On a dark and stormy night after a school football game, a teacher and three students take shelter at a cottage adjacent to a cemetery. If the cottage wasn’t creepy enough, the sole occupant owner surpassed the bar. She calls herself Miss Leslie, a middle aged woman with an ill-fated story of her friend and mother’s fiery demise from long past and a quirky penchant for making life-size female dolls that set inside an illuminating shrine. Though they feel uneasy about the creepy surroundings, the visitors stay and get cozy, especially with each other, but Miss Leslie has ulterior, deranged motives. Her dolls are not just lifelike, they once were vibrant lives of women Miss Leslie sorely wanted to inhabit their feminine confines of youth and beauty from over the years, but now they are an undecomposable shells, encase in Miss Leslie’s special doll making brew to timelessly capture their lovely physiques. They are also beautiful, yet painful reminders of her failed attempts to transfer her essence into their adolescent bodies.
Every so often you come across a film with a gigantically absurd hard shell cover with the gooey insides of eye-rolling cheesiness and you just have to ask yourself, how in the world did something like this ever come to fruition!? Yet, somehow, someway, these productions of an oddball variety always have an intense allure about them and end up being just one of the coolest rarities to grace the glazed-over irises. Joseph Prieto’s “Miss Leslie’s Dolls” is the epitome of this very phenomena. “Miss Leslie’s Dolls” is an exploitation, nearly softcore porn, horror with a deranged killers with severe mental issues that range from communication with dead to, what can be now construed as antiquated, complications of gender identity. One of the last directed films from Prieto, who also helmed “Shanty Tramp” and “Savages from Hell,” also penned the screenplay alongside longtime collaborator and producer Ralph Remy Jr. The script reads like an insatiable bedside thriller novel, an object of complete obsession through the entirety and well long after being completed; “Miss Leslie’s Dolls’” has a rich gothic lining, a strong sexual appetite, and a timely LGTB subject that involves debate on mental illness or inherited gender orientation.
Not many actors performed in drag. Sure, there was Jack Lemmon and Tony Curtis in “Some Like It Hot” and there was even Anthony Perkins from “Psycho,” who some might go as far as saying that “Miss Leslie’s Dolls” might draw inspiration from with the whole mother fixation, but only a small faction of fans, especially in the genre, might know Salvador Ugarte. The Cuban born Ugarte has great poise as a woman imprisoned in a man’s body. Miss Leslie just isn’t a deranged killer in drag; the character has deep rooted issues stemming out of not only being a woman embodied incorrectly, but also seeded by an engulfing obsession with capturing beauty to obtain it for herself, an addition from a result of a permanent scarring left behind by Miss Leslie’s homicidal rampage in the character’s history. Ugarte has the mannerisms and the gait down so unerringly that’s the performance is downright creepy, but there was one aspect of womanhood that Ugarte’s masculinity couldn’t mask: his voice. The actor is horrendously dubbed, adding charm to the bizarre concept. Ugarte’s joined by “Little Laura and Big John’s” Terri Juston, Marchelle Bichette (“The Gruesome Twosome”), Kitty Lewis, and Charles Pitts of “Supervixens.”
Contrary to the above, “Miss Leslie’s Dolls” has some drawback. Though the characters might be entertaining and interesting, especially with the Bourbon obsessed and hot for teacher Roy and his terrible gangster accent or the fact that Ms. Alma Frost is a smoking hot, twenty-something year old prude teacher to her pupils who are practically the same age as her, they’re washed over with an aloof mentality, consequently looking past or just blatantly oblivious to Miss Leslie’s obvious male features, her inauspicious ramblings, and the fact she has a shrine of creepy and realistic dolls of women that fill the room with the smell like rot and death. Perhaps too busy running through the cemetery at night in skimpy bedroom garments. Yes, this does happen. On top of that, Miss Leslie harness of occult powers goes relatively unexplored, yet very much utilized as an important portion of the film near the last act. Despite being passively mentioned and rather undercut from more than most of the film, Miss Leslie’s occult mischief is plucked right from left field to further the enigmatic aurora of Prieto’s mystical exploitation.
Network proudly presents “Miss Leslie’s Dolls” on an UK 1080p Hi-Definition, region free Blu-ray home video, remastered from the original film elements once thought to be have been forever lost. The newly scanned transfer came from a surviving print and presented in the film’s original theatrical aspect ratio of 1.85:1. The restoration included detailed grain management, the automated and manual removal of dirt and damage, and the correction of major color instability, warp, and density fluctuations. (In full disclosure, Network sent me a DVD-R screener and that is what the following critique is based off of) Though in some frames there flares up some instability, from my perspective, the first act and half really came out well with the vivid, yet natural, coloring. However, once inside Miss Leslie’s basement, woozy blotchy moments of Leslie fiddling around makes the particular scene a bit off putting. The stereo mono track is fair for the 1973 film that has it’s share of distortions and editing pop faux pas, but the dialogue is fiercely prominent, despite the inherent awfully laid dub track, and equally well balanced with ambient tracks. There were no bonus material on the release. Transvestitism horror is quite a rare experience that always has a lasting impression, cerebrally popping visuals of grim visions commingling with the blood, the viscera, and the other supplementary violence. “Miss Leslie’s Dolls” deserved this Blu-ray release and Network did right by Prieto’s obscure grindhouse feature that will sear into your skull.
A terrorizing motorcycle gang named The Living Dead wreak mischief and murderous havoc amongst the local residents. When Tom, the gang’s leader, learns of his family’s dark agreement with the devil, he seeks to reap the benefits of the agreement’s eternal life bestowed upon his family, but before claiming a long-life of unstoppable hog-wild carnage, Tom must die first and truly believe he’ll return from the afterlife. Convincing the rest of the gang to kill themselves in order to return from the grave and live forever was easy, except his girlfriend Abby who wants to actually be alive. As the torment rips through Abby involving the man she loves, not all satanic bound agreements can last forever and Tom, Abby, and the rest of the gang are caught in a contract that’s all but binding.
“Psyhomania,” also known as “The Death Wheelers,” is a stunt-heavy horror film from “Kiss the Vampire” and “The Face of Fu Manchu” director Don Sharp and written by “Horror Express’” Julian Zimet and Arnaud d’Usseau. “Psychomania” is a fun, b-horror feature from the swinging London era of the 1970s and rosters a young cast of some seriously talented actors in Nicky Henson as Tom, Mary Larkin as Abby, and Ann Michelle as Jane Pettibone while also being graced with two veterans, George Sanders, who voiced Shere Khan in “The Jungle Book,” and Beryl Reid from “Dr. Phibes Rises Again,” and were most likely the most expensive actors on set, being well worth the cash to balance out a relative unknown cast at the time.
Yes, this film is British. Yes, this film is horror. But, no, “Pyschomania” is not a Hammer Horror film. The Don Sharp film lightly tip-toes through being a horror film with only the supernatural element placing the feature in the thriller category, but the PG-rated horror has other admirable qualities that certainly differentiates itself from the blood-heavy, frighten laden Hammer films. For instance, a story about an undead motorcycle gang should obviously entail motorcycle stunts and “Psychomania” delivers with surprisingly various top-notch stunts with, and without, motorcycles, involving dedicated stunt men and women challenged to be engaged in nearly all stunts, and whereas the blood does not run thick and heavy like with many fright flicks, the bikes certainly do and revs a different, yet welcomed, change of pace.
If the intent here was to make a serious film, the mark was missed by a good margin. Outdated and obsolete, “Psychomania” is the epitome of aging with dated hairstyles, dated clothing, and dated dialogue. If the intent was to be campy, Sharp and his team of willing participants hit the center of the bulls eye. The premise of a motorcycle gang committing themselves to a suicide pact only to come back and continue their barrage amongst humane society while choking out nearly everybody they feel tramples upon their aimless and ferocious cause seems like an outright folly. Who knew that in forty years time that “Psychomania” would be a British cult favorite, sparking a well-deserved upgrade Blu-ray and DVD combo release from the British Film Institute, also known by as the BFI.
BFI Flipside presents “Psychomania” on a Blu-ray and DVD combo presented in the original aspect ratio 1.66:1 and scanned and restored in 2k from preservation negatives. The 1080p Hi-Def Blu-ray runs on a BD50 gigabyte at 24 frames per second with a PCM mono audio mix. The PAL DVD runs about the same, near 25fps, and sports a Dolby Digital 1.0 mono audio mix. I was presented the DVD version for review and I must say the original print looks immaculate. The lens flares in the corner from previous releases have been extinguished. The colors and skin tones have never been more vibrant through the three layers of the black and white master copies containing yellow, blue, and cyan. The mono mix clearly states a purpose and goes through the ears without muddling and much defect. The BFI have also spared no expense on the bonus features that include various interviews with Nicky Henson and other cast, an interview with Harvey Andrews on the “Riding Free” single, a Hell for Leather documentary about the company who supplied the leather for the cast, a short remastering “Psychomania” segment, and other various extras that dive into British culture. I was a bit disappointed with the Sound of “Psychomania” segment as the track portion in the interview with film composer John Cameron seems to be overlaid by something totally off-the-wall and we’re unable to get the full 9 minute audio from the interview. The bonus material rounds out with original theatrical trailer and a nice, vividly colored illustrated booklet with new writing by Vic Pratt, William Folwer, and Andrew Roberts. BFI’s “Psyhomania” release is one of the best re-releases to hit the region 2 market and will re-hit the youth once again on it’s climbing cult success that branches off far from the bloodlust of 1970’s British horror.
Here’s another trashy public domain horror movie that’s free for you all!