Night has fallen on this cemetery and there's a storm that has blown up, sending lashing rain onto the grave markers and the surrounding grass. There is a house close by, where Miss Leslie (Salvador Ugarte) lives, a person much practiced in the Dark Arts in the hope it will transform them one day, phoenix-like, into the character they always wanted to be. However, this involves digging up one of the coffins which contains someone she was very close to and wishes to revive from the dead, but despite opening the casket to the elements Miss Leslie cannot achieve the rituals necessary. Yet there is a car nearby that has run out of fuel with a lecturer and her three students...
Miss Leslie's Dolls was very nearly a lost film until the BFI realised they had a copy of it and gifted it to the world in a selfless manner, though since 1973, the earliest recorded screening, it remained obscure aside from a 2009 showing by them in London. In 2018, it was finally released on disc, and a bunch of trash culture aficionados were able to scratch an itch by seeing it, but was it worth the wait? Its actual provenance was somewhat murky, though that was the case with whole swathes of exploitation movies, but the director was identified as Joseph G. Prieto, who had a few credits to his name, though what happened to him after this, his last credit on film, was less than clear.
He seems to have been the same director who helmed the legitimate cult trash epic Shanty Tramp, a seedy tale of opportunistic evangelism and promiscuity; that was from the sixties, and for all we know Miss Leslie's Dolls could have been shot a few years before that 1973 date as well. It was in colour, however, which would make it more probably a seventies film, though the nudity was not quite as abundant as many schlocky thrillers and horrors of that decade: that might have been a factor of the coyness of Prieto's cast, mind you. What there was a lot of were pretentious as you like monologues from the titular Miss Leslie, who as the name of the towering actor indicated was not all she seemed (the stilted dubbing was another giveaway).
In fact, the secret identity of the villain was so badly disguised that it would be surprising if nobody twigged something fishy was going on even without the introduction in the graveyard, a location that put the cemetery in Plan 9 from Outer Space to shame in the "unconvincing" stakes. Our four travellers, led by their tutor Miss Alma Frost (Terri Juston), decide to stay the night in Miss Leslie's house as she has been generous enough to offer them shelter - ah, but she has ulterior motives. When she sees Martha (Kitty Lewis) she realises she is the spit and image of her deceased loved one, also called Martha, and goes into a reverie about the resemblance, but she doesn't simply want to bring her back from the dead, she wants to go further as the eventual finale demonstrates, though there was plenty of weirdness to get through before then.
This was one of those films, often low budget efforts, where the production's endeavours to be strange and scary are stranger in a manner that it's plain no one involved ever intended. A mixture of Psycho and the Devil worship items released in the wake of Rosemary's Baby, in addition there was sexploitation too, so after Miss Frost sups from a cup of funny-tasting coffee, she proceeds to take off her glasses and let her hair down to reveal herself to be beautiful in time honoured fashion, although in less time honoured fashion she also whips off her top to allow the audience a good look at her knockers, exposing the sensibility we were dealing with too. And then she seduces one of the female students (Marcelle Bichette) while the other two (Charles Pitts and Lewis) jump into bed with one another for sheets-pulled-up sexytime. As you can surmise, "confused" was an apt description here, with its psychedelic dream sequence, the dolls of the title (actresses standing stock still pretending to be statues draped in chiffon), and a gender bending ending that had to be seen to be believed. Off-kilter, difficult to fathom, and memorable for those reasons.
[Network's Blu-ray has a gallery and a booklet as extras, but interested parties will mainly be glad to get a copy at last.]