Directed by: Joseph G. Prieto
Cast: Salvador Ugarte, Terri Juston, Marcelle Bichette, Kitty Lewis, Charles Pitts
It’s likely Miss Leslie’s Dolls doesn’t ring a bell for a lot of our readers, and in fact, this ‘grindhouse classic’ was thought to be lost until a few years ago when the original print was found. Network is re-releasing an HD restoration of this almost forgotten film next month that will be available on Blu-ray, DVD and VOD. Miss Leslie’s Dolls has been newly scanned from one of the few surviving prints in its original theatrical aspect ratio of 1.85:1. The restoration carried out involved careful grain management, both automated and manual removal of film dirt and damage, and correction of major instability, warping and density fluctuations.
Three university students and their teacher find themselves stranded in the middle of the woods in the midst of a thunderstorm. Refusing to just sit and do nothing, the group seek shelter in a nearby house where they meet Miss Leslie – a lonely, middle-aged spinster who allows them to stay the night. It soon becomes apparent that Miss Leslie is a dangerous psychopath who is seeking to liberate his spirit from his ageing body and take possession of a young, healthy female body. Now there’s three of them under Miss Leslie’s roof for him to try to possess, he seizes his opportunity!
With a runtime of just 85 minutes, the film suffers from a surprisingly slow start, even though a major discovery is made fairly early on. The stranded group’s reaction to said discovery is somewhat unbelievable and definitely has no feeling of authenticity to it – it’s something that would make any sane person run a mile instantly, but instead, they’re just kind of little taken aback by it. It’s also a plot point that really should have got things moving a little faster, but unfortunately, it didn’t.
Once the proverbial hits the fan the film’s real horror elements come in to play. There are a lot of familiar ingredients to this horror that I’m sure many fans of the genre will really love. Because all the juicy stuff really only takes place in the third act it’s hard to delve deeper into the film without going into spoiler territory, and because there’s a genuine twist in this tale that I really liked, I will refrain from spoilers and instead encourage you to seek this film out when you can, if only for the third act alone.
Salvador Ugarte’s performance as Miss Leslie was the only act I bought in this film. His mannerisms, facial expressions and gestures were bone-chilling, even if the dubbed female voice was a little off-putting at times. Miss Leslie is rather unpredictable and Ugarte is excellent at keeping the audience guessing what he’ll do next. Terri Juston gives a convincing performance as the responsible teacher, Alma Frost, even if some of her character’s actions and dialogue are rather questionable. The rest of the cast are fine and play their part, the three students weren’t really given much to do outside of making little quips and also making questionable decisions.
I can only imagine the time and effort that went into the restoration of this film, but I was incredibly impressed by the colours and the quality of the film thanks to the hard work that went on behind the scenes. Having not seen the original, and the fact its pretty difficult to find much about this film online, I can’t really compare the two. Given its age and the fact the print would have been sat gathering dust for years and therefore likely damaged, Network’s effort is commendable and they’ve delivered an excellent restoration.
Miss Leslie’s Dolls is released on Blu-ray and DVD on September 3rd and VOD October 1st, and I would definitely recommend a viewing from you horror fans out there who haven’t seen it before. It clearly pays homage to horrors that came before it, most noticeably there’s a strong likeness to Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho, but I’m certain there’s plenty of likeness to other horrors in it that I won’t have picked up on. It’s nothing groundbreaking, but it’s an enjoyable horror that deserves a watch, especially following the hard work that will have gone in to restoring it.