March 19, 2006


Doris Wishman was one of the most generative of female underground cinema directors. Sadly Wishman died of cancer on August 10, 2002 with a movie making legacy spanning over 40 years. Such was her passion for the celluloid image that she was reputed to have said, on many occasion ‘after I die, I will be making movies in hell’.

She made 30 films most fitting into the sexploitation slot of underground delicacies. Her movies would run in 42nd Street grind houses across the U.S.A, fleapit movie theatres and double, even triple bills for the drive-in circuit. Wishman made 26 feature films between 1959 – 1977 , where she pioneered the first ‘nudie-cutie’ motion picture ‘Nude on the Moon’ (1960).

Her 27th was a gory splatter movie called ‘A Night to Dismember’, the current DVD release of this features her only DVD commentary, it is released by Elite.

After a period of absence she bounced back with two more movies ‘Satan was a Lady’ (2001) and ‘Dildo Heaven’ (a.k.a Desperate Desires’ (2002), unfortunately her 30th movie ‘Each Time I Kill’ was never completed as the illness had taken a final hold.

One of her most startling essays into the mondo genre was 1978’s ‘Let Me Die a Woman’, this sleazy little beast focused on the ‘all real’ pre and post op transsexual. With its cod psychology and theology, real medical (or some little operating room in Morocco?) footage, sleazy vignettes and exploitational atmosphere it naturally deserves its rightful place here at The Celluloid Teapot…..


This little oddity begins with ‘Leslie’ going about her daily routine, nattering away about nail polish and what she likes to wear etc, etc. Then she drops a bombshell ‘This time last year, I was a man!!!’ the music reaches a lamentable crescendo and the movie leaps into life.

We then greet Dr.Leo Walton a qualified physician and sex change surgeon who takes us through some of his ‘case studies’. The first features Anne Zordi, sauntering through the park.

There she catches the eye of a dirty old man. Both of them leave to Anne’s apartment for sex. After seeing the two writhe for a bit whilst inter-cut with erotic fellatio ink drawings, the chap seems to be up and out the door grinning.

The camera pans back to Anne who undresses for a shower she drops her knickers and lo and behold she has a diddler. Walton narrates ‘ there are 100,000 transsexuals like Anne in the United States today’ , this then gives the camera to watch Anne lathering her breasts, her buttocks and Penis in long lingering close up.

After some babble we then see case 2 where a carpenter was so frustrated in having to wait for the operation obliges sooner with chisel and hammer. This is hysterical as we are treated to lots of flaccid dick and ketchup - tasteless, cheap and worth a hundred giggles for its sheer silliness.

We then see ‘real life’ case studies from Dr.Waltons focus groups. What we witness here is hilarious, a group of the poorest representations of transsexuals ever seen. One looks like Bernard Bresslaw in drag or the sort of 50/60 something that is seen sipping Dubonnet in working men’s clubs.

Horrific and unintentionally riotous, it will have ones’ sides splitting. The poor people are milked exploitatively for every bit of bare flesh they can offer. In stark ‘clinical’ situations we see Dr Walton prod and poke, upstairs and downstairs showing what we are fully aware of.

This has now mutated into nothing more than good old fashioned Victorian freak show daringly done in the form of schools and colleges sex education.

The movie then enters into sheer Mondo style demonstrating actual sex change footage. Don’t believe the hype it’s not that bad at all, there has been similar on Channel 4 quite recently, it’s about the same as the worst (best) footage you could see on terrestrial channels in the U.K.

After watching the skin of the penis and scrotum being sliced and diced to make a vagina we then watch the price to pay for impatience. The Doctor moves on to Case 4 where a ‘new’ woman decided she couldn’t wait for her first fuck. In a cheesy (circa 1971) segment we see Harry Reems (sans moustache and prior to his ‘Deep Throat’ (1972) infamy) play a cab driver who drives the girl back to her apartment, after seducing him they both end up having sex. After another soft-core fumble the Cabbie leaves with a big sense of achievement right across his face.

The poor woman is in pain and notices blood dolloped on the sheets. We then learn she had split the stitches right open and has to spend two weeks in hospital for further operations to repair such damage.

At the Doctors’ surgery we meet Debbie Hartman a fully working post op transsexual. After hearing her ordeal at being a woman trapped in a mans body she strips and demonstrates dilator insertion which is used to prevent the vagina from healing together, this is also presented in loving close up and the odd ‘squelch’ on the soundtrack.

After this Debs pops onto the couch ; where the Doctor sharply observes she has a hairy ass (mmmmm, gathered that). The Doctor spreads Debbie’s legs and then runs through what a post op vagina looks like and folks it isn’t too pretty. The new ‘sex’ is in all the entire world like a baseball players glove wrapped in wire with mange.

The Doctor demonstrates the ‘piss-hole’ with a metal rod; and points out where areas have yet to heal. After advising us over the lack of vaginal mucus he lubes his figure with as much glop as possible and administers it gynaecologically for a longer than necessary period of time.

The movie ends up on a high note - a closet transsexual’s suicide because he can’t dress like the bride or something similar.


No selected screenshot or piece of text can possibly highlight the sheer wealth of shake your head stuff offered for the lapping up. The movie has Wishmans trademark style of directorial all over it.

Wishman edited, marketed, directed, produced and championed her movies so credit is where credit is due. Taking into consideration she was a woman director in predominantly a mans' world making such films as well; one can only admire the lady wholeheartedly. All self taught too, so the result is a frantic gush of images that never gives you a break from being absorbed, wondering what the hell is going to crop up next.

Frenzied cutaways can suddenly pop up mid-shot. When characters speak the hand held camera can on occasion focus on anything but the players’/participants’ mouths as they speak, this technique enabled Wishman to prevent lip synching at a later stage which was considered too time consuming.

Let Me Die a Woman is an odd little slice of cheese but highly entertaining in several other ways. It’s so different to anything ever seen before and seems ‘amateurish’ but this is what’s at the heart of the style not the essence of the directors' capability.

The film is a glare with bright light accentuating the boldness of pinks and reds which seem to make the genitals of the participants seem red, angry and sore. Thoroughly unwholesome to witness but adds so much force that drags the unsavoury sleaze factory down a further couple of notches.

Let Me Die a Womans’ history is also as disjointed as the direction. It’s difficult to date as no documents and very little of what the original movie ‘pilot’ of ‘Let Me Die…’ actually exists. From the fashions of the ‘sexy segments’ and actors histories we can go far back as ‘70/’71.

Anne Zordis’ ‘park’ conquest is none other than actor Richard Towers who played the vengeful father in Wes Cravens ‘video nasty’ darling ‘Last House on the Left’ (1972). Except in these sequences he is not as grey and displays bigger mutton chops than his 1972 incarnation.

To confuse matters more Wishman recollected she made something ‘similar’ in 1973 called Adam or Eve? , this is no longer viewable as is missing or destroyed but we do see a glimpse of its’ opening titles on the recent magnificent ‘Synapse’ release.

‘Let Me Die…’ was submitted to the MPAA (Motion Picture of America Association) and despite not venturing into the ‘hardcore’ territory received the dreaded ‘X’ certificate which could make or break a movie. In 1980 it made it to British shores where (as you will be grinning and nodding by now knowing whats around the corner) the film was banned outright by the British Board of Film Censors.

After 10 minutes of splicing the BBFC decided the public worthy of viewing the truncated ‘castrated’ mess. In the halcyon days of unregulated VHS a fully uncensored copy did pop up on the Derann label in the U.K in 1982.

’82 saw the film being theatrically released and it was superb to think than in the U.K the public could decide on whether they were for the uncut option on home video or the butchered presentation showing at the ABC down the road, in one of ‘those’ areas.

To film a ‘warts and all’ transgender documentary was already put out to tender in the early 1960’s as recommended by one of Wishmans’ nudist friends. It staid on the shelf for a good 18 years before finally evolving into the definitive shape it became in 1978.

Another special mention has to be for the main ‘star’ of the piece ‘Leslie’, her vivaciousness can be seen in the interview segments that fuse the ‘piece’ together and can still be experienced in her contemporary commentary for the recent DVD release.

One feels a little amused that Leslie had no idea what the interview was to be spliced with and her witty reactions are a must listen on the Synapse release.

Reviews have been written and have tended to be mixed but I thoroughly enjoyed this piece of trash and thought it was worth every penny spent. A total breed on its own and an important addition to the annals of grubby ‘sinema’ showing the ability to shock is still possible even though made on a shoestring.


Two things were outstanding because they made me laugh so much, unintentionally so. The first has to be the ludicrous overdubs that seem all over the place when it comes to matching imagery.

The voice overs also, through no fault of the soundtrack, sound slow especially Debbie’ I feel a few valiums were popped or a few spliffs were smoked before her screen debut. The other moments were the dialogue content which is primarily based on stating the obvious and medi- nonsense compared to today.

A classic sequence is when during Debbie’s’ ‘interview’ she fondly mentions of her impending uterus and ovary transplant so she can have children and be a complete ‘Woman’. Oh dear………

The Film; Let Me Die A Woman (a.k.a ' Stranger in my Body' )

The year ; 1978

The Director;
Doris Wishman

The Country ; America


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