GORE IN THE STORE
INTERVIEWS FILM BLU-RAY DVD & BOOK REVIEWS
MISS LESLIE’S DOLLS – ***
Directed by Joseph G. Prieto. Starring Salvador Ugarte, Terri Juston, Marcelle Bichette, Kitty Lewis, Charles Pitts. Horror, USA, 89 mins, cert 15.
Released in the UK on DVD & Blu-ray by Network on 3rd September 2018.
If ever you find yourself in the unenviable position of having to explain to somebody not as educated in the ways of genre cinema what a grindhouse movie is then Network have kindly come to the rescue and put out MISS LESLIE'S DOLLS, a low-budget exploitation piece with more than a few nods to the likes of ROSEMARY'S BABY, PSYCHO and Roger Corman's Poe adaptations, but also a so-called 'lost' (or possibly ignored) film with that indefinable something that makes even the sleaziest trash appealing and even entertaining, albeit on a very basic level.
The film begins with an attractive young woman with hardly any clothes on running screaming from a dark house followed by a mystery attacker; so far, so very exploitation but the atmosphere soon sobers a bit as teacher Miss Frost (Terri Justin) and her three students Martha (Kitty Lewis), Lily (Marcelle Bichette) and Roy (Charles Pitts) seek shelter from an oncoming storm and arrive at said house, only to be greeted by the strange Miss Leslie (Salvador Ugarte) who invites them in and doesn't seem to want them to leave after showing them what she keeps in her special room. Seem familiar? You bet it does, as MISS LESLIE'S DOLLS plays out over the next 85 minutes with barely an original idea thrown against the screen in the hope that some of it sticks and, alas, a grindhouse classic is born. Well, maybe not a classic but certainly a movie that sticks in the mind, and not always for the right reasons, although a lot of what the filmmakers throw at the screen does work to make MISS LESLIE'S DOLLS a bizarre take on what could have been a very pedestrian trek through the usual genre tropes of kids taking shelter from a storm and then being picked off.
From the time the kids arrive at the house to the moment things start to escalate into violence the film does drop down a gear in the pacing department as characters interact and we get a idea of location and layout as not only is Miss Leslie's house explored but also her state of mind as Roy discovers the life-like mannequins she keeps behind a huge curtain. It takes up over half the movie as the reasons for Miss Leslie's oddball behaviour are made clear(ish) and although it is very dialogue-heavy (with the dialogue not always delivered very convincingly) there is something very compelling about watching Miss Leslie court these young people who have entered her home and are seemingly oblivious to the weird and slightly sinister atmosphere that fills each scene.
MISS LESLIE'S DOLLS is something of a hard sell to anybody not already attuned to the quirks and nuances of grindhouse cinema, such as the fact that Miss Leslie is clearly a man in drag (not a spoiler as it is blindingly obvious from the opening scenes) and this issue is not addressed until 15 minutes from the end of the film when one of the Scooby Gang pulls off his wife and is apparently shocked at this revelation in a scene that sums up the movie as a whole - it's silly, camp as Christmas and unintentionally hilarious. At the same time, however, MISS LESLIE'S DOLLS - like it's titular main character - has an unsettling undercurrent that bubbles beneath the slightly odd but seemingly harmless surface that threatens to explode into a frenzy of bloody violence at any time but never quite goes the full CHAINSAW MASSACRE, instead being disturbing by way of Salvador Ugarte and the barely-controlled madness he brings to his performance. Don't worry, though, because what MISS LESLIE'S DOLLS lacks in gore it makes up for with plenty of nudity and a third act that builds on the insanity we've already seen. And if the grindhouse purists have concerns about a Blu-ray transfer of a grubby lost gem from the early ‘70s losing any of its 42nd Street aesthetics then fear not as the transfer, whilst fairly clean, is not as polished as many other vintage horror movies that have been restored and the grain is still there, only it is not as distracting as it otherwise would have been if this was a straight VHS conversion and keeps its grindhouse flavour. The disc itself comes only with a stills gallery as an extra, most likely because nobody involved with the film remembers or gives a damn enough to talk about it, and so we are left with a film that, in true grindhouse style, won’t appeal to the masses and despite its reliance on borrowing material from other movies the overall result does feel fairly unique thanks to the eerie and off-kilter tone. Really one for the hardcore cult movie enthusiasts but certainly worth watching at least once for something a little different from the mainstream.
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