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.
In a wake of fatally striking down a young woman with their vehicle, two errant and drunk men, Goyo and Gordo, are arrested for the gruesome crime at the scene of the accident While handcuffed in the back of a squad car, an unorthodox police chief named Juarez discovers a video tape recorder in the front of their mangled car with a tape revealing the violent torture and killing of a young transvestite hooker. One tape leads to another, and then another, individually exhibiting a trail of cascading blood and merciless torture in the deaths caused by Goyo and his unstable and dysfunctional life. Juarez digs further into Goyo’s ghastly cases going through each horrific tape setting up Goyo for a shocking conclusion from his past he long thought was dead.
“Atroz” will make you never want to tour Mexico! I can fully understand why “Cannibal Holocaust” director Ruggero Deadato fully backs Lex Ortega’s graphic horror film an associate producer and presenter as the two films, separated by decades, are much alike with the majority of their likeness in found footage techniques, frighteningly realistic imitations of murder, and their artistic and austere grandeur of filmmaking narration. Ortega also sustains an effective horror feature through the confines of a problematic ultra micro-budget. Along with aid from a talented roster of actors and crew, no way was Ortega’s film was not being made. “Atroz,” translated to “Atrocious,” opens with the unsavory side of Mexico’s impoverishment that contributes to much of the Central American nation’s disturbing amount of unsolved murders. The montage opening is so powerful and moving that what precedes shocks as a gritty insight of what everyday Mexican residents might experience one way or another in their lifetime and though Ortega goes that extra mile to be obscene and disgusting in every way possible, the director supports his work with seeding a traditionally patriarchal society with gender identity afflictions that evolves organically and is purposefully displayed in reverse order to add more, if it wasn’t possible already, to the shock value of “Atroz.”
The outer story involving Goyo’s interrogation about his stash of tapes is only the tip of the iceberg, sheltering three background influencing stories about Goyo that set up more familiarly in an anthology manner. Inked with intricate arm sleeve tattoos and perforated with metal facial piercings, Goyo and his larger friend Gordo, which means large man in Spanish fittingly enough, seem nothing more than your typical lowlife gangbangers. However, Goyo and Gordo are more disturbed than any Mexican cholos from the first torture tape of a transvestite prostitute, a punished, bit-part role awarded to actress/singer Dana Karvelas. The next two tapes are just as hard to swallow and stomach from the assorted fluid being consumed, to the explicit varying degrees of rape, to the vivd genitalia multination, and to just the sheer ultra violence depicted makes “Atroz” the gorehound’s holy grail of horror. Never have I’ve witness a film so graphic to come out of Mexico and, by golly, I thought the world needed this Lex Ortega film. In most cases, extreme gore and shock features run a course shortly after hitting the play button on your home entertainment device, but with “Atroz,” a drive to learn more about what motivates Goyo’s unholy acts unravel little-by-little and that quality is usually omitted and uncharacteristic of explicit gore horror.
Performances are firmly established all around with Carlos Valencia and Lex Ortega himself leading the charge as Juarez and Goyo. While Ortega doesn’t necessary have much of dialogue role with Juarez during interrogations, the undiluted carnage he lays down on the tape recordings are a rare and twisted characterization hardly visited by the indie circuit and certainly not given the light of day from Hollywood, being mostly sidelined to an underground context. Rare is it to have one actor who can impersonate malice upon others that when a doppleganger appears in Goyo’s younger years video tape, “Atroz” becomes that much of brighter highlight as a dark film birthed from Mexico. Carlos Padilla truly frightens as the younger version of Goyo staged in an abusive household with an unsympathetic father, an naive mother, and lots of physical and verbal mistreatment. Goyo’s a psychoanalytical unicorn, an epitome of the mind’s deranged wealth, and a testament that his surroundings molded the very fibers of his intentions do commit evil. The sight of blood is all it takes arouse Goyo and “Atroz” provides the character an ocean of sangre ready for lapping.
Practical effects wizards Jamie Lopez and Alfredo Olguín produced unrivaled effects on a budget that didn’t provide a second chance if the effect didn’t spin right the first round. Absolutely flawless did the duo’s work gleam in the blood it was soaked in and firmly how I held on for dear life my testicles when seeing a set being cleaved graphically severed. Lopez and Olguín have a combined 23-years of experience in the special effects game and that surfaced buoyantly at the top of “Atroz’s” shocking content. In the nature versus nurture debate, “Atroz” sides with nurture putting Goyo in the impoverished and traditional meat grinder that is Mexico and spat him out where wades in a chrysalis until bursting out into a state of lust for an endless stream of revenge and blood. Ortega accomplishes nurture’s wickedness by tenfold and Lopez and Olguín exemplifies it even more.
Unearthed Films and MVDVisual’s limited edition 3-disc Blu-ray and DVD set includes a JH5 & Eggun soundtrack. Presented in a widescreen 1.85:1 aspect ratio, the 79 minute runtime feature sports no blemishes and falters on any flaws, baring and setting a fitting desolate tone through a number of camera options. There’s also and English and Spanish language Dolby Digital 5.1 with optional English subtitles intent on properly channeling every port of your surround sound system. A pair of issue lie with the subtitles involving quite a few typos in English and some synchronization problems delaying captioning a full second or two after dialogue has proceeded. Bonus material includes the short film of “Atroz,” a crowd funding video, behind the scenes: music and sound design, behind the scenes: practical effects, behind the scenes: production, Unearthed trailers, a behind the scenes image gallery, and, of course, the aforementioned soundtrack. Whatever you do, don’t consume any food before and during experiencing the gore charged “Atroz,” Mexico’s most deranged cinematic delicacy to date!