Miss Leslie’s Dolls (1973)

Spread the weird

RATING– ✮✮✮

DIRECTOR– Joseph G. Prieto

PLOT– A reclusive transvestite (Salvador Ugarte), who lives alone in a decaying house among his private cemetery, uses psychic powers to strand a trio of college students and their not-so-prudish professor/chaperone (Terri Juston) while hoping to add to his collection of reincarnated dolls.

6 REASONS TO WATCH

  1. picking the wrong rest stop
  2. widows with 5 o’clock shadows
  3. the world’s worst bed & breakfast
  4. “retired hot mammas”
  5. The Transsexual Sistine Chapel
  6. Chaperones Gone Wild!

REVIEW– About 10 minutes into the film, I had a weird déja-vu feeling. A weird I’ve-seen-this-somewhere-before feeling… Somewhere in a dark theater around midnight with a whole gang of groupies yelling at the screen… I’ve experienced this before. What I’m hinting at is Miss Leslie’s Dolls is remarkably (and quite eerily) similar to The Rocky Horror Show. The basic plot of a transvestite kidnapping unsuspecting travelers while trying to provide himself a perfectly made sexual pet (and find approval) runs through both. It even plays like a stage production as almost the entire movie takes place in just a few rooms. Miss Leslie’s Dolls preceded Richard O’Brien’s play The Rocky Horror Show, which opened on the West End of London in June of 1973, by about 3 months. However, the film falls way, way, way short of O’Brien’s play. Where Rocky Horror uses outrageous events and characters to tell a bigger story of acceptance and redemption, Miss Leslie’s Dolls seems unable to see past the novelty of a “weird transvestite” and simply lets the story stall there. It succeeds in its weirdness, though. Combining horror, sex, violence, and a bottom barrel budget, it’s a true 70’s drive-in grindhouse feature. Strangely, the movie garnered an X rating when it was released in 1973, although I can’t figure out why. There’s a couple implied sex scenes, a bit of nudity, some ridiculously silly violence, but that’s about it. Anyways, this is a strange film. If you enjoy rarely seen exploitation movies, you’ll probably like this.


***As an addendum to this review, after reading almost all the reviews, articles, and anecdotes about this film, not one mentioned a most peculiar choice in sound design. Every time (and I mean every single time) someone or something ventures outside the house where the entire movie takes place, there’s the sound of a man sneezing… and it repeats about every 5 seconds. Endlessly. Whether someone steps outside to advance the story or a poor victim ventures outside trying to escape their tormentor… the background noise contains the distinct sound of some dude sneezing constantly. It’s possibly one of the strangest things I’ve seen/heard in any film I’ve ever reviewed (which is saying something. I’ve seen some obscure, weird stuff). Well, whatever reason the director or, possibly, the sound designer (surprisingly, they had a budget for a “sound” department) had for adding repetitive sneezing to the exterior shots is a deep mystery I doubt anybody will ever solve.***

FUN FACT– Opening in March of 1973, Miss Leslie’s Dolls was, needless to say, not a hit. (I’ve never met anyone who said they saw the movie in a theater or even heard of the thing) Most everyone completely forgot about the film… including the stars, director, and producers. So much so, in fact, the film was thought lost for over 20 years, only resurfacing when someone found the one and only print in the hallway of his apartment… which, considering the complete weirdness that touches every part of this movie, should not surprise anyone. Not one person or entity involved with this movie went on to do much of anything in Hollywood. The only actor who managed to find his way into some tiny parts of mainstream productions was Charles Pitts, who plays Tony. The other actors either withered away, graduated to porn, or never did anything else. The movie basically ended the career of director Joseph Prieto, never helming another feature. On the other end of the scale, The Rocky Horror Picture Show launched the careers of multiple entertainment heavyweights… Tim Curry, Susan Sarandon, Barry Bostwick, and of course Meatloaf. All of them moved on to huge careers. That film is celebrated as an original, historic, and influential piece of cinematic history while Miss Leslie’s Dolls was almost sucked into the black hole of lost films that no one cares about.

Damn it, Janet!