled before an astonished public who might just be ready now for its gender bender insanity.

Late one night, a young woman runs screaming out of a house only to be grabbed and pulled back inside by an unseen assailant. Some time later on another, rainier evening, a carload of travelers consisting of glamorous teacher Alma (Juston) and three of her students -- Martha (Lewis), Lily (Bichette), and lone male Roy (SuperVixens' Pitts) -- gets stranded, so they have to go for help to that same sinister property. At first this might sound like it could go in the direction of either Necromania or The Rocky Horror Picture Show, but instead they're welcomed in by Miss Leslie (Ugarte), a frumpy man in a dress with a very disconnected dubbed female voice. Whether we're supposed to be fooled by the ruse is never made clear, but no one else seems to notice as everyone treats Miss Leslie like a sweet, middle-aged matron who's just prone to waxing on and on about her tragic past involving her mother and sister Martha's death when their doll factory burned down. Miss Leslie also has a collection of very realistic female figures lined up in the house whom he reveals aren't made of wax (hmmm...), with other pastimes including hanging out in the graveyard outside and conferring with a skull down in the basement. The new arrivals quickly get down to bedding each other (with Alma prone to Miss Leslie's Dollssame-Miss Leslie's Dollssex dalliances), but the nocturnal fun is soon cut short by their host's homicidal tendencies and a way out secret downstairs.

Wow. This one is really something else, especially during the final half hour complete with a psychedelic group freak out scene, a graveyard chase, and a double twist ending that will have you smacking yourself to make sure you didn't dream it. Basically it's the kind of delicious discover that used to turn up from companies like Something Weird on a monthly basis, and it's great to have it back in circulation. The film is also bound to play a bit differently now given the modern discussions about gender identity and self-identification, but don't expect GLAAD to start hailing it as a progressive lost classic. Much of the film's production details remain fuzzy with the identity of director "Joseph G. Prieto" still up in the air (Olga filmmaker Joseph P. Mawra gets floated often as a likely candidate), and most of the cast only has a couple of credits at most. Of course it's really Ugarte's show all the way, with the actor using his unconvincing female garb as a very uncomfortable device to create a character both pitiable and arbitrarily violent.

For its home video debut, Network brings Miss Leslie's Dolls to UK Blu-ray and DVD with an HD scan from that BFI print, complete with a BBFC X certificate card at the beginning. For a formerly lost film it's in really nice shape; there's a significant teal shift to the color scheme, though it's hard to say how appropriate that is given what still survives in terms of source material. The LPCM English mono audio is also solid. The sole extra is an image gallery of poster art and stills, plus a liner notes booklet by Laura Mayne collating the scarce existing background on the film and pondering how such a strange cinematic creature might have come into existence.

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Reviewed on August 24, 2018