MISS LESLIE'S DOLLS (1973) Blu-ray
Director: Joseph G. Prieto

The long-lost American grindhouse sexploiter MISS LESLIE'S DOLLS makes its region free Blu-ray debut courtesy of British company Network.

On a dark and stormy night, a car carrying college football player Roy (Charles Pitts, SUPERVIXENS), cheerleaders Martha (Kitty Lewis) and Lily (Marcelle Bichette, THE GRUESOME TWOSOME), and repressed teacher Alma Frost (Terri Juston, LITTLE LAURA AND BIG JOHN) gets detoured from the rest of the team and breaks down in the middle of a cemetery. Not realizing that their arrival has scared off a hooded cultist who has unearthed the body of a recently (and unraped) dead girl, the quartet seek shelter in a seemingly abandoned farmhouse inhabited by reclusive occultist Miss Leslie (Salvador Ugarte). "She" has lived as a recluse ever since the fire that destroyed her mother's doll factory, killing her and Miss Leslie's special friend Martha. She is caught shocked by the cheerleader's resemblance to her friend and believes her to be a reincarnation since the girl was born the year of her friend's death. While Roy and Lily are unsettled by the kook, Martha and Alma feel sorry for Miss Leslie and accept her hospitality for the night, even after Roy's discovery of Miss Leslie's secret altar of very lifelike dolls that are "not made of wax." While the drugged guests settle in for the night, paired off for bedroom antics, Miss Leslie prepares for her latest occult experiment with the body of young Martha in mind (and soul) if mother will allow it.

While MISS LESLIE'S DOLLS has a scenario ripe for exploitation and has the look and feel of a Box Office International pick-up, the film is shockingly tame apart from some bare breasts and from the shoulders up sex scenes. The film scuttles expectations at every turn, with the aroused writhing frosty Alma whose inhibitions are loosened by her drugged meal provoking derision from Lily who joins Martha and Roy just in time for him to get up for a stiff drink. Although Ugarte with his dubbed voice and five-o-clock shadow never convinces as a woman, there is a moving seemingly confessional moment when Miss Leslie in the wake of another failed experiment futilely declares "I'll remain what I am," (until another possibility turns up). The film is rather blandly photographed, with the first half feeling rather static and draggy until the discovery of Miss Leslie's sanctuary where the cinematography of Gregory Sandor (De Palma's SISTERS) conjures up the atmosphere of TOURIST TRAP as it focuses on the watchful "dolls." One instance of onscreen gore is enough to make one wonder if sex was excised but there is only one obvious instance of missing frames of a (clothed) character crossing the room jumping a few inches forward variety. The film may always have been this tame, or at least, pre-cut even though the timing of this edition matches that of the X-certificate British release (the film was given an R-rating in the states), but there are currently no other versions for comparison. The end result is a film that would make a good B-feature to something horror-oriented with some explicit bumping and grinding.

Although OLGA'S HOUSE OF SHAME director Joseph Mawra had used the pseudonym Jose Prieto on some films, he did not direct MISS LESLIE'S DOLLS and it is not certain whether an actual Cuban exploitation filmmaker named Jose Prieto who directed SHANTY TRAMP is "Joseph G. Prieto" or not according to Daniel Griffith who had interviewed the crew of the aforementioned film; however, credited screenwriter Ralph J. Remy may be Rafael Remy who shot and edited SHANTY TRAMP.

Released theatrically by Horizon Films, MISS LESLIE'S DOLLS disappeared from view shortly thereafter, presumably as much from its handling by a small distributor as the lack of reissue potential due to its tame sexual content. The film was thought lost until material turned up with the British Film Institute who showed it in 2009 at their Southbank repertory cinema. Network's 1080p24 MPEG-4 AVC 1.85:1 widescreen Blu-ray opens with the BBFC X-certificate card and the animated logo of UK distributor Grand National. The image is very clean apart from some faint scratches in the final reel and the colors are vibrant in well-lit scenes and detail fine enough to make out all of the freckles during the sex scenes while darker shots evince heavier grain. The LPCM 2.0 mono track is in good condition and optional English SDH subtitle are also provided. Extras are restricted to an image gallery (0:39) and a collectable booklet written by Laura Mayne (the latter not provided for review). (Eric Cotenas)